A strategic approach to customer experience design and the journey to get there....



When it comes to defining and delivering new experiences there is a natural tendency to jump straight into a journey mapping or service design exercise, understanding your target segment, the needs of your customers, how they engage with your brand across the touchpoints and what a new and engaging experience might look like. Whilst these are all sensible no regret activities, you have to look much broader and deeper to turn these somewhat theoretical activities into tangible solutions.

What differentiates successful customer experiences is that they are informed by strategy, bring a brand's differentiation to life for customers, and are delivered incredibly well. Roger Martin's Cascade of Strategic Choices provides the ideal frame, helping us to build a solid definition of how these new experiences underpin your vision and strategy and provide the platform for you to achieve your brand aspirations and growth plans.

We use 5 strategic choices to accomplish this:

1. What is our winning aspiration?

2. Where will we play?

3. How will we win?

4. What capabilities must be in place and how are they architected?

5. What management systems are required?


What is our winning aspiration?

We have previously shared Baringa’s Twelve Shifts of Digital which are used to challenge and expand your thinking, frame your aspiration and create a guiding North Star. In the face of uncertainty and disruption, your vision and winning ambition must:

  • Start with ‘the why’ – describing a higher order purpose for designing and delivering future experiences;
  • Be a shared aspiration – describing a successful future state in your context that the entire organisation can rally around;
  • Be accessible – so it is clearly understood by your customers, employees and partners; and
  • Be authentic – so that you create a strong association and relevance with your existing and potential customers.

Patagonia’s ambition to ‘Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’ is linked to a clear purpose; it is bold and simple. This vision is central to their beautifully designed products, crafted marketing materials, seamless in-store experience, commitment to sustainability and support of local communities. On the other hand, Ryanair’s aspirational vision to be the ‘Amazon of Travel’ belies their rating as the worst service brand in the UK. Their vision is disconnected to the delivery of the pre and in-flight experiences that appear to deliberately create customer effort and friction to drive revenue.

Experiences must be traceable back to your winning aspiration. The should provide you with the confidence that what your teams are creating will ultimately move you closer to achieving that aspiration.

At many organisations, piecemeal experiments to enhance experiences, sometimes hundreds of them, are already under way. With no guiding North Star, leaders may have limited visibility into where their investment budgets are being spent or the value that will be realised. Having a winning aspiration is valuable because it helps keep everyone focused on what’s important. It will help you develop your product canvasses, business cases, experience blueprints, roadmaps and product backlogs. Importantly, it helps you focus resource on the experiences that are most likely to deliver a higher level of impact. An enduring vision guides you through change. It also spells out what will never change.

To develop your winning aspiration, horizon-scan to identify and evaluate customer, industry and macro-trends, and their impacts on society, markets and the organisation. Recognising that building great experiences is a team sport, facilitate a visioning workshop and use collaborative design techniques to help you to define your North Star and measures of success.


Where will we play?

Once your ambition is clear, we turn our attention to the next layer of detail where we develop market insights to determine where the opportunities exist so sound commercial decisions can be made. This is where the real work starts.

We often see the easy part is articulating where you will play, what is more difficult is to make a conscious decision on where you will not play.

A data-led approach can focus attention on defining what is the optimal go to market opportunity and the key decisions to support the direction to take, what segments of society will we target, what channels will we provide, what will the proposition (a combination of a product/service with an experience wrapped around it) look like. To interrogate this we use addressable market analysis to consider the strength of a portfolio in the market, the share of wallet that is achievable today, and what could be achieved through a combination of different product or revenue strategies.

It is also prudent to overlay a sense of reality from a channel and coverage perspective, understanding your technology and geographical reach to succeed where you will play.


How will we win?

We see too many situations where the answer appears to be Service Design but the ambition and scope either aren’t clear, have been poorly communicated or missed entirely. This causes misalignment and delivery of concepts that are not baked into the strategic direction of the organisation. It also often results in impractical solutions, wasted investments and disappointing commercial outcomes.

Once the direction of travel is understood, this is where Service Design comes to life, taking a human approach to design, co-creating and testing concepts with the people who are actually going to use them. It is this emphasis that really defines a winning outcome. The Service Design process starts with understanding today’s world from a customer and colleague perspective, end-to-end across the experience and touchpoints, and front to back, from interface through to technology and data. Creating representative personas and accompanying journey maps helps build empathy and understanding of the supporting data landscape. We overlay these with primary research to make sure we have clarity on pain points, opportunity areas and what’s working well. This rich information shapes the Define phase where we use tools such as a proposition canvas to create a blueprint of the target experience, supplemented by a set of design principles to guide consistency. These might include guardrails around accessibility standards or channel usage, and may be enhanced during the Design phase to include more detailed interface or architectural patterns. The definition phase also narrows the scope that is taken into design and delivery as the blueprints can be prioritised based on the classic Venn diagram of desirability, feasibility and viability.

The next stage of the Service Design process is to flesh out the concepts into deliverable experiences, co-creating the target user journeys for those prioritised and identifying the broader operating model impacts and accompanying business case. We can then get into the exciting part: delivering something that gets used. We translate designs into user stories, delivering enabling technology and releasing incremental value. We learn from what we deliver initially, tweaking the roadmap and understanding experience gaps against our initial vision. Service Design is a continuous and iterative process focusing on creating additional customer, colleague and commercial value on each iteration. Great service design:

New digital banking apps that started with limited functionality on flexible platforms and designed new features based on real user feedback. Or Airbnb, which upon finding that they were struggling to let some properties due to poor photography, set up a service to match hosts to local professional photographers. Poor service design:

Recent temporary changes to the National Rail website to honour the death of the Duke of Edinburgh left many users unable to use the site due to accessibility issues. If this had been reviewed using a light touch service design process, we imagine this wouldn’t have been overlooked.


What capabilities must be in place and how are they architected?

This is the biggest area that is often overlooked when it comes to Digital Transformation. There is a new 'Rebirth of Enterprise Architecture' trend driven out of a decade of digital innovation through 'skunkwork' initiatives that are notoriously difficult to scale or embed in a broader organisation.

Through Enterprise Architecture, the backstage and frontstage design is brought to life through a realisation of the value that a dedicated and appropriately scaled, 'close to the coal face' architecture team can bring. These competing initiatives and innovation have falsely led companies to think they are moving forward but often they are moving towards something that is unscalable or requires significant investment to scale.

In order to deliver the right experience architecture, we need to understand how the different capabilities (people, process, tech, data, governance) are designed so that they are joined up to support one another and work in unison to deliver the desired outcomes. Once these high-level architectural designs have been produced it will accelerate delivery through clarity of backlog items and interdependencies. This in turn will simplify and streamline your release train. This does not mean an amorphous upfront design effort or waterfall delivery, it means grown-up conversations and a realisation that investment in design and co-ordinated delivery will play dividends in accelerating outcomes.

When it comes to experiences, clearly there will be many parallel and often competing technology investments within any organisation’s portfolio of change. This is why a clear set of design principles for how experiences are owned, designed, orchestrated, managed and delivered across business and technology teams is vital. There is also the question of organisational value streams and the impact of organisational agility, a topic that we see most organisations moving towards. The combination of all of these factors together creates an even more compelling case for investing in Enterprise Architecture that is appropriate for the roadmap and ambition that you have defined.


What management systems are required?

This is where the delivery roadmap comes to life for each of the transition states. This transformation roadmap needs to have the right level of governance processes wrapped around it to make sure that the outcomes are realised and associated enablement, adoption and marketing activities are delivered in a co-ordinated way.

We often see this final step being underplayed and not given an appropriate level of focus, mainly due to the expansive nature of the impact that new experiences have on an organisation. The Business Readiness team must be embedded within the design team to ensure business, customer and people centric design – this saves a lot of time down the road (from testing onwards) and it is important not to underestimate the transformation skills required for training and communications.

Areas that are often overlooked include:

  • New support processes to be introduced, including new SLAs and non-functional requirements to be met;
  • Assessment, adaption and creation of necessary capabilities through recruitment, training or outsourcing;
  • Journey ownership and accountability, building in product mindsets for the perpetual change and run of end to end experiences;
  • Adequate business change and adoption activities to handhold employees as they adopt new ways of working, delivering new habits and behaviours that respond to the new types of demand being created;
  • Decommissioning of processes and systems to capitalise on financial savings defined in the business case; and
  • Tracking new KPIs and outcomes to determine transition to the new experience and the retirement of the old ways of working.

A series of transition state blueprints will help align all of the component parts so that they can come together, much like the ingredients and method in a recipe. The necessary backlogs can then be primed from these to mobilise delivery teams.

This is translating ‘what does success look like’ into ‘how to succeed’. Critical to begin initiatives with a whole-of-business implementation approach – if this impacts my customer experience in franchise stores, how will this impact my franchise strategy? If this impacts my accounting practices, or risks my cyber resilience, or I haven’t got the talent available in global markets?

Succeeding on your journey

How does your business approach create compelling customer experiences? Are you confident in the way in which your experiences are designed and their alignment with your brand ambition?

We’ve suggested some fundamental steps you might want to consider in order to achieve the brand experience you’re striving for, or to meet the demands of your customers, business partners and colleagues.