What is design's role in CX?

3rd Jun 2019

Is exceptional design a customer imperative?

Design is often undervalued in many businesses where it’s thought of in relation to overall appearance. However, design, customer experience and brand experience are intrinsically linked. Look at fast-growing consumer names like plant delivery service Bloomscape, skincare brand Glossier or Heist Tights. Design has formed the backbone of their approach to the entire end-to-end customer and brand experience.

Design has become far too siloed within many businesses, regardless of how much focus is outwardly placed on look and feel. While there is no debate that user experience is hugely important, brands that focus too closely on usability on a particular platform(s) end up shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to the broader customer journey in a multichannel ecosystem. It’s important to consider the end-to-end design of your business solution if you’re looking to increase customer satisfaction with your brand.

Uber is a good example. It unquestionably has a beautifully designed, class-leading app, but it just takes an unpleasant driver to ruin the overall experience. Brand equity is built on the entirety of the customer experience;  everything from your logo to your product, your PR to customer service - it’s all intrinsically linked, all affirming what the brand stands for to your audience.

Design is the binding factor communicating a business’s sanctioned public face. However, it is not often enough seen as a concern for senior management, even though this is one of the biggest mistakes a brand can make. In a perfect world, design should be a C-suite consideration for every brand, both big and small. The end-to-end design and customer experience of your brand should be tracked and managed at the highest level, in the same way as finance and operations.

Because when it is, it can dramatically boost both performance and profits – just look at the performance of Google or Nike against their peers.

Design is perception is customer experience

This approach is reinforced by a recent McKinsey study, The business value of design. Ranking a range of companies by their design credentials, McKinsey discovered those with a stronger design ethos performed better overall. Over five years the top quartile of brands secured 32% more revenue growth than competitors, and 56% more in total returns to shareholders.

This is an issue for global giants and entrepreneurial businesses alike. Nobody can afford to cut designers out of the loop when it comes to the broader strategy, because a brand operating in silos won’t reach its full potential. It’ll never do what it could be capable of, because true design thinking means collaborating across all departments.

It’s as important to put customers first as it is to balance who you are as a company. This lies at the very core of the design process. Understanding design thinking is therefore everyone’s responsibility, because it permeates every facet of the business. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

So it’s clear that design and customer experience should be tackled hand in hand, delivering your company’s distinctive feel and identity across ever possible touchpoint, so the end-to-end experience is a complete reflection of the brand.

If design can’t communicate how you’d like to be perceived, it fails

And remember, brands aren’t what you tell customers they are – they’re formed from people’s perceptions.

Customer perceptions are everything, whether for multinationals or scaling businesses. After all, would you trust the strategic advice of any professional services brand that has a chaotic website or uses Comic Sans?

This has a huge impact on where people take their custom, so consider what your brand values should be and what makes customers engage. Think about it from the perspective of a private healthcare provider, for example: the design and feel should be trustworthy, knowledgeable, inviting, empathetic.

That’s what you want from a brand that’s potentially saving your life, and it’s not just about the website interface and UX. Popular perceptions of private versus public healthcare provision are more significantly shaped by the customer service, the doctors’ approach and so on.

We live in the call-out generation

Good design helps people make flight connections at far flung airports; bad design has guests thinking the ornate hotel tap is a piece of sculpture. Bad design also hinders sales, so design and customer experience should always be part of the same conversation.

Remember that people will let you know, through a whole host of social media platforms, exactly what they think of your brand. Sometimes politely, sometimes less so. If the same criticisms reoccur, you need to listen – and you need to change.

Design still demands analytical rigour

Quantitative measurement isn’t impossible, as the McKinsey report showed. So how can businesses implement better design practice in 2019 and beyond – and ensure that is reflected in a better customer experience?

  • Involve the design team from much earlier on - My team and I are often involved in new business pitches, so we get a feel for the brand and its approach to customer experience well before it’s on board.
  • Encourage multiple departments to collaborate - Branding has to be 100%, from strategy to data to design. The C-Suite should be involved, yes, but not exclusively. Everyone plays their part.
  • Don’t start with the thinking, then make it ‘look nice’ afterwards. You’re doing the design - and the thinking - a disservice.

So how about this year your business takes a long hard look at its end-to-end approach to customers and puts design first? You owe it to them, and to yourself.

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