Experience design is a customer-centric marketing idea in which brands focus on the entire customer journey to impact and help customers work through all possible solutions to their problems, solved both directly and indirectly by a brand. But it involves thinking through more than just your customers’ interactions with your brand as a solution to their problems. It’s about understanding why they have a problem, their thought processes for solving that problem, how they discover their solution, and other factors that influence their decision.
In addition, experience design is more than creating a content strategy that will lead your potential customer to finding you and their solution. It’s about actually putting your customers’ needs and problems before your bottom line, even if it means they don’t end up becoming a customer right away.
Stick with me. This will all start to fall into place. It’s my belief that this concept will reshape how we think about customer experience, the customer journey, and beyond.
Experience Design vs. Customer Experience
There are key differences between experience design and customer experience. Experience design is a broader concept stemming from CX and the customer journey. CX has become synonymous with digital marketing and is often interchangeably misused for “user experience.” Both CX and UX are aligned to a digital framework and do not address the variety of other ways consumers or businesses interact with brands.
Rarely when discussing CX do you find content associated with offline interactions customers have in store, over the phone, interactions with sales reps, etc. It is my intent in talking about experience design and removing “customer” from the terminology that we can expand what is considered as you design you buyer journey.
- Experience design tracks and maps online and offline customer interactions and determines how they impact one another.
- Experience design looks outside of a customer’s interactions with just your brand; it looks at all the solutions to their problems.
- Experience design directly impacts customers, whereas CX is a representation of what a positive experience looks like from the view of the brand.
What Experience Design Looks Like
Let’s think about how this would work in the real world. Imagine a person wakes up to a leaking refrigerator. He heads online and finds a premium refrigerator retailer. Its home page asks if he’s looking for a new fridge or repairs. (As the retailer, I know people only purchase new refrigerators because they want an upgrade or because they need a new one—two very different motivations for purchasing.)
The guy’s old fridge could use an upgrade, but it wasn’t in the plans until next year, so he chooses “repair” and fills out a short form asking for his name, email, and ZIP code. Next, he’s taken to a page with a list of local, well-regarded repairmen who give free same-day estimates. He receives a fair quote from a repairman, who’s able to fix the fridge. Problem solved.
Side note: You, the marketer, may be wondering how this helps you at all. I, the retailer, know that refrigerator repairs average about two years. When it comes time for a new one, the customer is going to think about how I saved the person money in the short term. Customers are also likely to tell family and friends how they didn’t have to buy a new refrigerator because a retailer referred them to reliable repairmen. Better yet, they’ll see awesome content from the marketing nurture they’re added to—but more on that later.
Where Do Marketers Begin
All of this sounds great, but we need to make it applicable to experience design. If your team is set up to be thinking about where the customer journey should take them next, then these are their action items:
1. Choose which piece(s) of the journey marketing needs or wants to influence the most.
2. Document and understand the customer channels and moments of interaction in your chosen piece(s) of the journey.
3. List all the options, including unconventional ones, customers have for solving a problem your product or service addresses, then pinpoint how to impact or orchestrate how customers solve their problem.
4. Determine which metrics will guide how you formulate experience design. This could be based on path to purchase, conversion source, etc. What do your metrics tell you about your customer’s behavior?
5. Complete a list of all the customer touch points outside of marketing’s sphere of influence. From there, brainstorm ideas for how to close gaps in your customer experience and bring it full circle across your organization.
The proof these work already exists: Insurance has been doing it for years. Some companies, like Progressive, let you compare car insurance rates. It’s your one-stop-shop when looking for car insurance. It may not be the lowest cost, but it knows customers will think highly of the company and question whether they’re getting quality service for the price from the competition.
Let’s look at each action item more closely.
1. Marketing’s Sphere Of Influence
Marketers have done the research and know their customer’s journey, but it’s time to be honest about which pieces of the customer journey they can influence. The truth is, marketers have the idea that they can influence the customer experience at each and every touch point, but this isn’t necessarily true. If you think through inbound methodology—attract, convert, nurture, advocate—there are other touch points outside of marketing’s sphere of influence.
Marketing has supporting roles throughout the customer journey. Experience design empowers marketers in owning and understanding which pieces of the journey they can influence. In my earlier example, had our customer step foot inside the store, as a marketer I lose all control.
2. Documenting The Channels And Moments
Unlike the customer journey, where goals are tied to emotions in the buying stage, experience design links goals to emotions within a channel—i.e., social media networks, TV ads, etc.
Going back to the refrigerator example, start thinking about the person’s emotional state once he has let you know his fridge is broken. His day was disrupted, and he needs to feel as if your brand, like a good friend, exists to help him. This is where experience design really impacts the customer unlike customer experience. For example, what colors and language should be used on the web page to motivate potential customers to take an action?
3. Orchestrate The Before And After
Be on the side of the customer; orchestrate (meaning impact) the moments before and after customers have solved their problems. This is an area experience design is tied closely to. It asks what other interactions outside of my brand does a customer have and is there a way to impact that experience, much like finding repairmen in my previous example. As a retailer I could try to sell potential customers a new fridge, but that’s the easy answer and one the customer might not be ready for.
Instead, think though all the options customers have and not just what your direct competition is offering. Customers have options and the internet at their fingertips. When you place your customer first, it shows and gets noticed.
4. Metrics-Driven Experience Design
Remember the form we had the potential customer complete before giving him a list of repairmen? The retailer now has the customer’s email address and can send him a survey, updates, or any other nurture tactic to drive him to eventually becoming a customer. It also means collecting data from his first touch point to when he, hopefully, becomes an advocate for the brand. All of this data collection leads your marketing team to a clearer understanding of their customers and enables them to optimize interactions for future efforts.
Don’t underestimate the information the customer gave the retailer. An email address is great, but there was another small nugget of info that will lead you to a goldmine–the ZIP code. You can learn a lot about someone from where they live, including income level, age and gender demographics, and even lifestyle.
5. Experience Design Expanded
Most people don’t purchase refrigerators online; odds are they’re going to conduct their initial research there and then purchase in-store.
It doesn’t matter how great your online experience is if the in-store experience is poor. Keep in mind: Your overall customer experience is only as good as your weakest touch point. Your team would start back at step one, working through each different channel, interaction, and touch point. Marketing will slowly be able to influence all aspects of the customer journey, not just a select few.
A Progressive Outlook On Marketing
While this is where I see marketing progressing in the next few years, it’s already in motion in some places. Think about how people can get a prescription from a doctor without ever stepping foot into an office; it’s a completely different type of experience. For marketers and organizations as a whole to stay relevant, they need to fully understand what’s affecting customers and determine how to influence it.
Experience design places all the pieces of the puzzle together. It will give organizations a full view of how they can influence and impact customer decision-making. It’s time to start looking through the lens of the customer. It starts with experience design.