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The art of customer experience design

By 2016, Gartner Inc. predicted that 89 percent of companies would compete mostly on the basis of customer experience—versus price, product, or some other differentiator. Why is customer experience gaining more importance? Because technology is driving the commoditization of ideas. Products, nay, entire businesses can be built (and copied) in hours or minutes. To rise above the look-alikes, businesses must provide a consistently pleasant customer experience. But even that can be replicated. To really stand out,

This was the topic of discussion with Ryan Donahue, VP of Global Design for Zendesk at Relate Live. His thesis: for companies to create branded support experiences, they need to merge brand and support teams into a powerful partnership. Donohue believes there is an art to customer experience design. But, therein lies the problem. In most businesses, brand (or design) and support are disconnected. Sometimes the teams are in different cities or working for different parent companies. Donahue urges businesses to bridge this gap. He discussed why a brand needs support, where support could use a brand infusion, and how to get these teams working together.

Where brand can benefit from support

Support teams speak to more customers than anyone else in the company and are thereby privy to invaluable user information. These insights can be the difference between a simply good design, and a great customer-centric design. As Harvard Business Review puts it, “It’s one thing to create a great looking product that’s easy to use. It’s another to create a great experience that continues to improve, delight, and expand in scope over time. The first is user experience. The second is customer experience.” Here are some examples of how brand teams can benefit a support team partnership:

  1. Support teams can validate design ideas. If there’s one group of people who use the product more than your customers, it’s your support team. They have an intimate knowledge of ongoing gripes, and unpleasant product experiences. Ask them to employ this knowledge by testing out product designs.

  2. It’s a road to real customers. Testing new ideas on real customers is necessary to a user-centered design team. However, access to customers is often challenging. Design teams spend significant time and money working with customer proxies—which are costly and provide lower value. Support can leverage their customer relationships to

  3. Better access to customer data. Support organizations have oodles of user data that could be used to drive innovation. But it’s rarely leveraged to its full potential (100% CSAT, anyone?). Don’t wait for minor problems to turn into customer service nightmares. Monthly meetings between design and support can keep design informed and speed up progress.

Where support can get a hand from brand

Brand teams direct how the brand looks, sounds, and feels. They can supply support teams with the tools and knowledge to create a branded experience for customers. Donahue looks to Apple, with its ‘5 Steps of Service,’ as the poster child for branded support experiences. Why is a branded support experience important? Because it’s hard to replicate, and it builds customer loyalty.

  1. Use brand as an ally in building value perception. Some executives still view support organizations as cost centers that do little more than close out tickets. If the brand or design team has a higher value perception, aligning with them can boost support up the ladder—as an innovation partner in the company.

  2. Brand teams can help support stay on brand. We know brand voice is important in customer support. Through consistency and familiarity it keeps customers feeling comfortable and immersed in a brand’s intentions. Empower your brand team to work with support to create branded customer service experiences that people understand, love, and want more of.

How to get support and brand to play together

Getting them in the same room is a good start—if that’s not possible, monthly meetings on Google Hangouts or Skype is just as valuable. Giving them joint goals can also encourage the teams to play nicely together. Get started with these ideas to build alliances between brand and support:

  1. Put designers in the support seat. By acting as an advocate for a day or longer, designers will improve their understanding of the product, the agent’s vantage point, and the customer experience.

  2. Let service people design. Flip the conversation and populate your next design brainstorm with people from the support team. With their intimate product and customer knowledge, customer service people are invaluable in design thinking workshops.

  3. Tag your user data. Keep the knowledge flowing from support to brand. Train and incentivize your agents to tag and route insights to brand design stakeholders. First response time and CSAT are critical metrics but that’s only the beginning. Tag an email that has personal and interesting information that could influence a designer’s perspective.

  4. Design your service. Employ your brand team to audit your company's’ service experience to identify any moments that are off brand. Make designing a service experience a top priority for your brand design team.

A well-branded service experience is the competitive edge in a commoditized product world. Think the calm, cool Apple Geniuses, the cheerful staff at Starbucks, and the Cold Stone Creamery team breaking into song. These are the customer experiences that build emotional connections to the brand. Brand and support teams are on two sides of the same coin—design creates the brand experience, but support lives it every day. Businesses can only benefit from these teams working in concert to improve the customer experience.