The keys to successful digital customer experience design

Organisations that are focused on delivering impeccable digital customer experience position themselves to drive loyalty and win lifelong brand advocates. Realising there is a digital customer experience problem and actioning steps to remedy it are great first steps in transforming customer experience. But what are the keys to making sure the results are a success?

At NearForm we work with leading global brands on designing engaging digital customer journeys. In order to achieve the best results it’s important to lay the foundation for digital customer experience design and define its purpose.

What is Digital Customer Experience Design?

Revitalising digital customer experience requires organisations to take a step back and examine customer experience with a fresh set of eyes.

Every engagement is different, but from our experience with clients, here are some key elements of successful digital customer experience design.

  1. Digital customer experience design is user-centric.
  2. Digital customer experience design is about outcomes.
  3. Digital customer experience design should focus on creating the optimum user journey.
  4. Digital customer experience design should follow a range of appropriate methodologies.

Let’s have a closer look at some of these key learnings.

The 4 Keys for Designing Successful Digital Customer Experiences

1. Become user-centric — obsess about your customers

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased the importance of digital customer experience as people have become more reliant on digital products for communication, shopping, entertainment and information.

Consumers are turning to intelligent chatbots, automated self-service platforms and various other digital channels to resolve issues and this has exposed some gaps in modern customer experience.

At NearForm, we help companies deliver on their transformation programmes by helping them to create totally new digital customer experiences, often in the form of web-based services. Without exception, the most successful engagements are those with organisations that are ready to embrace customer-centric thinking.

The most well designed user experiences and interfaces aren’t just visually appealing; they are designed around a fundamental understanding of the customer and their problems.

In our experience companies who offer a superb digital customer experience are obsessed with customer research.

While qualitative and quantitative research can be useful for uncovering what customers know they want, it can also reveal market opportunities for wants or needs that customers are not aware they have.

Innovation expert Anthony Ulwick points out that customers can’t ask for solutions that they can’t imagine. Ulwick suggests that customers should define the metrics for success and organisations should innovate new products to help them get their jobs done perfectly.

Organisations that are customer-obsessed recognize the needs of people with differing abilities in our society and design digital customer experiences which are more inclusive and accessible to all.

Accessible web applications are important for everyone using the digital products — not just for people with disabilities. Prioritising accessibility is a crucial part of the digital customer experience design process.

2. Don’t just engage your customers — empower them and focus on the outcomes

Anthony Ulwick introduces the concept of “outcome-driven innovation” in his book What Customers Want.

Outcome-driven innovation requires companies to accept that customers buy products and services to help them get a “job” done. By understanding these “jobs to be done” organisations can gain insight into new market opportunities and areas to innovate that can help customers perform those jobs better or faster.

Ulwick’s methods have been so successful they’ve generated their own acronyms (ODI for outcome-driven innovation and JTBD for jobs to be done).

NearForm takes this same mindset when we enter into an engagement with our clients, especially during the early stages of the project when we conduct our initial design-led discovery workshops.

We did this with EY  as we helped them successfully design and build their EY Virtual Advisor digital service. This approach kept the team focused on design-led product development and a rapid iteration process that was tailored to the needs of the end customer.

Organisations often have very opinionated ideas about what they’d like to deliver to the customer and how customers will react to the interaction. Our role (product designers in particular) is to take in this information, reflect it back to the customer and dig deeper into the reasoning behind these opinions.

If they come to the table declaring they’d like to create widget X, we will ask, “Why widget X? What customer problem will that solve? Are you certain that widget X is closely aligned to a ‘job’ that the customer finds important?”

This simple discourse can be extremely effective. The set ideas that enterprises bring to the table are often financially motivated. The enterprise may be keen to derive further value from a certain asset or sunk investment — and it may indeed be possible to do so.

Unless the customer also derives value (according to the metrics that customers themselves consider important), any resulting service can’t really be described as a win-win.

3. Assemble a crew and design the journey

In the discovery phase, it is crucial to bring in people from different functions across the organisation.

Diversifying the discovery group adds subject matter expertise, varied backgrounds, more insightful conversations and a deeper challenge to the core problem that the enterprise is trying to solve.

Some roles that are often included in this stage of the process include technical directors, marketing or content team members, data scientists, customer research and, most importantly, a senior staff member or project sponsor with decision-making capabilities.

For digital customer experience transformations to succeed both the transformation program itself and the segment of the program being revitalised need executive sponsorship. Leadership must take an active role in the workshops and a customer-centric approach to problem-solving. Successful transformations happen when leadership fully acknowledges and obsesses over the customer problem they are trying to solve.

Another crucial piece of successful digital customer experience transformations is the performance of the application. This means getting designers, developers, data scientists and content creators working together from the outset to ensure the amazing UX design is plausible and performant and to bake in performance from the outset by bootstrapping small successes end to end.

NearForm’s collaborative engagement model of designing for the user journey and performance allowed for the delivery of a new reinvigorated user experience platform for Conde Nast’s food brand, Epicurious, above and beyond expectations: 100% uptime throughout the build, no disruption to user experience and delivery one week ahead of schedule.

4. Be a rebel and adopt an approach that fits

In today’s fast-moving world applications are evolving at lightning speed. In the past software stability and predictability were hallmarks of a good application.

Moving forward, flexibility and speed will define the winners of the future. Building strong foundations that can grow organically over time are vital to creating successful applications.

Similarly, the flexibility should not apply solely to the application being developed yet also to the approach organisations take when developing new products. There has been much debate over the relative merits of Agile versus Waterfall and the best software methodologies. It’s important to accept that there is no magic solution that will work for every company.

Being flexible in the approach and creating an environment that fosters innovation is more important than choosing a rigid development model and forcing everyone to fit into it. Leadership should approach their own teams with that same customer-obsessed approach when determining what tools to give them (think hybrid development approach) to complete their tasks perfectly.

For example; when building EY Virtual Advisor, we needed to jointly map and scope out all content for the service upfront. If we didn’t, the EY team would have been unable to plan and operationalise for the mammoth task of producing all the educational content required.

A classic Agile approach would require building one feature and component at a time on a continuous basis. In this case, we needed the upfront scoping and requirement gathering component of Waterfall to scope the depth and breadth of our content approach. Otherwise, it would have been a costly and (in Agile terms) wasteful exercise.

After this scoping phase, we switched to a more Agile or Lean delivery method. We started the build, and software was delivered end to end in two-week sprints. Doing so based on our scoping phase allowed us to learn what did and didn’t work from our content assumptions very quickly and meant we could pivot our approach accordingly.

It’s important not to let an obsession with methods replace the ability to analyse and think critically about what works and what doesn’t. Design is about solving problems. Deciding how to solve a problem is the first design problem to be solved.

We partner with organisations across the globe to help them achieve sustainable innovation through the design & delivery of open software, methodologies and technologies. We work with clients to design & deliver digital customer experience solutions starting with half-day exploratory workshops and resulting in go-to-market ready solutions in 12 weeks.

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