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Mindset Matters

Using Design Thinking to Improve Customer Experience


There is an emerging trend amongst companies to improve the “Customer Experience.” The philosophy suggests if customers have a positive experience with the brand, they will spend more and actively share the brand with friends and family. This improves the company’s reputation and revenue. The first question to ask is- how can companies create a positive experience that their customers will love? And even more importantly, how can companies generate good ideas for how to improve the Customer Experience?


In reality, this question is not new or unique to Customer Experience. Whenever someone tries to develop or improve a product or service, they need to come up with ideas. Design Thinking is a methodology and a framework that was developed to address this exact need.


Design Thinking is a human-centered approach for creative problem solving and innovation. By putting yourself into the mindset of the people you’re designing for, you get to the heart of the problems and opportunities that are most impactful.




Design Thinking can be broken down into 5 phases:


1. Empathize: Observing, interviewing, and understanding the people you’re designing for.


The goal here is to get to know the audience and gather as many insights as possible. Here are a few questions you might think about in this phase:

  • What do people complain about?

  • What workaround solutions have they developed when using the product or service?

  • How does this product or service fit into their life?

  • If I put myself in their shoes, what would I want?


2. Define: Using the observations and insights gained during Phase 1 to frame the problem or opportunity in a human-centric way.


Imagine you work for a major food corporation, instead of saying, “We need to increase our sales of natural foods among teenage women”, you may want to phrase it as, “How might we encourage teenage women to be stronger and healthier?” Answering that question addresses the business goals while also truly meeting the needs of the audience. This phase is about framing a tangible question that highlights a problem or opportunity, rather than immediately seeking an answer.


3. Ideate: Developing a solution to the problem or opportunity identified in Phase 2.


Brainstorming sessions can be a great tool for this. It’s important to explore as many ideas as possible, no matter how wild or crazy they may seem. They open your mind to possibilities you might not have otherwise considered.


4. Prototype: A rough, quick implementation of the idea.


The goal is to not build a fully functioning product; the focus is on creating something that captures the idea you came up with. Examples could include a drawing or wireframe, acting out a mock scenario, or building a visual model out of cardboard.


5. Test: Testing the prototype with your audience.


This is your chance to put your idea in front of people. See how they react; get their feedback. What do they like? What do they dislike? What questions do they have?


While presented linearly, these stages are iterative and can be revisited as often as necessary. As you brainstorm ideas, you may find that you need to do more research. Or, if you get positive feedback on your first prototype, build a slightly more robust prototype and test that. These phases are meant to be quick and flexible which allows you to test your audience and ensure you have an idea that people love before investing large amounts of resources into development.


Now, how does this tie back into Customer Experience? Currently, many companies rely on Customer Experience Research and Market Research to verify how their customers responded to a previously made decision. While incredibly important, this research doesn’t inform the company on how to make those business decisions. They rely on internal teams to figure out what to do next, which, even for the most talented employees, is a challenging task. The employees only have a limited view of how the product is currently being used or how it could be used. There are edge cases, use cases, and needs that may never cross their minds.


Incorporating the Design Thinking framework into the research process enables companies to learn how customers really use the products or services and where the opportunities are for improvement. Companies can collect unique insights they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. Brainstorming together with customers utilizes each person’s unique perspective on life, the company and the product or service. These customers are available and invested in testing these new ideas because they too benefit from the improvements.


It’s worth noting that improving the Customer Experience can involve many different aspects. It could be changing the product to make it easier to use, updating the company’s website or even adding accessibility features for those with disabilities. Not every new idea needs to apply to every customer. By empathizing with users and defining the problems and opportunities, companies can consistently ideate new, impactful and actionable ideas that their customers will love.


Improving the Customer Experience is not always about finding a perfect solution that solves all problems or overhauling the system. It is about using methods like Design Thinking to hear what your customers have to say, understand who they are and take small steps to better meet their needs.


Rebecca Kaplan, Research Analyst


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