Some years ago, I was privileged to attend an international conference in Singapore. The themes of the conference revolved around technology and where the world was moving in that space. Bringing people together from all parts of the world was a great idea so that Joe Bloggs like me could sit at a table and interact with just anyone.
The person could be from Italy, Switzerland, the USA just name the country every break session was a new experience. One of the speakers introduced himself as a consultant from Institute for the Future and explained to us what his organization was doing which was to bring people together to learn the tools of foresight to make the future, today.
Thinking about the future, envisioning it, and working towards its realization is one of the things a business must focus on to improve the experience of its customers.
Providing solutions for the future requires that you empathize with your potential patrons as Indi Young a renowned data scientist argues ‘You can’t apply empathy until you’ve developed it by listening deeply to a person. People try to act empathetic – to take someone’s perspective, to walk in his shoes – without taking time to develop empathy’.
I can’t agree with this more, it goes without saying that in practical terms to understand others you need really to put yourself in their shoes (as we already know), but much more than that you must develop empathy (feelings, emotions, etc) for that individual to have a better understanding of the person’s need or challenge.
This means that despite our best efforts to understand those who purchase our goods or patronize our services we need a definite (participatory) process that leads us to the core of a challenge as opposed to just applying principles known to us to help us understand the customer without their involvement.
Organizational teams working to model their customer experience outside-in need a rich store of methods and tools as well as an avowed intent and willingness to feel the pulse of their customers variously. Researchers recommend the need to approach your experience mapping with an eye on the current as well as the future. This is not to propose anything out of the ordinary.
First, think of the current state, visualize it (using appropriate illustrations) and use the identified current state to envision the future experience. This is why it makes sense to employ a range of tools as proposed by Jim Kalbach (2016) to help us understand how to move on when we have come to terms with current needs. He suggests that we use storyboards, develop scenarios, build storylines and use design maps to clarify our thinking and to help us address needs more accurately.
Storyboards essentially help us tell a story using clear and simple illustrations. They are graphical representations to help us plan and visually present information, depicting the linear direction of events thus setting the tone for storytelling, explaining a process, and showing the passage of time. It gives you the rough cut of an end-to-end process showing what happens from the initial contact with a customer and the back-end processes that follow in response to the customer’s needs, concerns, feelings, and emotions from within the business.
By capturing attention with a story, you are better able to inspire your teams and stakeholders to take the needed action as it provides an easy way of communicating user stories using visual aids to develop storyboards complemented with journey maps and empathy maps. A good analogy for storyboards we can all relate to is from the film, animation, or comic books.
Although the format may vary depending on the industry or nature of business, they fundamentally communicate a story through images. A storyboard is therefore a modeling tool that helps you put a persona at the centre of your offering to better understand how to serve the customer.
For example, you can create a storyboard for a novice user of a system and compare it to what a power user might experience in another storyboard. It allows you to address the needs (and expectations) of these two personas more specifically. A power user will be demanding more and will keep you on your feet trying to improve the system to sustain her interest.
The process of developing a storyboard is very informal thus allowing team members to test ideas by thinking through carefully how an experience unfolds over time. The important principle here is the fact that it presents a great platform for collaborative thinking. Remember that in customer experience our aim is to deliver a consistent experience across most of our touchpoints if not all.
So in simple terms when developing a storyboard what you are essentially doing is that you are sketching a rough sequence of interactions (could be manual, on your iPad or computer), iterating this sequence several times to develop a pattern of behaviours, actions, emotions and feelings several times to arrive at a ‘perfect fit’ representing an accurate understanding of the customer at your touchpoints and interactions with customers. Ultimately, with visual storytelling, you form the idea and socialize the concept with others across the organization.
Scenarios are detailed descriptions of an intended experience from an individual’s perspective. They go alongside storyboards however; they are text-based rather than illustrative. No drawing or sketching is involved here. This makes them easier to create in comparison to storyboards. They spell out sequences of events to give you a range of possible outcomes and change drivers.
They are powerful tools for understanding potential situations and crafting best-fit solutions for each of those situations. You are thus able to anticipate and ask questions and prepare for the unexpected thus increasing your readiness in terms of your dealings with clients.
A good scenario answers key questions about data, quantities, regarding customers, predictable events, and customer behaviour. The data essentially enables you effectively engage with customers and prospects proactively. Some general principles help adapt and incorporate scenarios into your planning as shared by marketing expert Laura Patterson. She advises that to use scenarios effectively you need to cover the full range of possibilities. They require both art and science, so she outlines some general principles we must follow:
First, look for events that are certain or nearly certain to happen, this here would mean common scenarios that play up during operations. Months ago, I used my debit card to purchase an item at a retail outlet, they had just introduced a new POS machine for bank cards, the transaction failed and I got debited twice in my bank account.
Although they genuinely were trying to help me retrieve the money eventually, I had to go and talk to my banker and I learned from the experience that the shop had no control over glitches when they do occur. A perfect scenario to take up which might lead to a resolution ultimately to enrich the customer experience.
Second, create scenarios that cover a broad range of outcomes, this enhances your ability to address as many possible outcomes in dealing with customers. My encounter with a malfunctioning self-checkout machine in the UK checks out here. They were able to address my experience effectively perhaps due to a prior understanding of what might occur if things go wrong.
Third, identify at least 3-5 critical uncertainties and develop at least four scenarios to address each of these uncertainties. (Why four? So people don’t lean toward the middle one), fourth Create a weighting scale to evaluate the probability and risk of each scenario and fifth, use the scenario with the highest probability weighting as your primary case. As is the case with every business activity make sure you define a realistic scope and time frame.
Storytelling has immense value in the process of envisioning user experience. It is not only a means of communicating a vision it helps simplify complex situations. As Prof Eddie Obeng postulates, in the new world (our world) it pays to break down complexity by addressing problems and challenges in smaller chunks, he uses the axiom ‘chunk it or junk it’. Chunk your problem-solving into manageable parts. This is where narratives are good for leveraging your understanding of customer issues as they occur and plan towards building capabilities to deal with anticipated outcomes.
By sharing real customer stories and examples of best practices your organization will move beyond pure metrics to embed an ‘outside-in’ view of customers’ needs and wants into everything you do. To create a truly customer-centric organization you must encourage everyone in the business to pay close attention to the customer. To make this a successful endeavour 3 things are very important.
The purpose of the CX programme (the desire to become a market leader or to be customer-centric, for example), the characters involved (the company, employees, customers, competitors), and the plot (what has changed, where are the bottlenecks, how can things be improved and what has already made a difference?). the following steps are recommended by Lis Huberts and Lichew (both known voices in CX) in building narratives to envision your customers’ (user experiences) needs and wants.
- Hold a workshop with a broad set of stakeholders
- Draw the user’s journey as a narrative arc on a whiteboard.
- Map individual pieces of content users would need at each stage.
- Below that record existing content.
- Identify gaps and weaknesses in existing content.
- Prioritize and plan a broader content strategy.
Approaching it this way aligns teams to a common purpose and yields more engaging services in general.
These are simple diagrams of an ideal experience co-created by a team. It is a simple process that requires only sticky notes and a whiteboard. The outcome is a map of the ideal experience. Kalbach (2016) shares four basic elements in a map each with a different colour. So for example, if your service relies on a web interface to engage with the customers your team will co-create using the following approach.
First, blue notes denote the steps a given persona takes in a process. A user on your system creates an account to use your online services, later the user has a problem with the product and goes on to speak with an agent. Second, green notes provide more details (comments) about each action including the thoughts, feelings, and pain points. Third, yellow notes capture questions a team has about the experience.
They highlight their gaps in knowledge and assumptions about the proposed experience. An example would be considering making your website sync with the App (many banks use this approach). Fourth, pink notes are used to capture ideas about how to provide a better service. Where the user has made a request for a new product in the journey you may consider building functionality where you (unsolicited) recommend products and stores to the user.
There are immense possibilities in envisioning customer needs and wants however with the possibilities come choice. Getting it right with the mix of tools to visualize customer experience will be influenced by a range of factors influenced by the nature of your business and your understanding (empathy) of the customers’ needs and wants.
You have three broad possibilities to assess individual experience, context and goals (what are the jobs to be done?), and future state (what is the intended future experience)? Envisioning the future helps to build empathy based on your understanding of the current. When my brother stayed at a hotel on his travels recently, he was in awe of the personalized where all the staff would address him with his first name and ask if he needed any help. Unique experiences are never a drop in the pan. They are carefully planned and implemented for customer satisfaction.
The writer is a Management Consultant. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected],