A great amount of time and investment is spent ensuring that consumers move through a sales funnel in the way that creates the desired outcome for marketers. What we know, however, is that consumers are not always likely to have a linear progression from the point of awareness to the point of sale.
Thus, more effort is now put into looking at the holistic customer experience. Customers are increasingly device-agnostic, switching between devices during the course of the day. They most often prefer customer service messages to be sent to their mobile phone (registration required) and are likely to perform comparison shopping before deciding to make a purchase in-store or online.
Because of these behaviors, you have a continually disrupted customer experience, not a smooth, linear progression from initial contact to sale.
Optimizing touch points individually is not the answer.
Too often, marketers focus on individual channels or tactics, such as in-store experience, social media, email or the company’s website. While any of these individual experiences may be great on their own, as McKinsey states, “Individual touchpoints may perform well even if the overall experience is poor.”
While the dawn of big data made it much easier to monitor and analyze your marketing channels, many marketers still do not have a comprehensive view of how the overall customer experience is performing. In addition, the existing customer experience is often a legacy of systems and processes set up over the preceding decades, meaning that marketers are optimizing channels with the assumptions that the customer experiences they’ve inherited are as efficient as they can be.
My agency approaches our engagements with clients by starting with an analysis of the customer experience and, where possible, design solutions around the customer first, instead of the other way around. By prioritizing the customer journey, we achieve more successful outcomes, including better long-term engagement and lifetime value.
Enter design thinking.
At best, each channel has been optimized as much as possible. But what could be possible if the entire system were re-imagined? When you have optimized silos that your customer accesses and still don’t have great customer experience results, I believe this is when design thinking should enter the discussion.
For those unfamiliar with the term “design thinking,” it has origins beginning as early as the 1950s, particularly in architecture and other design-related fields. Since then, the concept has been adopted and more popularized by David M. Kelley, founder of IDEO.Design thinking is the philosophy that problems can be solved through creating solutions around customer needs without assuming existing structures, systems or processes need to exist. This is in contrast to creating solutions based on a company’s desired outcomes.
In many ways, this would seem to be the antithesis of the analysis-based agile marketing approach many marketers take, relying heavily on data and optimizing channels based on past interactions.
When done well, design thinking has the power to disrupt markets. From my perspective, this is because it doesn’t assume that the existing systems and processes many consumers have grown used to (but actively dislike) need to exist.
For instance, Airbnb has taken a customer-centric view of the hospitality industry that doesn’t assume hotels and the traditional hotel-booking structure need to exist. Instead, it matches people and the things they need with other individuals who can provide that service. This type of thinking has the power to disrupt any industry.
Agile marketing and design thinking work together for customer experience success.
Thus, rather than being mutually exclusive, design thinking and agile marketing go hand-in-hand to create a great customer experience. Design thinking provides the foundation, and the data analysis inherent in agile marketing provides the continuous improvement and enhancement.
Tom Ritchey describes this in detail using the terms “analysis” and “synthesis” as a way of creating successful outcomes through both a subtractive (analysis) and additive (synthesis) process — much like using agile marketing (analysis) and design thinking (synthesis) together to solve customer experience challenges.
Brands that combine these two approaches can find success well beyond others that simply take their legacy models for granted.
For instance, Capital One has been extremely successful in reinventing itself from a traditional financial institution into a design-driven company with financial products. Its investments in digital design and product development teams have paid off by setting its customer experience apart from its larger (and smaller) competitors in a very crowded marketplace where product benefits are difficult to distinguish.
Of course, simply starting with great design isn’t enough. Continual monitoring and optimization of the customer experience across all channels are essential for brands. This is where agile marketing and design thinking intersect and work together in a way that benefits both customers and the brands alike.
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