In this episode, we’re joined by Frank Spillers, CEO/CXO of Experience Dynamics, a US-based leading UX consulting firm. Frank shares the latest in experience design and management and discusses how brands with both physical and digital presence can apply service design thinking and practices to create customer experiences that are truly based on customer needs and delights.
Welcome to the show. I am thrilled to have you on the show and discuss how businesses with both physical stores and online shopping can approach their UX design, especially in the time where a lot of brands are really trying to figure out how to make the connections smoother for their customers. But first, to get us started, I would love you to tell a little bit more about yourself and what you've been doing lately.
Oh yeah. Thanks for having me, Jean. I appreciate being here. It's a fun topic for me. Actually I'm the CEO of Experience Dynamics, which is a user experience and service design consulting firm. We do the whole range of activities that go into building experiences, from research to design and deployment. My focus these days are in UX design, service design, and inclusive design.
One of the reasons why I was so excited to have you on the show is the way you are approaching UX design. You have to correct me if I got it wrong, but it seems to be really coming from a perspective of empowering users. I would love to just start from there. Also, touch on what you see as the main difference in terms of the overall approach to customer experience or user experience when it comes to digital native brands versus brands with a long history of having in-store, face-to-face interactions with their customers?
There's two of my former clients that I'm thinking of. One is a major hospital and one is a major athletics manufacturer. Both of those companies today are... And I worked with them when they started in UX like 15 years ago, 18 years ago. I actually started the UX program at one of them just by being their modeling best practice, and then they've just kept building their team and their efforts. But both of them today, and this is significant, both of them are hiring for a service design experience director. The reason they're doing that... [2:15 -
Because a lot of people here are like, "Oh, UX. And then what was that thing about service design? What's that? And then the inclusive design, I think that's something to do with inclusion." But service design director, experience director, and their various kind of titles, but essentially someone who's in charge at a higher level of how we use the term orchestrating or making sure that a customer experience is being thought of and delivered in detail across channels and across silos, across the entire organization, all the way to the vendor ecosystem.
And also the sustainability part too, because that's also a stakeholder now in today's era. But someone to orchestrate that, someone to manage that. We've matured from this simple notion of customer experience or focusing on the customer into a more dynamic environment where it's like, how can we leverage cross channel and cross touchpoint interactions from customers? How can we leverage that phenomenon that's happening? And then how can we manage it better? A lot of this comes down to...
A lot of my work, and I'm actually working on a book on the topic of UX management, a lot of it comes down to UX management and how do you manage this whole thing so you get good ROI and good results out of it. It's not enough to just say, yes, we focus on the user or we do user testing, or we are thinking about our customers, because pretty much everybody's doing that even if they're not sophisticated or not.
You had a question before about digital brands versus multi-channel brick and mortar as we used to call them, like kind of a store or a presence, and then what's the difference between them in terms of managing UX, CX, and service delivery and so forth. What's happening with brick and mortar organizations is they've had their digital transformations and now they're playing in these highly digital channels, right? Especially after COVID and so forth and so on, right?
You've got much more activity, almost certain entire industries or verticals are entirely playing online where before it was maybe 30% or 50% or something. That's amplified or accelerated. What you have on the traditional digital companies is a situation where they found themselves being transformed by mobile in particular, because mobile is the gateway to services, right? You launch a service, think Airbnb, Uber, or whatever you like, food delivery. You launch a service from an app.
You control a service, think digital thermostat at home or some monitoring system. You manage your life essentially, your home, your car, whatever, like all through. The idea that there are products and that there are services needs to be challenged in the sense of there are product-services or products/services. There are product service systems in other words. That's the new environment that digital play and also brick and mortar are having to operate in without challenge, business challenge, and reality.
A lot of organizations and companies will be like, "Well, we're doing stuff in digital. We have a call center. We have the product experience. We have a store. We have this. We have that, and everything like that." But the challenge today is how do you align all those? As I said before, it's an organizational thing. Take a basic scenario for the customer. That your customers don't care about the channel that you want them to use, right? Here's a scenario. The user is trying to sign up for a benefit that's being offered by local government.
The registration requires a picture of the person, like an active picture. It wants to turn on the camera, in other words, and it wants to take up profile photo. So leading up to this experience, there's many, many steps. One site kicks you over to another one. And finally, you get down to this thing where it's asking you for the photo and it's like, here's your application, submit a photo, and then we'll process it, and then you'll get your benefit or you'll get the end result, except for the camera or the photo experience is really poor.
It doesn't tell you to get ready for the... It's like a UX issue really. You're down there with a camera or the interface. It doesn't tell you to get ready. It doesn't give you any time. Just automatically, boom, takes a picture. Takes a picture of you and grabs it and your face is like, ah! It doesn't allow you to do a retake. You're going, "Yeah. But Frank, this is a simple user experience issue, right?" What happens is the person tries again or gets rejected. It gets into rejection.
It says, "Please take your photo again," and the person calls the call center and they say, "Yeah, it's really difficult. I agree with you. This is ridiculous. Please just send a photo in and we'll process it manually. Okay?" They have the backup. They're like, "Well, it's fine. It was just the UX issue or the user was confused. It was a stupid user or an inexperienced user," and all these excuses we make about users, right? And then we have the fallback, the call center. That's not good enough. It's completely entirely inefficient to do that, right?
The same thing if you go to a store. Here's another scenario. Customer goes to a store. Customer wants to use their loyalty points, and the supermarket says, "You have to download an app and register on the app." The employee in the store says, "It'll take about five to 10 minutes to do that." The user tries to download the thing and the wifi is not really working, because it's like a public free wifi thing. Wifi is not working. The signal's really low in the store. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, still nothing.
Error message comes up, "Unable to use this. Please come back later." The customer's like, "Well, is there another way to... Can I just get the loyalty? Can I sign up right here at the checkout?" And some stores allow this. Some stores allow you to look up your loyalty by phone number. Other stores make you carry the card around. You don't have the card. You don't get to use the loyalty. You don't get the points off or the money off the thing that you're buying, right?
Because what's happening in those scenarios, and this is the key challenge, is what's happening is it's channel forcing. You're forcing a channel. In fact, you went through digital transformation and you said, "We're going to make things so efficient. We're going to put everything on the web. We're going to force everybody to get on the web. It doesn't matter if they're elderly. It doesn't matter if their wifi is poor.
It doesn't matter if they're unemployed, or they're basically poor and they can't afford the highest speed bandwidth, or they're in a country where maybe that's the case in the global south. That doesn't matter. We're being efficient and we're playing on the web." The forcing of the channel that you think your customers want, so we're seeing a lot of that where it's like... It doesn't work, right? The behavior that customers have is that they choose the channel of their choice. They don't care what you want them to do.
They're going to go to the channel that they're comfortable with. They're in the moment. For whatever reason, they're walking around. They're on their phone. They're back at home and they do everything on their desktop. They're with their child and they want to put the child... Dah, dah, dah, whatever. They want to just fill it out on paper, because they can't see very well. They have an eye problem or a disability.
That is really, really telling. In one of the previous episodes, I was talking with people who are in the process of automating insurance claiming process. I mean, can you imagine? In this case, the experience is that you're out there driving, getting into a car accident. Most of the time you carry very little on the road, right? But everybody has a phone. So, the automation process starts with whatever the messaging app that they are using. WhatsApp in this case.
The entire process, taking a picture, submitting it, and getting it actually confirmed right on their mobile phone before they leave the site. In serves design... You mentioned something really interesting there, where this product design and service design is becoming one system and not looked at as a separate thing. Is it because the product design had a different design and development process to begin with, a completely separate process than service? How we got here?
Yeah, that's a really interesting and good question. The reason very simply, there's an imbalance of product... You go on organizations, they talk about product, product teams. Shorthand for product management, right? Many organizations are trying to improve product management. The whole agile development software development process is based on product management. It doesn't say anything about services, even though we entered, we burst through into the service age really I believe propelled my mobile.
The problem with, as you correctly said, is you can no longer just look at that, the example of the photo where it was blurry, as just the product is defective, the UX is defective. You could even say the UI. The user experience doesn't work, but the UI itself is lacking this retake or get ready or whatever, right? It would be naive today, and this is what's changed. I think from when I started in the field like 20 years ago, is that today you've got to look at the whole thing holistically.
You've got to look at all the touch points and make sure they're aligned, and that they're supported, that the customer can reach them through whatever channel they want. The touchpoint is simply just an interaction such as that photo. That's like a failed touchpoint. Now, let me give you another example. It actually involves a photo thing as well, but it's related to glasses. There's a new service. It's a sister company of an existing mega brand. That mega brand has a very high degree of trust for essentially ordering contact lenses in America.
The sister company is saying you can get a pair of glasses at a reduced rate. User goes to the website. You look at the lenses you like and there's a virtual try-on on the website. Unlike Warby Parker, which sends you like four or five in the mail... And by the way, Warby Parker is a great example of... Warby Parker, I think, we're talking around 2009 or '10 when they first started coming out and immediately burst into the category of eyeglasses, which is saturated. It's very hard to sell glasses because they're so cheap and everyone's selling them.
They come in with a very, very well-managed and orchestrated service experience, a try-on kit, very high touch, and then they extended to physical stores. Now you can walk into a Warby Parker, try on, or do whatever, return. It's a new channel extension of their already trusted existing. Back to my story about the sister company of the mega brand that is well-trusted. You're trying on the lens. It does a photo fit for you. Puts the lenses over your face and it's pretty seamless. The technology, the UI is seamless.
The whole experience just is well done. It's Polish. It does what the government site didn't do. It gives you a chance to retake. Do you like it? It tells you to adjust your lighting. It lets you try on many different pairs, see yourself from a different angle. It's better than a mirror. It did a nice job in the technology and delivery of that. So then your glasses get ordered and the glasses come to you four to six days later, something like that. You put on the pair of glasses and everything in the room looks weird. It's like, "Whoa!"
You start getting a headache after two minutes. You might think, "Oh I get a headache," but something is just wrong. Try on the other pair. You get two pairs, right? Buy one, get one, whatever. Second pair. "Oh wow!" Oh, by the way, the package is really beautiful. It's the out of box experience, what we call the out of box experience is beautiful. It's like a nice... The words and the language are all. They thought about the whole thing. It's very high touch. It's just as smooth as the website was. They're actually on top of the ball here, right?
Everything's good, except for those glasses. This is why you can't just look at things as the product, right? What's wrong with the glasses? You call customer support and customer support says... Customer support, by the way, is exquisite. It's a 10 out of 10. It's rare to get this. Very few brands are able to deliver very, very good. In other words, someone talks to you like they're your friend. That's good customer service. They got your back. They're giving you your options. They're giving you information. You need really good customer service to do anything right.
That channels where service experience starts, right? What's wrong with those glasses? The rep, who's actually well-informed, says, "Oh, this happens a lot. It's the distance between your eye," because they ask you to use a credit card to measure it on the online experience. It's like walking you through. It's the distance between your eyes. I didn't get it right. It's created this kind of weird bendy thing with full view. I don't know, like something to do with vision.
Why, we're all supposed to look alike?
Everyone's bridge. I guess, distance between pupils is different. Immediately, the rep identifies it as that. Can send you out a new pair. Now, what is that? Looking at that whole story is like, if you just look at the... You could say, "Well, there was a very positive..." Remember I said 10 out of 10 on customer service. If you're measuring customer service... And this gets to metrics. Another thing that people do poorly. If you measure just the customer service... You get those surveys and say, "How was the customer service," and you can press the button.
They're capturing those metrics, a lot of brands. Mostly corporate brands are doing that as a default. But if you measure the wrong time, let's say you don't get the second pair or the new pair, the fixed pair. Let's say that you don't get that and you gave it a 10. You're looking at garbage metrics. Also, if you look at it from a product perspective, you can say, "Well, the glasses, it's the bent issue. Let's go back to where we could fix it, on the camera view." The camera view did not do a thorough enough job of accounting for pupil distance.
I don't know if it's possible to do that online or not. If it's not possible, if it's a physics thing where you can't do that, then perhaps there should be a disclaimer. And it's more packaged like Warby Parker's try before you buy. A nice little five-pack comes home. Get to try them on. Get to send it back if you don't want. Two- way shipping. You remove the anxiety or the mismatch. Get those glasses at home. Everything was beautiful and it just doesn't work. The product doesn't work. Was it the service? Was it the product?
Was it the UI? It was all these things together. And just like that company had done an amazing job of putting the best customer support on designing the site with really strong UX, what they didn't do is take that known issue that the customer support presented. That's a known issue. She diagnosis it immediately. It's like, well, what's your mitigation? What this points to, and this is the part about measurement that a lot of people don't do, is you've got to, first of all, measure the right thing at the right time.
In a journey sort of sense, that doesn't necessarily mean right after the transaction, right after the touchpoint occurred, where the person spoke to the rep and the rep diagnosed it. Happy smiley face. 10 out of 10. Feeling good? Feeling good. If you called the customer, they'd say, "How many stars do you give that? Five stars. Oh, wonderful!" But really the overall experience had some break points or a major break point.
What you are talking about is, although that initial conversation was super great if it didn't arrive at the right time then the entire journey is somehow broken and the business itself is left with perhaps less than a complete picture of what really happened, which is really important for raising customer lifetime value. Because you do want to keep your customers long and help them repeat purchase because it's so expensive to get new customers.
But when you're talking about…maybe it didn't arrive, why did it arrive wrong, there's a system in the backend. They all need to be connected somehow to enable all this. I think we are entering into a space now where these technical components do exist. It's just a matter of being able to committing to understanding this entire flow in order for you to tackle the kind of gaps you are just talking about. How should we approach it?
Is there more of a step-by-step, something that we should be doing differently, or is it just a matter of really digesting the entire customer journey and lifetime cycle? Can we experiment in a more specific concrete way to get this better?
Yeah, I think I touched upon measurement. That's comes kind of later on. But to kickstart things and to make use of those systems that you've referred to, that backend infrastructure, what we call backstage in service design, language is you've got to start with a journey map. A journey map is a starting place for UX and for service design. You've got to start with an understanding.
To be clear, journey mapping comes from doing ethnography or customer research, where you actually hang out with customers and observe them and try and understand the values and beliefs, their purchase decision triggers, their entire decision-making, what's influencing it, social, emotional factors, and what we call emotional value. Digging into that and exposing that on a journey map is your starting point.
One of the things I love about service design and the next step in service design is a service blueprint, one of the things I love about it is it brings together that backstage, those systems. It brings together the middle stage, the employees, the things the employees have to do. Like in the Starbucks example, currently the employees are told to prioritize mobile orders over in store orders.
What's interesting is when a person that's in store places a mobile order, because they're waiting in line and they're sort of jumping in the queue or something like that, and then they get bumped in. There are problems in those rules. The journey mapping phase, and then followed by a service blueprinting phase if you're doing a service experience is that it needs to come from the customer's point of view. There's no point having any of these capabilities or systems.
There's no point having business requirements that specify how things are going to work if it doesn't include the perspective of the customer. The software today and the systems today are incredibly sophisticated even for measurement. You can measure what's something called real-time interaction, and that allows you to do a channel by channel seamless intervention to fix broken gaps or broken problems.
Starting point though has to be from the customer's perspective, what's the emotional value for them, what's their journey, and then you start to weave together... Service blueprints tell you how that experience is going to be brought together, but that's all as a starting point for us in UX and CX.
Actually you brought up an interesting thing. I didn't pay attention to Starbucks prioritizing mobile orders over on-site orders. Are they trying to shape some kind of customer behavior by rewarding it?
Yeah. There's a lot of backstage or, sorry, middle stage... This would be a middle stage rule, but the system that grabs that and then feeds it to the in-store, to the displays would be a backend system that would allow that. One of the things that they didn't factor in was time management, and they still haven't figured this out. They've sort of improved. When Starbucks launched, they actually launched in Portland and around 2016, which has loyalty reward and so forth. They added mobile ordering slightly after that.
You would go there, you'd go to Starbucks. This is pre-COVID, right? This is a while ago. You'd go to Starbucks to pick up your order that you had requested on the app and you now have to wait. The whole idea of cutting off the time, there's this huge line because everybody's doing it. It's like, "Oh!" The thing that they didn't factor in was time management, like expectation handling of like.... You know how an Uber and Lyft and so forth will tell you, "Your car is eight minutes away?"
A lot of it's nonsense because it's like eight minutes, two minutes, 12 minutes, four minutes, 25 minutes sometimes. I think maybe it's gotten a little bit better, but that goes with that experience. It's just a facade, but there are other ways that could be represented. There are other ways that could represent. It doesn't have to be like a number of minutes. You could represent it as, I don't know, just different colored ice cream cones or stars or whatever. You're X many away from getting your wonderful drink. One of their backend rules now with especially...
My daughter was a barista. I interviewed her actually. She told me that the scoop is that they're prioritizing... I believe the reason they're prioritizing is because mobile is something they're trying to move quickly, the promise of ordering by mobile. Mobile is importance like Facebook is because all the adoption behavior is there. If you have a mobile customer, you already have a VIP and already have a retention situation that you're trying to continue, right? Whereas if someone walks off the street, you don't really know if they're...
Especially if paying by cash, there's no tracking. I think the businesses is probably prioritizing that. Also, the practicality of mobile wait. The idea of ordering ahead and paying or using your free coupon or whatever, the promise is that you get it quickly.
They kind of missed the beat on wait time. At least in my world, when we are prototyping and trying to launch a new service, it’s hard to test and get direct feedback or go through that process enough to feed into it and make those iterations. What do you think is most challenging …what many businesses find it has to pass?
I would say the most difficult stages for organizations based on the work that I've done and what I've seen and it's kind of known in the industry, like service designers know this, it's the implementation, the deployment. There's two things related to the end of the process, which is like getting the good ideas out the door and supported and managed. And as I said earlier, measuring, getting the right metrics at the right time, even doing post-deployment measurement to see if there's something broken, to know if there's something that isn't working.
That is so critical, the blueprint itself, sort of backing up to the middle stage of actually creating this blueprint, is pretty easy. Would it be effective? Would it get the entire holistic issues? Well, if you did journey mapping based on field research, ethnographic field research, not market research, but actual behavioral, more culture study is what we do in the UX field. If it was based on that, okay, now you're starting to get some answers. But I think the biggest problem isn't necessarily creating a blueprint.
But I actually think it's the early part of the process, of really understanding the problem space. One of the beautiful things that service design does which UX doesn't, which is... To be clear, service design is in UX. It's a technique. It's not a separate thing. It's not some different thing. It's just another technique we use in the overall UX toolkit. But one of the beautiful things about service design is it requires a systems view, a holistic. It actually requires agnosticism where you go in and you say, "Okay. We got some broken things in this channel.
That's good. We'll look at those after we're done looking at everything in terms of the experience." Not in terms of scope. I'm not saying that you all of a sudden add like a million dollars worth of and just start turning over every rock in the warehouse and looking for mice or whatever. You kind of don't get stuck into problems the way the company defines them. You do research with the customers and with the ecosystems. You map out the ecosystems, and you map out the stakeholders. You start exposing these things and you map out the business model.
You map out the value proposition. There's all kinds of little templates and stuff that service design brings and processes like this. You get all that stuff out in the open. And even the ecosystem map itself is so powerful because you go, "Oh, we can't do that thing that Jean wants us to do because we don't have any ERP, or we don't have the mobile payment connected through partners to our app. When people pay with our app, it doesn't connect with the rewards system.
We'd have to fix that in order to even do that idea." And then it's like, well, what problem are we trying to solve?
I mean, there are so many meetings where you hear…now with this option, you can do this and they can do it this way…But are we solving the right problem? On that note, I think that is an incredibly important starting point, as well as how you can finish a project, getting back to the problem. I really thank you for that.
NOTE: Part 2 of the interview with Frank Spillers will be released in two weeks, following this release of Part 1.