“Stories have defined our world. They have been with us since the dawn of communication, from cave walls to the tall tales recounted around fires. They have continued to evolve, with their purpose remaining the same: to entertain, to share common experiences, to teach and to pass on traditions.”

Recent discussions have spurred me on to write this post as a quick start guide to folks starting out in creating compelling customer experiences. “Customer experience”, like “innovation” and “disruption”, has become a very commonly used phrase in recent years with many businesses projecting their customer experience as a competitive differentiator.

Everybody has an opinion on how their “user experience” should be. And many are very eager to utter their opinions strongly. But that doesn’t mean every user is a designer, just like asking for salt doesn’t make you a cook. The user experience designer deals with the many different opinions and tries to find the best compromise. Good compromises are not in the middle, they are superior to the initial options.

Though the definition varies from digital experiences and interactions, such as on a website or a smartphone to customer service, or the speed at which problems are solved in a call center, to be really successful on a long-term basis, customer experience needs to be seen as all these things, and more. It is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer.

I recently applied for a debt card at a major bank. During the application, I was told to wait for a message on my mobile for the card to arrive at the bank. When I received a message stating the OTP (One Time Password) to set my PIN, I naturally assumed that my card arrived. However, I was told that I would receive yet another message stating that my card has been delivered. Sending an OTP a week prior to that actual card delivery date is an obviously stupid call. However, no one bothered to care.

You don’t need to be an engineer to find out that your car doesn’t start. But you do to fix it.

When it comes to use, all opinions are equal, but when it comes to engineering they are not. Like scientists, engineers collect feedback, test and validate their assumptions, and develop both theory and practice. As a user experience designer you need to know how things work, not merely rely on your own perception or opinions. You need to test products with their audience.

Your company, just like every company, provides a customer experience regardless of whether you create it consciously. That experience may be good, bad or indifferent, but the very fact that you have customers, you interact with those customers in some manner, and provide them products and services, means that they have an experience with you and your brand. It’s up to you whether it’s superlative, awful or industry average.

People don’t behave like robots, and no matter how well we craft an experience, they will not perceive exactly as we anticipate or hope. So, there is a strong case to be made that companies cannot fully control experiences, because experiences inevitably involve perception, emotion, and unexpected behaviors on the parts of customers. With that said, companies cannot afford to throw up their hands and give up in the face of unpredictably. Instead, they need to plan for the worst and aim for the ideal when considering the experiences they want to create.

Creating a great customer experience does not require knowledge of magical incantations. Instead, customer experiences spring from concrete, controllable elements — the touchpoint. There are three key layers to consider:
  1. Customer Journey: The fundamental piece of knowledge you need to start with is a thorough understanding of the journey that your customers take with your company.
  2. Touchpoints: Products, web sites, advertising, call center, etc. — that support the customer through their journey.
  3. Ecosystems: Integrated ecosystems of products, software and services open up new possibilities for customer journeys and experiences in ways that more isolated touchpoints cannot.

Becoming competent takes more than being active on social media, reading about it, talking about it or even selling it. Practical experience is essential. For User Experience Design that’s designing interfaces, building interfaces, and dealing with the (often very angry) feedback. However, once you’re hooked you’ll find pleasure in weird things like:

  • Studying user behavior via Analytics etc. on a daily basis, just for fun
  • Usability tests and interviews
  • Prototype testing and optimization
  • Fixing mistakes after the launch by closely watching and evaluating angry user reactions
  • Learning about new technology and business processes

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