This article is part of our October 2018 series about the state of design and creativity. Click here for more.
Seamless, frictionless, and smooth: Giving consumers what they want without delay is the goal for many organisations on the path to digital transformation and reshaping the customer experience. Enter “flow design.”
“Understanding the flow of your customers, staff, and users is key to being able to design clean and clear experiences,” said Adam Faulkner, experience design director at Australian agency BlueEgg. “Understanding how users interact and engage means you can identify pain points within a flow and seek to improve the experience.”
According to Shreya Nayak, independent management consultant for Fortune 500 companies and British Council Future Global Leader, flow design ultimately leads to business success, thanks to the agility and responsiveness that ensues.
“This kind of model enables businesses to map customer journeys, and this, in turn, informs their strategy,” Nayak told CMO.com. “Today, people expect great experiences along with great products. Flow equips the key organizational stakeholders and teams with the knowledge needed to respond rapidly to customer needs and stay on top.”
At Your Service
In a physical retail setting, flow design can begin with a service area at the front of a store that features automation and self-service methods–think high-tech kiosks, mobile payment platforms, sensors, and facial recognition, to name a few. These can be more cost-effective while also providing customers with dynamic access to products without having to wait for assistance or in a queue.
Or how about a fully automated store? Such is the case for Beijing clothing retailer JD.com–its first opened almost a year ago, followed by fellow Chinese giants Alibaba and Tencent. Beijing also has 24-hour staff-less bookstores, with automated 7-Eleven convenience stores opening in Taiwan and South Korea.
In these setups, customers typically use an app, choose the products they want, and leave. Store systems identify which products have been taken, and customers’ accounts are charged. India is also expecting its first staff-less store from Watasale in Kerala, allowing customers to purchase by scanned QR codes with their smartphones.
Global retail giants Amazon, Walmart, and Apple also have recognised that waiting and stop-start experiences can be inefficient. They have iterated their offerings using flow principles, with Amazon Go perhaps the most high-profile example of “just walk out” retail.
Singapore telco Circles.Life incorporates flow design principles into its digital-only operations, too.
“Your product needs to have a ‘wow’ factor, be personalised, and be presented in a simple manner with a smoother user journey,” said Gaurav Gupta, senior manager for omnichannel at Circles.Life. “If a customer doesn’t need to make too many clicks, doesn’t have to jump back and forth, doesn’t have to change devices, and we can track every single interaction across a whole user journey, then we’ve created a good experience.”
In fact, earlier this year PwC’s “Experience is Everything” Digital Pulse report revealed customers will pay a premium in exchange for seamless customer experiences.
“When asked to rank the importance of customer service aspects for the future, speed and efficiency came equal first to Australian customers at 78%, alongside ease of payment and knowledgeable employees,” wrote Richard Blundell, PwC’s retail and consumer specialist in the Digital Services team, in the report.
Keep ’Em Moving
Keeping things flowing is, naturally, well understood in travel, transport, and logistics. Airports in Malaysia, for example, are reconsidering CX and flow in order to move high volumes of travellers.
BlueEgg’s Faulkner praised Air New Zealand’s flow design—both physical and digital—as a “fantastic example of a brand that invests heavily in understanding the experience of their users.”
“The flows of pre-, during, and post-flight booking are seamless, contextual, and personalised,” he said. “[The airline] recognises understanding the flows leads to an experience that is engaging and personalised.”
Big picture, companies that have operationalized the principles of flow design can accelerate their digital transformation and find competitive advantage, Faulkner said.
“Key is the opportunity to improve engagement, increase conversion, and an ability to improve a process in a human-centered approach,” he said. “Understanding a flow means brands gain a greater understanding of what users struggle with or dislike, and then have the ability to improve and adapt to create better and more engaging experiences.”
Added Nayak: “Agility and responsiveness are imperative to succeeding in today’s market. There is nothing traditional about the digital world, and businesses need to realize this sooner rather than later. Putting customers first is the only way forward.”