The Gist

  • Prioritizing extreme users may not be practical. When developing customer journeys, designing for the extreme user alienates your primary user base.
  • A bell-curve approach satisfies the most consumers. Accounting for the majority of users as well as common outliers allows you to include minority customers without drifting into the extreme. 
  • UX tactics may not translate to CX. Although designing for the extreme may work well in UX design, it may leave new customers unsatisfied.

There is no "right" way to design a customer experience. Although a positive CX is the ultimate goal, every business has a different approach; many teams lean on design thinking while others may use systems thinking or transition design.

However, a common thread amongst these practices is the importance of clarifying end user(s), who will ultimately be the star of the customer journey. When teams design experiences, they must craft them around the needs of the customer. End user clarification often means developing a persona — or fictional character — who embodies the attitudes and characteristics most prevalent in the target user group and then designing a journey around that context.

But since we live in a complex world where no two customers are alike, how can an experience that is designed around one user work for many? And how can we manage exceptions for customers who don’t fit the mold? The answer is by using a "bell curve" design.

    Don't Design for the Extreme Customer Journey

    If CX professionals turn to UX colleagues for advice, they might be advised to design for the extreme user, which is a common best practice in user interface design. While this tactic works for designing usability for a specific product or digital user flow to ensure full functionality of a virtual touchpoint, it isn’t always practical when developing new customer journeys. 

    Whereas UX design stemmed from product and digital design, CX methodologies evolved from the need to curate complex journeys that weave in and out of various touchpoints. They must account for the context of customers’ lives, not just their preferences among screen flows; if we based our CX designs around extreme customers, they’d be clunky and inefficient for the majority.

    For example, let’s say the majority of a brand’s customers live in urban or suburban environments with a reliable internet connection and are, therefore, content with an online experience.

    However, there is a small group of customers who live in a rural environment with a poor internet connection and, thus, prefer a call center-based experience because it’s more reliable for them. It wouldn’t make sense to design a new experience primarily around the needs of these extreme users because it would be a suboptimal experience for everyone else.

    Related Article: Mastering UX/CX Design: Privacy Meets Omnichannel Harmony

    Learning Opportunities

    Try a 'Bell Curve' Customer Design Instead

    Rather than designing for the extreme, the “bell curve” design may be a more efficient option. If the bell curve represents a target customer group, then the initial user persona would likely sit directly in the middle. Customer experience teams can start by homing in on the wants, needs and preferences of the customers in this known majority, then consider the exceptions that could push users toward the ends of the curve. Teams should design their primary experience solutions for users with these relatively common exceptions and make accommodations for users at the edges of the curve. This way, they are reaching as many users as possible.

    As a second example, the same brand from earlier might have a large number of customers who don’t have broadband internet at home and rely on their mobile connection to get online. If these circumstances apply to the bulk of their consumers, it makes sense to have the primary design be mobile-compatible (which, in this day and age, is pretty much a given).

    Designing journeys around the most prevalent exceptions benefits the primary consumer base and the most common outliers — without drifting into the extreme. When designing a new experience around exceptions doesn’t pay off in terms of numbers, or if experience delivery becomes unwieldy, it’s time to shift gears and explore accommodating extremes in another way. The answer might be adjusting an existing experience to serve the accessibility needs of a small user group instead of designing a one-size-fits-all journey that doesn't truly benefit everyone.

    Related Article: How UX Design Customer Metrics Can Improve Customer Experience

    Conclusion: UX Isn't CX

    There are many times when CX professionals can leverage tools and techniques from colleagues in related fields, but when it comes to CX design, they should be wary of taking a page directly from the UX handbook.

    The most efficient approach is to start from the peak of the bell curve and work outward, not the other way around. 

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