What is Design Thinking Anyway?
Here’s how IDEO — one of the first companies to really use design thinking for service as well as product design (and a company I’ve always dreamed of working with!)– describes design thinking:
Design thinking uses elements from the designer’s toolkit like empathy and experimentation to find innovative solutions. By using design thinking, you make decisions based on what future customers really want instead of relying only on historical data or making risky bets based on instinct instead of evidence.
Today’s interview is a discussion of Design Thinking with CSPN Vice President of Business & Customer Strategy, Jessica Cryer.
I could have used some design thinking in my life lately. Please accept my apologies for this long-overdue podcast episode. (I explain why it is so delayed in the podcast.)
I attended two customer experience conferences this month, the CXPA Insight Exchange in New Orleans and the CSPN Conference in Toronto. In the coming weeks I’ll have interviews with the incredibly brave Graham Tutton, VP of Customer Insights at Comcast (you’ve got to be brave coming from Comcast to speak to 300+ customer experience professionals!), and Joe Blanchek, General Manager of the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center, who is full of great stories and ideas about how to improve customer experience.
Design Thinking Steps
Jessica Cryer describes the key steps in design thinking as:
- Figure out what is the problem we want to solve? (It might not be what you first assumed.)
- Observation stage – Time to do what I call a “customer safari”. Get out into the wilds and see how customers really use your products or services. At this stage you will also bring in other sources of customer data such as survey results, focus groups, and any other customer-focused research.
- Translate into insights – Data without insight is just numbers & letters. What does it tell you about what customers really want?
- Envision/ideate ways to improve things (a.k.a. the sticky note stage) – What do we envision as the desired end state or goal. Then, what incremental improvements can we make to get us heading there?
- Get Agile – Agile is another concept borrowed from a different discipline (programming) but now often applied in other worlds, such as customer experience improvement. Build prototypes, so you can test out your ideas without having invested everything in one idea that might not pan out. As Jessica put it, “You are not always going to get things 100% right the first time.”
Also in this episode
- The importance of involving customers at all stages in the process. What they perceive as the right solution may be quite different from what you came up with in the ideation stage.
- The challenges of (& motivations for) customer experience improvement in a regulated utility. There are two key motivations: first, even heavily regulated industries that had monopolies or near-monopolies can find their protected status swept away but disruptors (such as Uber vs the taxi industry). Second, customer experience improvements almost always result in developing more efficient and effective internal systems, so ultimately it will save you money and make your organization more profitable.
- Reasons why design thinking sometimes fails. Often it comes from not really understanding what design thinking is and how to do it right. A second reason is lack of internal (especially high level) support. And a related 3rd reason: Not making the ROI case, which leads to reason 2.
Episode 124 – Can Design Thinking Solve Your Customer Experience Woes?
Posted on 05/21/2018
[Transcription starts at 0:03:46]
TEMA: Today’s guest, Jessica Cryer, works for the CSPN. She’s going to be sharing a bit about her work with design thinking to improve customer experience.
0:05:52 Now on to today’s interview with Jessica Cryer, the VP of Business and Customer Strategy at CSPN. There was one point where the sound got cut off briefly, so I’ve cut out that blank space, but there will be a bit of an abruptness there. Talk to you briefly at the end of the episode.
[Interview starts at 0:06:13]
TEMA: What got you interested in this whole field, Jessica?
JESSICA: It’s a good question. My career started a number of years back at Monitor Deloitte where I was a management consultant focused primarily within the financial services industry. I did a lot of work helping organizations optimize where they were today and to start building for the future.
0:06:35 Where I found a gap in the work that I was doing was really bringing in that customer thinking perspective and point of view. And so, after seven years at Monitor Deloitte, I went to another firm called Idea Couture. My experience there really opened my eyes to how to start bringing in different elements into strategic planning when we start to look at customer experience strategy, customer service strategy, product innovation. That was really where I got my feet wet with the whole concept of design thinking, customer journey mapping, and helping organizations build and grow for the future, but doing it from a customer-centric or customer point of view mindset.
JESSICA: When I had left Idea Couture, I came to CSPN, where I am now.
TEMA: When clients come to you, typically what is it that’s driven them to do that?
JESSICA: Our clients come to us for a number of reasons. I would say one of the primary ones right now is that they know they need to evolve and grow, but they don’t know how. That need to evolve and grow is coming from negative feedback from customers.
JESSICA: They built a small voice of the customer program, or perhaps is fairly robust, and they’re finding out that customers aren’t happy. They’re not sure exactly what the root cause of the problem is, and they’re not sure what to do about it. And so, they come to us looking for ways to help them identify what that root cause problem is, and how do we strategically come up with opportunities that are not only beneficial to the organization but are what the customers truly want?
TEMA: When a client comes to you in that sort of condition, what stage do you introduce the concept of design thinking and how do you introduce that?
JESSICA: That’s a good question. I think, before we even jump into that, a lot of the times clients don’t ask for design thinking because they’re not sure what it is exactly.
JESSICA: Often, it’s a conversation that we start early. As we get into it, really, design thinking is leveraging an innovative problem-solving model. It’s bringing that mindset of human-centered innovation for product and service development. I think one of the best definitions that I heard around design thinking was that it’s that connection between creativity and innovation.
0:09:03 Kind of to backpedal and answer your question there is, typically the conversation starts with, “We know that we need a new digital strategy for our customers because customer preferences are evolving.” That’s not new to anyone. People prefer interacting with us through different channels.
JESSICA: What are we going to do about it? What’s the so-what behind it? This whole notion of design thinking and customer experience and other buzzwords like customer journey mapping all come into play when we come up with, what is the framework we want to use to solve this problem? Do we want to start with a customer-centered approach and go through kind of an agile development cycle to come up with a product or solution that we can put in market that’s meeting the needs of customers but do it in a way that’s efficient and effective?
TEMA: When you say, “Do it in an agile way,” we hear terms like this thrown around: agile, design thinking, lean, blah-blah-blah. In a practical sense, can you give an example? Walk me through how you would have done that for a client and what the results were?
JESSICA: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll give you an example from a utilities provider that we’re working with still and have done a lot of work with them recently. They came to us, and they had very limited customer feedback, documented customer feedback. Anecdotally, they heard that the experience wasn’t great, so their CSRs were kind of collecting this, and it was all hearsay.
0:10:36 When they came to us, they said, “We’re not sure A) what this means and B) what to do about it.”
JESSICA: We started to go through the process of, okay, let’s define what the problem is that we’re trying to solve. That’s really the first step in employing a design thinking methodology is, what is that customer-centric challenge that has been put out there that we need to solve?
0:10:57 We went through a process of defining that right now we’re looking at the end-to-end customer experience from the moment that they signed up with this utility provider through the date service is delivered and installed, and then, ongoing, what that management looks like for the customer. A lot of thought went into defining what that challenge is.
0:11:17 From there, we went into the observation stage. We said really the goal or the impetus of this is, how do we let customers guide what our decisions are going to be? This is all about what is the data that we can collect from customers to help us better understand them? Whether it’s going out into the field and talking to customers, conducting focus groups with customers, doing surveys, having customers do journaling activities, so we can understand at a very granular, detailed level what it is the experience feels like from their point of view.
JESSICA: Once we collected all those observations, and this is kind of a plan where we collect the observations and translating those into insights. That’s where the third element of the design thinking framework comes in is the understanding.
JESSICA: How do we take what we heard and drive a clear insight out of it that we can then think about how we want to action.
JESSICA: Once we’ve kind of set the stage going through these three phases, we got into the envision phase or the ideate phase. That’s where you start to also leverage tools like customer journey mapping, which allows you to visually see what the experience is, where the pain points exist in the customer experience, and how we can ideate and come up with ways to improve it and enhance it. This is kind of the fun, innovative phase that I think everyone starts to think about when you think design thinking and where the sticky notes are all over the wall.
TEMA: Exactly. Yeah. That’s what I was thinking.
JESSICA: Yeah, exactly, and people are collaborating and talking. You start from everything, kind of blue sky. If time, money, and resources were no constraint, what could we do? Let’s start coming up with more kind of tactical, real things that we think that we can implement.
0:13:07 We go through that ideate phase and where the agile component comes in is really in that next one, which is a build and prototype. The whole kind of driving force behind design thinking is that you’re not going to always get it 100% right the first time. But, let’s get something out there that is customer-centric that will make a difference. Let’s iterate and improve on that over time.
TEMA: Now, how do you do that in a company like a regulated utility? Are they not afraid, if we go public and then either we get a backlash or perhaps it’s not within the regulations? How do you overcome those fears? I know in financial services that’s often a problem.
JESSICA: No, that’s a really good question. One of the areas that we were looking at specifically or one of the ideas that came through was revamping the customer portal. Right now, it’s a very kind of fragmented experience that customers had. Data’s missing. The visualization isn’t great.
JESSICA: While elements within that are regulated, there was opportunity to improve and enhance it. Like every company, every large company, making changes can be difficult, and so what we did is we defined the visionary end state and worked backward to say, what are the incremental things that we can do over time that will help us get towards there? Knowing that at some point in time we’re going to flip the switch and completely redo this whole experience. But, what we can do right now are these incremental improvements that will absolutely make a difference in the customer experience, a tangible difference in the customer experience.
TEMA: Well, and sometimes incremental is actually a great way to go, like if you’re redesigning a website or something. If you totally change it, you have this period of disruption where people are used to using the old system. Whereas, if you’re sort of gradually introducing new concepts, then you may be able to launch a little more easily because it’s not as radical a change from what they’re used to.
JESSICA: Exactly. People are scared of change. I think that’s not new news to anybody. How do you make that change easy? Even if you are changing to make it better, it still can be scary for a customer. I think the interesting thing when doing work with a utility provider, specifically, in this case, is that their customers are their customers not by choice, but they’ve been mandated to use them as a utility provider.
0:15:36 What the whole kind of guiding principle behind our experience redesign was that knowing that our customers don’t want to interact with us, they just want to have their utilities delivered and have no issues with billing, when they do have to interact with us, how do we make it as seamless and frictionless as possible? Everything from how do we simplify what the bill structure looks like knowing that we have to make regulations because it is exactly like you said, a highly regulated environment?
JESSICA: What are kind of the smaller incremental things that we’ve discovered in the customer journey mapping where customers are saying, “You know what? Your bills are difficult,” or, “Why is it when I go to do an online payment, I can’t use a credit card for recurring payments, but I can for a one-time payment?”
JESSICA: It’s addressing those kind of specific pain points that we knew we could enhance right away, but then also planning for what that ideal end state is going to look like.
TEMA: When you’re talking about something like a regulated utility that has a monopoly, what’s their motivation for spending money on trying to make things better for the customer?
JESSICA: Where they are focusing and what I thought was so fantastic in how they’re thinking is that this specific utility provider is a sub-metering company. They do have competition, so they go into condos and apartment buildings, and they do the sub-metering for the entire building.
JESSICA: While the individual tenants there have no choice to determine who their sub-metering provider is, the condo owners do. And so, what their focus was that they have customers and clients, so their clients would be the owners of the building, and their customers are the tenants that are there.
0:17:24 The relationship and the service that they provide to their customers is, of course, going to escalate or permeate into the client relationship as well. And so, while something is still regulated, there is a need to provide the right level of service. I think this can go into a broader conversation similarly around government and the services that they provide.
JESSICA: I don’t know if you saw this whole move toward digitizing the customer experience for citizens. It’s being driven by the federal government right now.
JESSICA: We’ve done a lot of work with CRTC, for example, who is building out their digital strategy as well with, how do we start to break down kind of these traditional ways that we’ve communicated with customers or with citizens, and how do we provide them service that they would expect from us knowing that they’re also interacting with companies like Google, Facebook, Rogers, Entellus, Bell, and all these other organizations.
JESSICA: I don’t think that this need for great service stops with corporations. I think it’s absolutely something that’s being looked at from both the public and private sector.
TEMA: Mm-hmm. In your experience, Jessica, what are the biggest barriers to implementing a design thinking approach?
JESSICA: I think the barriers, there are a couple that come to mind. Number one is getting people educated on the concept of what design thinking is and seeing the value in implementing and leveraging a framework that will ultimately come up with opportunities that are customer-centric. I think that at a notional level people understand the value of it, but people who don’t necessarily live and breathe this every day, it’s really easy to look at a problem and say, “You know what? From an organizational perspective, if we just did this, it would be a lot easier.”
JESSICA: How do we break down those barriers, if you will, to say, “You know what? We need to also look at this from a customer-centric point of view.” I think there is a happy medium where we don’t want to deliver solutions that are only focused on what the customer wants, but also don’t align to the organizational objectives or imperatives as well.
JESSICA: Or don’t feasibly make sense for the organization to do. But, how do we come to an agreement that we can absolutely look at it from both points of view. I think, number one, the education piece is a big component of it. Tied to that, too, is being able to sell this upwards.
JESSICA: How do you communicate what the ROI is? Sometimes you can’t put hard numbers to it, and so it’s how do you communicate what that value is. I think we can get to the level of detail when we start to business case some of the opportunities that will kind of manifest out of this to say, “You know what? By focusing on a digital experience, we’re looking to eliminate call volumes. We’re looking to eliminate wait times for this.” You can see how you can start to drive value there, but when we talk about adding in kind of the bells and whistles around an experience that already isn’t generating revenue.
TEMA: One of the things that I’ve been looking at a lot lately and will be the subject of my next book, if I can find enough examples, is how organizations that weren’t great on the customer experience have managed to turn that around. So far, most of the examples that I found, either they were already good and just wanted to be great, or they had a new CEO who said, “This is important.” What have you seen, or have you seen, examples where it’s in between. Where it was somebody more junior who came to you for help, but they did manage to actually transform their organization?
JESSICA: I’ve seen examples, and I’m thinking back to my days at Idea Couture and the work that I’ve done here as well where we’ve had people come in at more the senior manager/director level that have such a drive and passion for change. While they haven’t been able to fundamentally shift the entire organization because, I think, for someone at that level within a business unit it can be very difficult–
JESSICA: –they’ve been able to drive initiatives forward that have fundamentally changed the experiences for their customers or the organization’s customers that interact with them at a specific point in time. I think, when you start looking at banks and large retail giant organizations, to have someone drive an initiative that can make a tangible difference, I think, is phenomenal. It’s no small feat by any means.
TEMA: [Laughter] Yeah.
JESSICA: But exactly, Tema, what you had said is that so much of this, a shift change really does have to come from the top down. I think one of the trends that I was looking at for 2018 was that CEOs need to put this first. They need to put the idea of customer experience first because, without their support and their rigor behind it, it’s not going to happen.
TEMA: Well, and what we’ve seen in the last couple of years is they claim to be putting it first, but the reality isn’t behind it. [Laughter]
JESSICA: No, absolutely not. It’s hard. Now that I’m also running this company at CSPN that I’m working with now, and it’s hard when you start to balance; I know this is what the customer wants, but this is what the numbers are saying.
JESSICA: It absolutely becomes a conflict there, but I think the reality is that there’s so much competition out there. Unless you’re making tangible changes that customers can relate to–
TEMA: What is the most surprising thing that you’ve ever learned in the process of a design thinking implementation?
JESSICA: One example was, we were doing work for a large career provider, one that many people, I’m sure, have used and used multiple times. We took the opportunity, and we went through the design thinking process. We did customer journey mapping. We identified the breakpoints, and we started to ideate and come up with opportunities.
0:23:32 The core consulting team did that. We brought in the client. It was a great working session. We had built out four or five opportunity maps.
0:23:42 What we strongly felt, based on what we had heard from customers, so we conducted focus groups, we did surveys, and we did a journaling exercise. We took all the customer feedback, translated them to insights, and built out these opportunity maps.
JESSICA: Then what we did with those is, we went back to the customers and we ideated with them. Surprisingly enough — we didn’t go in with the maps that we had created, so we went in with a blank slate. We had positioning questions to help them think through some of the challenges and help them kind of start that ideation process.
JESSICA: But, there was not one similar opportunity or idea that was the same from what our internal team had created to what the customer had come up with.
JESSICA: Yeah. You know what? I think what was so valuable in that is it really reconfirmed the need to have customers, to bring customers along this entire journey with you.
JESSICA: We were a smart group of people, and we genuinely felt that this was what would enhance the experience. From our perspective, too, as customers of this provider, it made logical sense to us. When we went back to the people, they’re like, “No, it’s actually not this element of it. Our major pain points were really here, and this is what would make it easier for us.”
TEMA: In the end, did they convince you, or you were more convinced by what the customers had told you?
JESSICA: What we ended up doing, in the end, is we took the best of both worlds and came up with an idea that incorporated both elements, and then went back again after that to do testing.
TEMA: What advice would you offer a business that didn’t have the budget to hire professionals? What advice would you offer them about how they could apply the concepts of design thinking to improve their customer experiences?
JESSICA: I would say it starts with education. If you can’t bring in people that can do it for you, then you can absolutely learn how to do it. I think there are so many great courses and resources out there that introduce people to these concepts. So much of what you learn is by understanding what other people have done.
JESSICA: What has worked for them, what hasn’t, and dedicate time to it as well. These things don’t happen on their own or overnight but having a dedicated team of people internally that can support you on these initiatives is critical.
TEMA: Right. Thank you. Is there anything that I should have asked you and I haven’t?
JESSICA: No, I think that was good.
TEMA: Okay. Great. Well, thank you very much for your time.
TEMA: As Jessica said, there are plenty of online resources and offline courses about design thinking and customer experience. I’d really urge you to have a look at them.
0:26:29 You might also want to check out an interview that I did a few years ago with user experience expert Sara Messing about design thinking and user experience, as well as customer experience. That was back when we were transitioning the name of the website and the podcast, so you’ll find that one at FrankOnlineMarketing.com/82_mesing_service_design. Yeah, I know it’s kind of long and awkward, but it’s worth it.
[0:29:49 end of audio file]
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