In the product and design world, there’s always a new framing for how to do the best work. Early in my career, I was enamored with the term interaction design as the novel way to think about putting together a software interface. Don’t let the engineers just design the interface by accident, the thinking went. Define personas, identify what those personas want to accomplish, and then draw out the best possible interactions to let the personas do what they want. Form follows function, not the other way around.
Interaction design evolved into customer experience, often CX for short. Today, entire teams are created and tasked with improving the customer experience above all else. Though primarily made up of interaction designers, these teams have expanded to include researchers, data analysts, business strategists, and front end engineers. In the best case scenario, they’re given a mandate to think holistically and make broad improvements. Too often, however, CX teams are hastily assembled and told to put a fresh coat of paint on what the customer sees.
Dedicated CX teams are generally a good thing because prioritizing the customer experience is what every modern digital organization should be thinking about, B2C and B2B both. Using thoughtful design to improve how customers buy, navigate, and use digital products has been a huge boon to our industry. So, what’s the problem?
Why CX alone isn’t enough
“There are paying customers, and then there are paid customers: the people inside your organization who service those paying customers. Your CX approach has to include both.”
The problem with prioritizing customer experience is that it’s an incomplete view. Digital businesses today (that is, all businesses) have complex platforms on the back-end of their customer experiences. All of the internal tooling, processes, and services that enable the business to run are just as impactful to the customer experience and the organization’s success, as the customer-facing interfaces are what CX teams are tasked with improving. There are paying customers, and then there are paid customers: the people inside your organization who service those paying customers. Your CX approach has to include both.
Let me offer an example. Launch by NTT Data recently worked with a consumer goods business that had grown rapidly, and while its digital storefront was pleasant and easy to navigate, its back office systems were a mess. Supplier onboarding was a manual, error-prone process, and getting set up to make and receive payments was a disaster. The payments sub-systems used outdated technology that caused regular problems with merchants getting paid properly and on time. This whole wing of the house had been neglected and needed to be addressed to set the platform on better footing for the future.
Another example that comes to mind that many companies struggle with is downstream processing of customer-submitted data. This could mean support tickets, form entries, or a call for help with an order. In many industries, how quickly and thoroughly a customer request gets handled dictates what the customer’s view of the company is overall. But the interfaces and systems built to handle these requests on the back end are often the lowest on the priority list. They get consistently overlooked in favor of their more-public counterparts. The result: processing times slow down, quality declines, and the customer experience gets worse.
Most CX teams won’t spot challenges like these. They think only about what a paying customer sees, touches, or complains about. That’s all well and good, but the real customer experience must be a truly complete picture of how each part of the organization contributes to what a customer feels about the organization.
What about UX?
Before customer experience, there was user experience (UX). If a designer focused only on the visuals, they were missing a big piece of the puzzle of software design, the thinking went.
But then a quote attributed to renowned designer Edward Tufte took the shine off of UX:
“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”
As software design became more conscientious and community-oriented, UX evolved into CX. But we may have lost something along the way.
Here’s the key thing UX got right: Any person using a software interface, broadly speaking, should have a tailored experience. That experience applies equally to employees, data processors, operational interns, and all of the other non-customer roles as it does for customers.
Some of the biggest impact we’ve had for our client’s bottom line is when we dramatically improve how an internal system works. We’ve been able to increase efficiency on everyday tasks by huge amounts, as much as five to 10 times faster in some cases. This isn’t just a quality-of-life improvement, either, because improvements on the backend directly lower costs in many ways. For example, you can accomplish more with a smaller staff, or your throughput goes up and customer wait times go down, or you can decommission and cut maintenance costs of older, outdated systems. These all have a clear, quantifiable business impact.
The best approach is a wide approach
Neither UX, CX, nor interaction design are perfect approaches to building something new. Time has shows that effective product design encompasses them all
As you look at your organization, think broadly about how you can apply product thinking and design to improve all facets of the digital experience. Yes, a big part of that is what your customers interact with, but you likely have equally important needs within your internal systems.
Talk to your people, or put together a team to assess where the gaps are and what impact design thinking could have on your digital platform’s future. Interface improvements on a workflow that customers never see could end up having the greatest positive payoff on their overall experience. Seize those opportunities wherever they exist. That’s what we do at Launch by NTT Data, and it has served us — and our customers — very well.