cx building blocks

Where Products Have to Meet Great Experiences to Survive

The best strategies to position your product for great customer experiences — and to grow your future customer base. Start building your CX-driven culture.

Nathan Careless

October 22 nd 2019 | 10 minute read

It’s no longer enough to ‘just’ have a good product

I know I’m stating the obvious here – at M3 I’m renowned for it! But now more so than ever before is the greatest time to be a customer. Whether that customer is an exhausted mother picking up the weekly groceries, an inebriated student ordering a ride home, or an organization acquiring a new product or service for their growing business empire. In an increasingly experience-driven economy, the old adage from Selfridge, Wanamaker, and Marshall Field, “The customer is always right” has never been truer. As customers we’re increasingly exposed to so much choice, our habits and preferences are evolving constantly, and our expectation level and appreciation for well-considered design has never been higher. With providers of products and services all vying for competitive advantage, it’s no surprise companies that deliver exceptional experiences thrive and those that don’t die.

The days of just solely relying on dependability, price, features, or visual resonance of a singular piece of hardware to sell product have evaporated. It’s broadly acknowledged by industry experts that customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. So what is driving this shift? And how can you integrate this thinking into your process?

How to separate the product from the experience

It goes without saying that if you’re developing a new product, it’s imperative that your product provides a benefit to the user and solves a problem. Doing so in a reliable, intuitive, and safe manner is just as critical. Let’s not kid ourselves – in today’s climate these tenets should be considered as design table stakes. If you’re not meeting these expectations consider your product and potentially your company defunct. So with so many products on the market hitting these marks, how are companies achieving market differentiation? Through an appreciation and willingness to embrace a more customer experience design (CXD) driven process.

What’s a customer experience design driven process?

Customer experience (CX) has been a buzzword in the design community for a while, but unlike a lot of the other buzzwords and acronyms, CX for the most part is used for good reason. CXD is the process of understanding your customer(s) and designing solutions that encompass all the interactions they have with your brand. Great CXD injects purpose and empathy into everything you do. Its true importance these days lies in both hardware and software design, enabling physical and digital solutions to co-exist seamlessly, providing well considered and consistent experiences to your customers. The key to a good CXD process is ensuring touchpoints such as the ones listed below are treated with the same level of planning, detail and brand consistency.

  • product
  • packaging
  • website
  • mobile app
  • brick and mortar store
  • kiosk
  • support center
  • etc.

When done effectively CXD should leave anyone who interacts with your brand, product, or service with an amazing impression. It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in – improving the experience for your customers is the key to increasing retention, satisfaction, and revenue. We’re seeing a significant rise of companies that identify CX as the new competitive advantage. As a result more and more companies are embracing and harvesting strong CX driven-cultures. With this in mind it won’t be long before well-conceived and executed customer experience design will become design table stakes across the board. So in order to survive there needs to be a desire to embrace CXD, embrace good processes, and strategically plan to enable its successful penetration.

Here are 3 ways to infuse customer experience design into your business:

1) Most experiences lack strong brand equity. Invest in a consistent and deep message to reinforce your brand essence & position.

More often than not companies aren’t in tune with their fundamental core brand values: the essence, tone, guiding principles, and positioning of their company. This is a big deal, as without these foundational elements it’s nigh on impossible to reinforce a consistent message through every element and touchpoint of your customer experience. Top performing companies understand their core brand values and continually reference them across everything they do. This is a quick fire way for them to build strong brand equity, and attract better customers who appreciate and share their beliefs. You may wonder how a so-called bulleted list of core brand attributes can cross-pollinate into physical and digital experiences. The answer is easily.

Let’s use a hypothetical list of core brand values to help punctuate this point with brief explanations:

  • Human – If, for example, a core value of your company is to portray a human element through your brand then an imperative aspect of this should be to ensure that every customer touchpoint you offer as part of your product/service is designed in an intuitive, consistent and engaging manner. This could mean consistently color coding release levers on an industrial automation device or a human tone and fool proof setup guide on a mobile app. It could be the use of softer and more nature-inspired forms and/or the use of natural materials to portray a human and approachable tactility. Your customers benefit from this level of consideration and attention to detail that makes their life better through great connectivity, usability and responsiveness.
  • Solid – Another core value of your company could be to demonstrate strength and solidity. A key opportunity would be to reflect this in the DNA, brand mark, structure and build of your products. Developing reliable, robust, and built-to-last experiences is a no-brainer when trying to exude an aura of reassuring solidity. If you’re investing in a diecast aluminum housing to provide better rigidity and thermal parameters for your latest product release, don’t be afraid to shout about it!
  • Confident – Is confidence and a high level of assuredness something that needs to be emphasized through your products? If so, then being more memorable, impactful, and (in some instances) polarizing are potential opportunities. Standing out from the crowd and never apologizing for doing so can provide significant gains and support the notion of a confident and trailblazing brand.

When you start considering all of your brand-defining elements as part of the holistic physical and digital design process, not only will you have better chance of creating an exceptional product but also a very cohesive and on-brand experience. When these are combined effectively, you’re setting yourself up for the best possible chance of business growth.

2) Don’t just focus on the isolated product; always have an eye on the full system of stakeholder interactions.

Marketeers are renowned for their thorough marketing requirements documentation (MRD). We’ve all been exposed to an MRD that lists out a whole slew of requirements and specifications for a next-gen piece of hardware that will reverse the fortunes of an underperforming gen 1 device. Surely a larger screen, a better color SKU, a sexier look will do it…?! In all likelihood, they won’t. Although these suggested improvements could enhance the product, they probably aren’t the overarching barrier to purchase; Thinking beyond the isolated marketing requirements will often provide better chance of overcoming this barrier: For instance what about the adoption of innovative 21st-century marketing methodologies and tone? What about that first brand impression that puts a smile on a prospective customer’s face? Could competitive advantage be created through your seamless and pain free point-of-sale process that supersedes your competition? Or maybe it’s the joyous out-of-box experience that immediately captures a new loyal customer; Perhaps it’s the gratifying fool proof setup/install process your customer carries out? Or the instant service/trouble shooting response from trained personnel? … You get the idea!

The critical point is that it’s the journey your customer goes on beyond just the final product interaction that is so important. If you can provide an exceptional and cohesive customer experience through all system touchpoints, your product’s chances of success become so much greater. You build equity in your brand and make an immediate good impression, more than likely establishing a satisfied and loyal customer by doing so.

But it can be overwhelming designing a singular item, never mind a whole ecosystem of customer engagements and interactions. That being said with some strategic up-front alignment, open dialog, and transparency between siloed internal teams you can begin paving a path to doing so. This coupled with an appetite to embrace a more CX centric methodology and before you know it you’ll become a lot closer to ensuring you’re meeting the expectations of your prospective new customers. One tool you can use to help initiate this is the Stakeholder Centered Design methodology. This methodology promotes the importance of extracting valuable insights from your key internal and external stakeholders, their habits, and unmet needs that will enable you to craft and deliver meaningful holistic experiences. The beauty of this approach? It brings key internal stakeholders/departments together, pulls down barriers, and culminates in an agreed upon systematic plan to achieve success for key external stakeholders. It also creates a forum for more meaningful innovation to transpire. More meaningful innovation on an ecosystem level!

The key here is to always take a step back from your micro focus and look through a macro experience lens. The best products are designed when the full holistic customer experience is considered.

3) Organizations can lack promptitude and foresight. Understand and act upon where your industry will go next.

Another obstacle often apparent with organizations is a lack of strategic road-mapping and future system-level discussion that happens during a project’s infancy. It’s one thing having a foothold in the market today, but what about tomorrow? With so much market disruption happening across the board, invest in knowing where your industry will go next.

It’s stressful and challenging enough trying to develop the next generation product, never mind planning and forecasting what the portfolio and product experience offering could and should be in five years’ time. Certain companies believe they can’t think too broadly through fear of losing focus on the immediate task in hand as teams are held hostage to timelines and budgets. Other companies have a lack of resources to enable adequate time for envisioning the future. These are all real life issues, but investing in a future vision to inform actionable strategic road-mapping shouldn’t have to adversely impact immediate product and business goals. In many ways it should help achieve those goals.

Use the automotive industry as a case in point. Certain brands build their identity around their future ‘concept car(s)’ vision. They then use incremental car design updates to bridge the gap to their vision. In many instances they don’t fully meet their conceptual target, but they do a great job of using this approach to influence their immediate updates to better innovate and disrupt.

This is a great method to ensure you’re future proofing your brand and developing experiences your evolving customers will love. To stay relevant in today’s ever changing society your success depends massively on doing this, regardless of industry.

The 3 critical components to providing your customers with exceptional experiences

In summary, if you can focus energy on the three areas discussed, you’re going to be extremely well positioned to provide great experiences for your customers now and your growing customer base of the future.

  • Define, translate and reinforce your core brand values through your product/service.
  • Don’t just focus on the isolated product. Create cohesive and memorable customer experiences.
  • Invest in predicting where your industry is going next. No one wants to be the next Blockbuster video!
About the Author

Nathan Careless – Director of Design