What is design thinking, and how can it benefit your CE?


Director, Strategy & Content | Podcast Host of Mobile Interactions Now

6min read
Blog - What is design thinking

To generate the best outcomes from your Connected Experience (CE) initiative, it's essential to leverage the principles that guide designers to create the kinds of experience you're aiming for.

In our previous issue, we identified a CE core team, including the designer roles. To help the team move forward with shared understanding and process, we're now delving into critical concepts and tools for designing CE for your customers and the frontline staff interacting with your customers. 

This is where design thinking comes into play—it's a non-linear process that helps teams understand users, challenge assumptions, test prototypes, and constantly iterate to provide innovative solutions to customer challenges.

The design thinking approach is weaved into the entire customer journey by service design. Addressing customer challenges end-to-end, not just at a single touchpoint or a product, service design examines the entire customer journey, internal processes, technology, and other related components of customer interactions.

Service designer roles are becoming increasingly important even in companies that are not encompassed in the traditional service industries, like consumer goods: fashion, sports gear, or packaged goods.

Let’s take an example of a fashion clothes brand interacting with its clients. If they’ve been shopping with them for a long time, the brand will use clienteling tactics when new clothes arrive. They would contact customers about new products, send on color options, and book time slots to try on the clothes in a convenient store location. Both the tailored customer approach and the effortless experience are powered by design thinking in the background. 

In this issue, you’ll learn how to leverage design thinking to enable a Connected Experience for your customers and our top tips to leverage this approach each step along the way. You'll also learn various ways to make prototypes to test out your design ideas.

Four steps to follow when applying a design-led approach to Connected Experience

To put design thinking into practice for solving customer challenges, there are four steps your business needs to take:

1. Empathize with your customers

When designing a Connected Experience, you need to start from the customer's perspective. This means understanding and resolving core customer pain points and building experiences around them. Your business needs to start by researching your user's needs and friction points to do this successfully.

An excellent example of a company that uses empathy to inform its design thinking is Denmark’s national agency for insurance claims. In an effort to understand its customers better, their CE team interviewed customers as they described their experiences with the agency’s case management journey. The revelation that came from these interviews was that the company was focusing primarily on their needs (efficiency and making claims assessment easy for the staff) rather than their customers’ needs who had experienced a traumatic event.

The agency used customer feedback to power a positive change inside the business. By interpreting findings, the company encouraged employees to focus on customer needs, followed by orchestrated idea-generation exercises—all of which led to more customer-focused solutions, like presenting customers with a visual that outlines the case-management process and offering a “Got Questions?” hotline where clients could quickly obtain help. 

Constantly looking for new ways to improve your customer experience and continuously evolving user personas as you learn more about your customers is at the core of this practice. In this way, you can define customer problems and address all facets of both the needs of your business and your customers. For another example in the insurance industry, check out how the insurance company San Cristobal, mentioned in a previous article, has introduced a new claims process over WhatsApp and drastically improved their customer experience and filing efficiency at the same time. 

A practical tool you can leverage for this process is user personas, which we covered in a previous article. Alongside that, depending on the context of the challenge, you can use different types of stakeholder interviews (focus groups, interviews, participatory design), different studies (ethnographic field, participatory design, usability), usability benchmarking, or concept testing. To design a better study, don’t forget to leverage the customer data you already have from different touchpoints.


2. Define the right customer problem to solve

Defining the right problem that needs solving is a skill many companies have not yet mastered. Thinking back to the insurance example we mentioned earlier, employees realized that the main customer issue was that they felt negatively affected by the agency’s actions, even though well-intentioned. Once they clearly defined this problem, the company knew they had to show their customers that they are listened to, cared for and company actions have their best interest at heart. 

To do this, you should start with defining what success looks like—this process will lead to solution discovery. Using the customer insights you accumulated with the help of customer research described in the previous step, you can pick the right problem to solve (that matters to your customers) and start exploring solutions. The solution discovery process involves building hypotheses to test and validate.


3. Prototype ideas to test

Once the problem is defined, and success is articulated, you can move to find options to solve that problem. You will have a few ideas, and choosing the right one will make a difference for the next stage. 

There are a few methods you can use to choose compelling ideas that will propel you to the next stage:

Post-it Voting—a process where you write your ideas on post-its and get your team to vote on them based on merit.

Four Categories Method—dividing ideas into four categories: the rational choice, the most likely to delight, the darling, and the long shot.

Bingo Selection—split ideas according to various form factors, such as their potential applications in a physical prototype, a digital prototype, and an experience prototype.

Idea Affinity Diagrams—these will help you organize a large number of ideas into their natural relationships. It is the organized output from a brainstorming session.

At the point when a solution concept surfaces, you can build a prototype to validate this concept.

Innovative businesses prefer to rollout gradually and learn from a prototype—this is because customers' needs, markets, and innovations constantly reshape customer experiences. Creating a prototype before launching the service is about testing the customer experience and evaluating how different interactions happen. For example, imagine finding a way to solve this particular problem: your high-value customers expect you to hold the newest product for them at the store they prefer. They hate not being the first to try on the latest or being told their size is not in stock. 

Think of prototyping the flow and validating the concept with a customer and find out if your solution is solving their problems. Check out how to use storyboarding for this concept in our prototyping story .


4. Validate and iterate your solutions

Once you create a prototype, you're ready to validate the idea—you can do this through both concept validation and customer validation.

Concept validation will help you determine whether the idea is solving the right problem and whether the assumptions made to get to a solution are correct. As an example, let's say, in the clienteling example we mentioned before, the assumption was that the high-value customers tend to frequent a physical store where they can try things on. Before going further, you would need to cross-check that with your customer data.

Customer validation works best when you can test the idea directly with the intended user by employing the prototype. In the same example above, let's say your customer data points indicate an increasing preference from your clients to pick certain messaging channels to hear from you. Then it's logical for you to work in their preferred channels into the prototype. Here, you're making another assumption—that the preference applies to this type of interaction, too (as this is a new service feature). With the prototype, you can test it out with a few customers and get their direct feedback, not just about how it was communicated, but the entire experience, from hearing about the newest, requesting a hold, coming in for a try-on and so on.

The implementation and rollout phases of designing a Connected Experience are often iterative—teams usually redefine and test one or more further problems based on their results. 

Top tips for getting the most out of design thinking

Although designing a Connected Experience has many benefits, implementation and execution can be a challenge to achieve. To help you aim for the best results, we are sharing pro tips you can use to overcome hurdles as you go through the different phases of the design process:

Get customer participation. 

Make sure you are not asking for anonymous feedback so that you can go back to the customer and validate your solution idea. And when the list of ideas and feedback is long, identify where the innovation is needed most.

Eliminate anything that doesn't add value to customers. 

Remove what's not adding value to customers and break a long process into smaller journey sections if necessary. See the context in which the customer is using the service and the steps they need to take to achieve their goal in order to decide what can be removed.

Don't assume all customers will follow your design script. 

For example, in the fashion clienteling example we mentioned earlier, the customer might request something that may require their profile to be updated, which might trigger another service to kick in (identity verification before changing the customer record). Design to adapt/augment your flow as you learn more from your customers.

Prototype ideas at whatever level you can accommodate. 

Depending on your budget, there are different ways of prototyping solutions. On the one hand, low-fidelity prototyping uses basic and low-cost resources—fit for early ideas when you need a timely, cost-effective way to test. There is also higher-fidelity prototyping, which is usually used later in the journey as it can be more expensive, but it will allow you to understand the viability of your concept better. When Zappos, the online shoe company acquired by Amazon, started out, it had prototyped an online store with a range of shoes. The back-end infrastructure was non-existent, so when a customer bought something, they actually went down to the local shoe store, bought the shoes, packaged them up, and posted them. Based on customer feedback and demand, they were able to turn their high-fidelity prototype into a product. 

Keep up with your customers

Keep updating your customer user personas with discoveries and feedback. Be inclusive and reflect the diversity within your customer groups and their cultural context. You will need a set of personas, not just one, and you need to make sure you focus on what really matters to them. Grammarly does just this by using the data it collects from its users to deliver them weekly reports with an analysis of their writing technique. In addition to providing them value as they get guidance for improving their technique, it helps the company update their personas and receive constant feedback.

Ensure all touchpoints are covered: 

CE is about empowering customers to achieve their goals no matter where they started their journey and irrespective of the channels they want to use—make sure your service is accessible on all channels.

The Take-Away

Design thinking challenges us to re-examine our assumptions by getting constant customer feedback, focusing on what clients need, constantly testing and iterating, and ensuring appropriate coverage for all touchpoints.

This process can enable companies to create value by enhancing the customer experience, building customer trust, earning loyalty, and gaining a competitive advantage.

What’s next

Look for our October issue where we cover CE design implementation and deployment!

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