Customer Experience Design: it’s not about the process it’s about the human being

The problem with Customer Experience is the Designers

Is the engineering / six sigma way of thinking and approaching the business world the right one for designing and orchestrating customer experiences?  Walk into many business, take a look at who is involved in Customer Experience efforts and the way that they are going about it and the answer is YES.  I am not in agreement with this view, this approach.  I wrote a post (The Problem with Customer Experience is the Designers) some time ago.  The one change I would make, today, is to say that the issues is not limited to the designers – it also includes their masters, the people who commission the work of the designers.

Customer Experience design is so much more than process design

In this post I simply want to get us present to the fact that the process lens (and thus process design / redesign) whilst useful can be misleading when it comes to getting a rounded grip on Customer Experience.   Designing great customer experiences means getting to grips with the fullness of our humanity.  I can talk about this (and it will show up as abstract) or I can point you towards what I am thinking by using an example.  Lets take look at my tea drinking experience.

How you can change the Customer Experience without changing the process

This is the mug that I normally use:

Why do I use it?  I use this mug because it is just right.  The main differentiator is the size/design of the handle – I can easily slide three fingers into the handle and the mould into the handle, a good fit.  There is the functional component of ease, the tactical component of fit between the handle and my fingers AND there is the emotional component.  There are two strands to the emotional component.  The first arises out of the tactile – how holding the mug ‘feels’ in my hands.  The second strand arises from memory – this mug was given to me as a Christmas gift, by colleagues, at a previous employer.

Can I change my tea drinking experience without changing any elements of the tea making-serving-drinking experience?   Yes, I can.  I can do it simply by changing the container I use.

Here is another mug that I use:

At a functional and tactile level this mug is poor in comparison to the previous mug.  Yet I do use this mug and I am attached to it.  Why?  This mug was made/decorated by my daughter and presented to me with a big hug and kiss on my right cheek.  It was her gift for Fathers Day and it says “No 1 Cuddly Bear”.  Every time I see and use this mug I am not just drinking tea, I am in fact present to and immersed in the love of my daughter.   So here we have a transformation of my experience simply by changing the mug.

Lets take a look at a different ‘mug’ and what impact this has on me and my tea drinking experience:

Notice that this ‘mug’ is not a mug, it has no handles, it is more accurately described as a bowl.  I first came across this when I married into the French – at breakfast my tea was presented to me in a bowl just like this one.

Drinking tea from a bowl instead of a mug completely alters my tea drinking experience.  When I use this bowl I am totally present to the sensations of holding the bowl, lifting the bowl, drinking/tasting the tea.  Why?  Because, the bowl requires me to hold it with both of my hands.  When I am holding the bowl with both of my hands I cannot be mindlessly drinking tea (not being present to the tea drinking experience) whilst using the computer – it simply does not lend itself to that.   Furthermore, the simple act of holding the bowl with two hands to cusp the bowl creates, for me, a more ‘intimate’ tea drinking experience.  I use this bowl when I want to bring myself back to the real world – to be mindful of my physical experience, to really be present to and appreciate the tea experience in its fullest dimensions.

Finally, lets take a look at this last ‘mug’:

My wife loves pretty stuff and this is the what she uses to serve tea when we have guests with us.  This ‘mug’ is neither a mug nor a cup or a bowl.  Yet, it is a little like all three and as a result it provides with a different experience.  First of all, when I see this ‘mug’ memories of family and friends rush into my mind along with pleasant feelings.  Second, this ‘mug’ is too big for the handle and so a certain presence is required:  it is not possible to drink tea mindlessly – I have to be present to what I am holding.  Third, I like the look of this ‘mug’ – the design, the colours, the simplicity of the pattern.  As a result, I enjoy drinking tea that much more.  Finally, I cannot ever drink tea from this ‘mug’ without thinking of my mother-in-law (who loves pretty objects) and thinking how much my wife is like my mother-in-law and yet does not realise it!   This brings a chuckle to my lips and smile into my heart.

Points to reflect upon when you are looking to improve / design the Customer Experience

I hope that I have shown up that just focussing upon and improving the process is not enough when it comes to designing / orchestrating the customer experience.  You need to look broader and understand how human beings experience stuff.

Human beings see, hear, touch, walk, smell and taste.  What does this mean for your Customer Experience design? How can you use the right sensory cues?  How can you involve customers more so that they are more fully present and thus in the experience?  Or how can you distract your customers so that they are not present to ‘unpleasant’ experiences?

We, human beings, think and they remember – the bring both of these qualities to the experience.  How can you evoke the right thoughts, the right memories so as to elevate the customer experience? What do you need to do to avoid evoking unpleasant memories?

Human beings are social by design and one of main facets of social is speaking and listening.  What implications does that have for your Customer Experience design?  Should people be present or not in the Customer Experience?  If they should be present then how many, what kinds of people?  What kind of social conversations and exchanges are the right ones? And so forth.

Finally:  process mapping and process design are easy in comparison to Customer Experience design.  Incidentally, process mapping disguised as customer experience mapping is still process mapping.  It only becomes customer experience mapping when you get access to the inner domain where experience resides and look at a lot more than the sequence of steps that the customer has to execute.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

6 thoughts on “Customer Experience Design: it’s not about the process it’s about the human being”

  1. Maz, at the risk of being controversial, you are wrong (I nearly wrote I think you are wrong, but it is Saturday morning and I am feeling feisty)

    As you so eloquently wrote in your own post most “Customer Experiences” are shoddy, poorly thought through and nobody has stood back and looked at the process.

    I am all for coloured cups and emotional attachment but if I ask for a cup of tea and get a sponge full of cold coffee then I can’t help but think the engineers should do something about the sponge first (and a pink sponge painted by my daughter is still no way to serve tea)

    Things “just working” may not sound like a huge aspiration, but it is a sight more than the vast majority of organisations offer

    When the engineers have got it to the “just working” stage then is the time to get clever with the nuances

    Think that is me firmly off the fence

    PS Hope I haven’t caused you to drop your cup


  2. Hello James

    I am 100% in agreement with you when you insist that we have to pay attention to the process dimension and make sure it is appropriate to the customers, the situation at hand and the job/outcome dimension.

    Where we differ, perhaps, is that I am pointing out that process is only one dimension not the only dimension. There is the treatment dimension – how you treat me whilst following process. In his book The Welcomer Edge, Richard Shapiro points out the difference between the Welcomer and the Robot. The Robot (employee) follows the perfectly yet shows no humanity, he does not smile, he does not seek to connect with the customer. The Welcomer follows the process but in a radically different way. For him/her the customer as a fellow human being comes first and the process is there to support in building a connection with the customer.

    Another dimension is the environment. If I turn up to your store or your website and it lands in my world as ‘shoddy’, ‘cold’, ‘warm’, ‘modern’, or ‘traditional’, for example, then each of these will elicit a very different emotional experience within me.

    Another dimension is the product itself – the form factor, the look/feel, the functionality, the ease of use or not. Again this has nothing to do with Process – it is additional to process.

    It is possible that I am mistaken. I make many mistakes and I count on friends/colleague like you to care enough to be courageous and point out where and how I am mistaken. Everything that I have learnt, I have learnt through a fellow human being. I thank you for caring enough to share what you have to share. I value you, I value your voice, I value you the conversation that you create within me and between us.

    At your service / with my love


  3. Hi Maz,
    Your post reminded me of a conversation I had the other day with someone I know at Beyond Philosophy. Their view is that all experience is split into rational and emotional components and that many firms only compete or try to compete at the rational level. However, it is on the emotional level where we make the real connection that has real and long-lasting value for all parties. Most service or process design currently neglects this, I believe, and this is wrong and a missed opportunity.



  4. An interesting perspective. process design is important. The ease and simplicity of the process would also depend upon the degree of faith you repose in the customer or the users. Believing the customer is out there to cheat you would result in a very gritty customer experience. Believing otherwise makes the process so much more easy and simple! If I as a customer begin to feel that my veracity or intent is being checked ever so often, then I would avoid the shop as it were. My short experience with supermarkets and the council library makes me believe that design should be fuelled by faith. See “Customer Experience Design – Fuelled by faith”



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