Create Valuable Customer Experiences Through Design Thinking

Use Design Thinking to create Customer ExperiencesIn an environment in which customer experience is increasingly critical, the thoughtful design of individual customer experiences, and of how multiple touchpoints work together as a whole, is too vital to be left to chance. Knowledge of design thinking, a disciplined process of observation, idea generation, and rapid iteration of products, content, and experiences, jumpstarts our organizations’ creativity and transports us beyond our “go-to” options, unlocking new opportunities for creating shared value.

But first, an aspirational case study…

Case Study: Warby Parker

You know that you are doing something right when companies across several industries try to emulate you, going as far as citing your company in their brand profiles. Such is the case with eyewear purveyor Warby Parker.

A collaboration among four classmates from the Wharton School, Warby Parker was founded with a simple, game-changing idea: “to create boutique-quality, classically crafted eyewear at a revolutionary price point.”1 An analysis of the cost structure of the industry, a summary of which is openly available on their website (see below), revealed that this was in fact the case. By designing their own eyewear, carefully selecting manufacturers, utilizing the highest-quality materials, and engaging customers directly through their website, Warby Parker could substantially reduce the cost of a pair of prescription glasses.

Warby Parker’s success is only partially due to economics. The company is also superb at understanding its customers and building a brand that truly inspires them. Their glasses, website, newly added retail spaces, blog, and other social media presences embody their “vintage-inspired with a contemporary twist” brand aesthetic.

In addition to quality glasses at an affordable price and a compelling brand with which to identify, the young company also offers its customers a sense of purpose. Committed to making the world a better place, the company offers a Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program that provides glasses to people in need. In an effort to be a carbon-neutral company, Warby Parker actively works to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions across its manufacturing, shopping, and retail operations; it also purchases carbon offsets.

Warby Parker Openly Compares Industry Cost Structures

Warby Parker price comparison

Customers enjoy the company’s fun and easy shopping experience and the way it reduces the risk of online glasses purchases. Their e-commerce site allows shoppers to filter their options by shape, color, and material; acting like a salesperson in a high-end boutique, the site makes recommendations for similar frames based on their choices.

Customers can also upload a photo of themselves for a virtual try on (see below). To get their friends’ opinions, they can share the image on Facebook or Twitter. For people who want to physically try on their frames, Warby Parker makes it a cinch. They can come in to one of their retail stores or try five frames for five days (with free shipping) through the company’s Home Try-On program. If they choose the latter, customers are encouraged to post photos of them wearing the frames on social media to get feedback about potential purchases from their friends and from Warby Parker employees. After making a selection, if their customers are not completely satisfied, the company accepts 30-day returns, no questions asked.

Virtual Try-On Simplifies Online Purchases

Warby Parker virtual mirror

Recognizing that its customers shop across channels, Warby Parker has recently opened several boutiques located in fashionable locations across a smattering of cities and multiple showrooms within partner stores. The spaces reflect both the essence of their brand and the neighborhoods in which they are located. Inspired by classic libraries, its flagship store in Soho features shelves lined with books from small presses and rolling library ladders. The company has its own version of the pop-up store: the Warby Parker Class Trip. Traveling across the country, this completely reimagined yellow school bus—it looks like a Classics’ professor’s library inside—takes the company and its products to customers’ hometowns, creating a media buzz everywhere it goes.2

Warby Parker class trip

Frameworks for Thinking about Customer Experience

Fabulous customer experiences like the ones Warby Parker creates do not happen by chance. A combination of creativity, deep customer understanding, knowledge of behavior design, intuitive websites and supporting infrastructure, data analytics, integrated online and offline presences, useful and engaging content, helpful customer-facing employees, and more give shape to the interactions that delight our customers. When they come together, it seems almost effortless, as if there is nothing to it—although we know better.

In an environment where businesses compete on the basis of customer experience, tools that provide proprietary insight into our prospects, customers, and their experiences with our brands are highly valued. They can make the difference between experiences that appear to be effortless and those that take entirely too much effort. Three tools that we have found to be especially helpful in designing and evaluating our customers’ experiences include design thinking, the Fogg Behavior Model, and customer-journey analysis. The success of companies like Facebook, Apple, Instagram, USAA, and Google can often be linked to some combination of these tools. We’ll cover Design Thinking here, then move on to the rest in future posts.

Generating Remarkable Experiences with Design Thinking

Big data provides us with unprecedented information about our prospects and customers and their attitudes and behavior. New insights are being uncovered as we combine data streams and test relationships among variables with advanced analytics. However, even when marketers have the benefit of insights derived from big data, we often still need tools that help us reach deeper than the numbers to truly understand the spoken and unspoken needs and desires that our customers and prospects are trying to satisfy. This depth of understanding, which some call empathy, is often the source of current and future innovation and the basis for our most successful marketing efforts. Design thinking can get us there and provide a disciplined process through which we turn that insight into game-changing customer experiences.

Design thinking facilitates our organizations’ ability to think creatively and to put our customers at the center of our efforts. Based on the methodology that designers have typically undertaken in approaching product innovation challenges, the design-thinking process has been successfully used to create new products, to improve the interactions between people and products, and to analyze and enhance people’s relationships with each other.3 It is especially powerful in environments that are in constant change, when the way things have always been done is no longer especially useful. Although many organizations have adopted the process, it is often associated with the d.school at Stanford and the design and innovation firm IDEO. (The link between the d.school and IDEO is strong; Stanford professor David Kelley cofounded them both.)

Design thinking is inherently a social process. It brings together a diverse group of people from a variety of backgrounds to contribute their unique perspectives to the challenge at hand. Engineers, marketers, artists, doctors, designers, writers, CFOs, creative technologists, and ethnographers are some of the types of people who may all have a seat at the same table. Why is this necessary? There is a saying at IDEO that succinctly summarizes the reason: “All of us is smarter than any of us.” When managed well, this diversity of thought generates new combinations of ideas.

But having a diverse group is not enough. Creativity only happens when we can be vulnerable, and this can only happen within a nonhierarchical environment. As Rodrigo Martinez, IDEO’s life sciences chief strategist warns, “hierarchy kills innovation.”

Design thinking pushes participants to think holistically by incorporating both divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is curiosity in action. An expansive process, the goal of divergent thinking is to generate many ideas in a short period of time. The reason: It takes a lot of ideas to come up with the one that sticks. Convergent thinking is its partner. An analytical framework for deciding among options, we employ convergent thinking when we synthesize the output of divergent processes, reassembling insights and observations in new ways. Convergent thinking reduces options, nudging us forward toward solutions. Both types of thinking are necessary to successful innovation.

Most of our companies are adept at convergent thinking. For the past several decades, our management tools and processes have emphasized efficiency, streamlining processes, and continuous incremental improvement. We are less skilled at divergent thinking. Rather than considering how to improve what is already in place, divergent thinking often threatens the status quo, with the goal of finding new ways to bring value. The combination is what creates thoughtful and disruptive innovation, which is precisely why many companies are eager to understand design thinking and incorporate it into their corporate DNA.

How does the design-thinking process work?

Design Thinking is an exploratory process that transforms needs into demand. It begins with inspiration, flows into synthesis, develops into ideation, and concludes with implementation of a solution.

  • Inspiration involves exploring the challenge, the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be tapped.
  • Synthesis creates a point of view that frames the parameters for the solution.
  • Ideation involves generating, enhancing, and testing potential solutions.
  • Implementation brings it all together in real life.3

Do not be fooled into thinking this is a linear process; organizations cycle through these spaces multiple times as their thinking progresses and their ideas are improved.

Develop an Understanding

One of the hallmarks of design thinking is a rigorous focus on clearly articulating the challenge that is to be solved or the opportunity to be created. Experience shows that, more often than not, impactful innovation comes from reframing a problem rather than solving the existing problem in a different way. Toward this end, the process kicks off with an invitation to explore, to uncover and closely examine the underlying customer need or desire to be addressed, rather than tackle a predefined problem. This openness to discovery is important: It creates space to think anew.

The brief is a vehicle through which the design process begins. It outlines the constraints surrounding the process that are to be balanced and a framework for evaluation. Midcourse adjustments are often made to briefs to reflect a growing understanding of the situation.

Here are some questions to keep in mind as you create your brief:

  • How do you currently observe your customers’ world and the needs and desires they are trying to address? What methods have been most effective?
  • What aspects of design thinking might be useful to your organization?
  • How do you currently evaluate your customers’ experience with your brand?

Next week, we’ll talk about how to use research and brainstorming to produce designs that target your audience and get results.

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About the Authors

Larry Weber and Lisa Leslie Henderson are the cowriters of this Digital Marketing guide. Larry is the CEO of Racepoint Global, an advanced marketing services firm. A globally known expert in public relations and marketing services, Larry has successfully built companies and brands and is passionate about the future of marketing. Lisa is an observer, synthesizer, and writer who draws extensively from her background in marketing and consulting. Lisa and Larry have collaborated on two guides to date, The Digital Marketer, and Everywhere: Comprehensive Strategy for the Social Media Era. To stay current on their thinking, frequent www.racepoint.com/thedigitalmarketer and follow them at @TheLarryWeber and @ljlhendo.

Buy on Amazon: The Digital Marketer: Ten New Skills You Must Learn to Stay Relevant and Customer-Centric

1. For more information see: www.warbyparker.com.
2. To read more about the class trip adventures, see:www.warbyparkerclass
trip.com/.
3. Tim Brown, Change by Design (New York: HarperCollins), 42.

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