As digital customer experience has worked its way to the boardroom and into the consciousness of the C-suite, user experience design has established itself as an essential activity for business. But it is still often only practiced as a tactical discipline.
Organisations routinely turn to UX people to help lower risk in product development, or to increase the commercial yield of existing customer journeys. But this fragmented, tactical application of UX overlooks its potential for long-term value creation.
Things are starting to change. More and more major brands are looking at user experience as a sustainable source of competitive advantage. In fact, in some commoditised, price-competitive markets differentiated user experience is the only viable competitive strategy.
But to realise this goal UX thinking needs to be joined up right across a business to drive towards a clear vision of the target customer experience.
What is UX strategy?
There is a lot of confusion around the word strategy in relation to user experience. Here at Foolproof we define user experience strategy as: “A long-term plan to align every customer touchpoint with your vision for user experience.”
The component parts of a user experience (UX) strategy are:
- A very clear qualitative and quantitative understanding of your current user experience
- A detailed vision for the user experience you are trying to create
- A model of the commercial outcomes resulting from realising the vision, and the costs of doing it
- A prioritised roadmap of what needs to happen to get you from where you are today to where you want to be
- A set of regular measurements to monitor progress and success
- A plan for developing the capabilities and culture of your organisation to do all of this
In other words, it is a holistic business strategy and requires understanding, support and action right across your organisation.
Ambitious stuff, right? But why can’t we just carry on as we are, enjoying the tactical benefits of UX and developing the user experience bit by bit?
So, why do we need strategy?
1. Consumer behaviour is changing fast
Digital has had a transformative effect on consumer thinking and behaviour. For over a decade important new technologies and tools have arrived at a terrific pace: first browsers then algorithmic search, then comparison shopping and user generated reviews, social networks, the mobile web and smart devices.
Each new technology has an adoption curve while it goes from trial by early adopters to being used by a mass audience. There’s good evidence that this adoption lag is shortening: important new tools move into mass usage more and more quickly.
The result is that consumers are no longer willing to wait for shopping and customer experiences to be created for them: they are putting them together themselves. And this makes the decisions they make, like whether to buy a brand’s product, or whether to stay loyal as a customer, increasingly difficult to understand or predict.
2. More touchpoints. Lots and lots more touchpoints
However, business behaviour is not changing at the same pace. What’s less widely discussed is that business is generally moving at a much slower pace in the adoption of, and adaptation to, digital technologies.
Each new tool and technology tends to be bolted on to an organisation’s business model; given a home within existing organisational silos. These silos increasingly struggle to collaborate in the creation of a high value customer experience.
Without a shared understanding of the customer, or a shared vision for how they need to be served, many companies are unable to create a coherent and valuable customer experience. The user experience feels like a patchwork of unrelated interactions, often irrelevant to the lives and goals of customers.
This divergent pace of change between consumers and business is putting increasing strain on brands. It’s creating a brand experience ‘gap’: the difference between the brand promise and the reality of the customer experience. It’s very easy for consumers to see this gap – and to talk about it in their social sphere or take their custom elsewhere. Increasingly this suggests that the only viable future for brand management is not around managing the message, but managing the experience.
Some brands, like Apple and Zappos, have already come to this conclusion and manage their brands in a very different way and through the full spectrum of their customer touchpoints, not just their marketing messages.
Consider your own organisation’s maturity when it comes to user experience. Can you link UX measures to the strategic goals of your organisation? Is your vision for user experience consistently understood and supported across your business? Is your user experience an expression of your brand values (and vice versa)?
Most companies in the world would currently have to answer ‘no’ to these questions. Which raises a point in itself: imagine the competitive advantage that would come out of being able to say ‘yes’…
Creating a UX strategy
At the simplest level the journey towards a UX strategy includes:
- Looking for the linkage points between how your organisation measures commercial success and the outcomes that user experience can deliver.
- Getting a close understanding of both how your customer sees your current user experience and also how your organisation’s capabilities and constraints influence your strategic choices.
- Create a measurement framework which allows you to measure the value of your user experience today, and into the future.
- Develop a tangible (often clickable) vision of the user experience that will deliver the business outcomes you are targeting. Share this with the wider business.
- Create the business case for investment in building this experience
- Create a roadmap: what needs to get done, and in what order, to get you from where you are today to where you need to be?
Helping businesses to experience strategy
Our biggest learning over the last five years of helping companies create UX strategy has been about shifting the bias from thinking, talking & theorizing to making and learning.
Andreas Hauser, Global Head of Design Services at SAP, once said “you have to help companies to experience design”. That is, the role of the of designers must extend beyond creating solutions themselves and opening the black box for business stakeholders to experience the process of thinking and making and learning with customers for customers. This level of individual engagement and investment is essential in nurturing and nudging business behaviours and ultimately culture.
We believe this to be true of UX strategy too. We believe the role of design is to inject both the end-to-end outside-in thinking into strategy planning and continuing to bring the analytical and creative muscles into bridging the gap between strategy and execution.
The best UX strategies can be seen, touched and experienced by anyone in the business. We make UX strategy come to life as a thing, prototypes, videos, experiential spaces. The world doesn’t need more strategy diagrams on Powerpoint slides.
If it that sounds like a lot of work, well, it is. But it doesn’t have to take a long time. If you are interested in this emerging field of UX thinking there’s a LinkedIn group on the topic and a strategy conference.
More content on developing a UX strategy here