In an effort to provide a consistent, positive customer experience across all of its channels, brands have long focused on the customer journey. Most businesses have a customer experience (CX) strategy in place which closely examines the customer journey map to locate and remedy any pain points along the way. Some think that a better strategy may be to design the customer experience for an optimum, positive emotional experience across all channels using CX design.

Litha Ramirez, executive director of the Experience Strategy and Design Group at SPR provided an excellent description of CX design, and explained that, “companies use CX design to improve the customer journey by mapping the customer experience across all the customer’s touchpoints. This gives the companies the opportunity to treat the journey as an ecosystem, and the ecosystem as the product. When organizations do this, they create a seamless experience across all channels responsive to a consumer’s varying needs and the current context.”

Similarities Between CX Design, UX Design and Design Thinking

CX design has many similarities with user experience (UX) design, except as Ramirez explained, with CX design, the customer journey is the product. While UX design focuses on making the entire experience of using a product better for the user, CX design makes the experience of using a brand better for the customer every time the customer interacts with the brand. The main goal of a CX design program is to align business goals and strategies with every interaction that a customer has with a brand for a consistent, positive experience throughout.

While there are many similarities between CX design and using design thinking for CX, they are not exactly the same. Both are iterative processes that never end, and each process involves conceptualizing, prototyping, testing, reviewing, and revising, then the whole process starts again. Both are built around empathy and understanding the customer’s needs to craft an emotionally positive experience. Whereas design thinking for CX involves coming up with a solution for a specific customer pain point or pain points, CX design seeks to design an optimum experience for the product, which is the complete customer journey.

Related Article: Balancing User Experience and Creativity in Design

Customer Experience Design Optimizes the Customer Journey

Every interaction that a customer has with a brand is part of the customer journey ecosystem, and is considered to be a touchpoint in the journey. The customer journey is a key component of all businesses, whether they are online or brick-and-mortar. “Examples of viewing the customer journey ecosystem as the product can be seen across industries: in retail, where a customer can browse and order online and pick up a good in the store; in healthcare, where mobile push notifications remind you of upcoming appointments, a kiosk in the waiting room allows you to check in, and the patient portal keeps track of your visits and lets you pay your bills; and in the workplace, where users can easily access documents anytime, from any device and screen share and co-lead virtual meetings,” Ramirez explained.

Jason Gaikowski, executive director, customer experience, and global lead of human-centered design at VMLY&R has worked with brands including Ford, Google, FedEx, and Pfizer to develop human-centered strategies, and said that “In working with Ford, we used CX design to transform a service journey. By empathizing with customers and investigating people and context, we were able to identify that every service journey begins with a negative emotional charge. No one looks forward to a repair, and even routine maintenance is an inconvenience.”

By recognizing that the auto servicing experience itself is a pain point in the customer journey, Gaikowski was able to focus on the task of improving the customer experience. “While the industry has been working to improve this experience for many years, we design holistically, focused on the functional, emotional and even social costs, and benefits that people experience when maintaining or repairing their car,” Gaikowski explained. “With this insight, teams were able to prototype and test ideas for removing stress and adding joy before, during, and after a customer’s service journey,” reflected Gaikowski. “After testing ideas in the real world and gathering valuable feedback, Ford was able to begin implementing new customer experience solutions at scale.”

Although Gaikowski’s example is that of a brick-and-mortar brand, it’s indicative of how CX design can be applied to all the channels through which a customer interacts with a brand. Gaikowski suggested that “whether the customer’s journey is focused on servicing a car, purchasing a new pixel book, or redecorating their home, we use human-centered design to discover what really matters for customers, and deliver the solutions and experiences that help them complete the journey while feeling special along the way.”

Create a Consistent Brand Through all Channels

Customer experience reaches across all of the channels through which a customer interacts with a brand, including in-store interactions, social presences, phone calls, mobile apps, websites, email — any presence where there is a touchpoint between the customer and the brand. Through an omnichannel approach, a brand is able to proactively ensure that whenever and wherever a customer interacts with the brand, the experience will be seamless, consistent, and positive through all channels, creating that customer journey ecosystem that Ramirez referred to.

Here is an example of a brand that is operating with a multi-channel approach rather than an omnichannel approach: a customer searches for a product on the brand’s website, and then finds that the product is also offered in the brand’s local brick-and-mortar outlet. The customer drives to the local outlet rather than ordering the product online and having to wait for it to be delivered. When they get to the outlet, they can’t find the same product — only similar products are available. The customer finds a kiosk in the outlet, and looks up the product, but it is not available on the kiosk either. They return home, and once again locate the product on the brand’s website, order it, and wait for it to arrive. They feel frustrated, a bit angry, and disappointed. They wasted their gas money and time, and now on top of all that, they have to pay a shipping fee. Each of the brand’s channels is isolated from the others, and the experience is inconsistent and unpleasant for the customer. Their last experience with the brand will leave them feeling emotionally upset, and they are not likely to be a repeat customer.

Learning Opportunities

An omnichannel experience would have left the customer feeling emotionally satisfied, as they would have been able to see on the website that the product is available in the local outlet. If it was only available online, the website would have let them know so they could have avoided the trip. The product would also be shown on the kiosk that was located in the local outlet. Once the product was purchased, if the customer had questions about the product and contacted customer service, the brand’s customer service employee would have had access to the customer’s purchase history, could see their most recent purchases, and could immediately pull up information about the product and answer the customer’s questions. The brand’s various channels would not be siloed from one another, and the experience of the customer would have been consistent and seamless throughout.

Craft an Emotional Connection With Each Customer

Mike Davidson, executive creative director of digital customer experience at Capgemini, spoke with CMSWire about the impact of building an emotional connection with customers. “According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of purchasing decisions are made by emotions. To connect and resonate emotionally, brands must know who their customers are and what type of journey they are on,” Davidson explained. “In an ideal state, emotional design anticipates and then accommodates user needs. Does your brand have the proper tools to start connecting emotionally? Do you have specific personas and customer journeys prepared to respond accordingly?”

This approach is exactly what CX design is about: anticipating and then accommodating the needs of the customer.

  • How can we help the customer find the product, service, or solution that will fulfill their needs?
  • How can we make the process easier for them?
  • What can we do to make the process seamless, enjoyable, and leave the customer feeling like they made a wise choice by doing business with us?
  • How can we make their experiences so exceptional that they leave feeling emotionally positive about doing business with us as a brand?

The Customer Experience Design Process

Ramirez talked about the process she goes through when launching a customer experience design initiative. "What is critical for a CX design initiative is creating customer personas and journeys with quantitative and qualitative methods. Include the journey start and endpoints that may not relate to your company. From there, identify which points in the journey are disjointed and formulate a plan to address them," she said. Once this is done, the process involves determining the intersection points where improvements can be made.

Understanding the complete customer journey is the most involved part of the CX design process, and takes time and effort to complete. The target audience must be identified, segmented into personas, and an effort must be made to understand what each persona wants, what they are looking for in the brand experience, and how the brand can best achieve its own goals while crafting a highly personalized, emotionally charged experience for each persona. By defining the brand’s mission and values, and integrating them into the experience, a brand can leave the customer with an emotional connection that allows them to feel aligned with the values of the brand.

Key questions to ask about the customer journey are:

  • How does this particular touchpoint make the customer feel?
  • How do you want the customer to feel during this particular interaction with the brand?
  • What would make this touchpoint exceptional to the customer?
  • What can be done to optimize this touchpoint?

There are challenges for brands that institute a customer experience design program, but they are surmountable. Ramirez said that the “Challenges an organization may encounter during a CX design initiative include wrangling customer data — since many companies have customer data spread across multiple systems — finding customers to talk to, and knowing which issues to prioritize.” The use of a Customer Data Platform (CDP) to unify the data that is spread across multiple channels and siloed departments can greatly simplify the challenges of omnichannel data. Ramirez reiterated that “Each of these efforts may be costly and time-consuming, so it is important to start with what you have, then use an iterative approach to further build customer knowledge and solve CX issues.”

Final Thoughts

Customers demand a consistent, personalized, emotionally positive experience whenever they interact with a brand. Anything less and the customer will remember the negative or less-than-fulfilling experience they had, and will be more likely to look for alternative brands that will more precisely cater to their needs. CX design enables brands to craft an experience that will bond a customer to a brand through a positive emotional connection, and will leave a customer feeling that they made a well-informed choice to spend their money on the brand’s product, service or solution.