Top down user experience

By Meriel Lenfestey

Foolproof, along with the rest of the UX industry, have our roots in bottom-up client relationships.

Back in the day, all our clients were mavericks, often with far greater ambition than power. We spent time helping them evangelise within their organisation by delivering great insights and solutions.

The strategy was necessarily ‘lite’ – usability sessions to directly support a tactical project. The holy grail was a project where ROI figures could be isolated and demonstrated to help move customer centricity one rung higher in the organisation. It’s great for everyone that old school resistance is diminishing as the competition benefits from seeing the light, and our ‘mavericks’ are more senior and empowered. Organisational attitudes to UX are starting to mature.

These new attitudes are top-down, they reflect an organisational shift towards customer centricity as a means to drive success. These inspired organisations are finding ways to put the customer at the heart of their decision making processes because today’s customers have more options, are more selective, and are more likely to share their experiences with others.

They understand that their brand is at the mercy of every customer interaction – and that this means that every touch-point, or journey across touch-points, must generate the appropriate reaction whether that is to engage, satisfy, delight, surprise, reassure, inform or intrigue. It is no longer possible to ‘hard code’ a brand – the challenge is to design a landscape in which a brand can emerge and evolve.

So what does top down mean? An organisation which embraces customer-centricity will have shaped themselves (structure and processes) and their strategy around the effective use of customer insight to drive innovation, consistently optimise services, and measure success.

Structure and processes

The way an organisation does things will affect its ability to deliver a good customer experience. This is often referred to as Customer Experience Management.

This organisational shaping is at least a change of leadership attitude when making decisions, and at most a fundamental business transformation affecting the reporting and communication lines, IT infrastructure, performance monitoring and budgeting. The important thing is that it drives informed customer focused decisions throughout the organisation, to facilitate the necessary holistic approach, and ultimately make it happen.

A key component of this is in role definition to ensure that the customers’ needs are championed. In the last four to five years, in recognition that a holistic view is necessary to drive consistency across channels, job titles such as ‘Head of Customer Experience’ and ‘Multiplatform Channel Manager’ have become more common. To achieve greater CX transformation, the most enlightened companies represent their customer at board level with titles such as ‘Chief Customer Officer’ or ‘Customer Experience Director’. At this level they can both encourage a culture of customer thinking and ensure that board decisions around expenditure and budgeting include attention on customer experience.

This is great news, but it is still early days. It seems that these lone board level customer representatives struggle to be heard, and therefore often don’t last long in their role unless the organisation embraces their focus. The average CCO only stayed in their role between 24 and 36 months which is far less than other C-level positions (source: Curtis N. Bingham). The rhetoric of board diversity is often not the reality and their role will be in part evangelising the customer in a forum which isn’t used to seeing customers as people rather than numbers. To make it more difficult, there’s little external process or support for these pioneers. I believe the next five years will see this change and that increasingly UX experts will be brought in as executive and non-executive directors to create more diversity and objectivity around customer representation.

Strategy

Strategy is quite simply what an organisation is aiming to do and how they are going to do it. Strategy is a top down activity in all companies. The lack of customer experience representation at the top has led to a lack of consideration of the customer in the shaping of strategy, road mapping and measurement of success.

Acquiring, satisfying, delighting and retaining customers is fundamental to any successful business and should, therefore, be a key element of any corporate strategy. It should then be presented in detail as a User Experience Strategy alongside other functional strategies including finance, marketing, operations etc. This user experience strategy will contain a clear picture of the current reality, a shared vision for the future across all touch-points, a set of experience principles which can act as a tool to keep all project related decisions on track, a UX roadmap to help prioritise and move towards the vision, and a measurement and incentive framework to maintain focus and commitment.

With more top down focus on user experience, the future looks bright for business and for consumers.

What do you think?