An Innovative Approach to Customer Experience Design

What’s the primary aim of your business? Is it delivering shareholder value? Or providing a climate of mutual respect for colleagues? Or is it satisfying your customers? While all are important, the most successful companies will be those which recognise that the critical success factor in the future will be to put customers first. And to put customer experience delivery front-and-centre within their business.

The reason? Customers provide every penny of the revenues that are earned by established businesses. And even though providing returns to shareholders and respect for all employees are important, they are secondary to the aim of getting customers to repeatedly buy the products or services that you sell.

However, to achieve commercially sustainable growth, there’s more to it than just selling a product or service.

Expectation of excitement

The launch of the first smartphone (the iPhone) in 2007 was a watershed moment in customer experience. It spawned a dramatic new level of delight in the way you could pinch, swipe and flick on a touchscreen with instantaneous results. The experience that customers had on these devices was nothing short of miraculous compared to what had been seen before – in any medium or industry. As mobile phones have one of the highest levels of ownership as a consumer product – this experience expectation engaged a large chunk of the population in a very short timeframe.

As touchscreens spread to other devices, and vast numbers of applications were developed that fully utilised the device capabilities, the on-screen experiences grew exponentially. The high quality of interaction offered by these small and portable devices set new standards of customer expectations for every interface they had with a company – and across all channels. The simultaneous and rapid rise of home computing, high-speed internet connectivity, the willingness of consumers to embrace the online capabilities, and more recently the proliferation of free public wifi, has elevated customer’s expectations. They demand everything, anywhere, anytime – and they also expect your experiences to match those they have with their touchscreen devices – across all your channels.

This has set a challenge for many businesses. Consider how much your service and the experiences you deliver to your customers have changed over the last five years. Probably quite significantly. But is this enough? Potentially, even including all your best efforts, you’re simply holding ground as your competitors also increase the level of their delivered service and experiences too.

Another issue to contend with is that the technology your customers use and the access they have through social media as to how well (or how badly) you interacted with other customers similar to themselves, is a great challenge to your ability to provide adequate customer service. Never mind trying to delight them. Their knowledge around their issue and their available technology is often superior to yours.

If you need to be doing so much more just to stay where you are – how are you going to get ahead? The answer is by out-thinking your competition! Especially in the area of greatest opportunity for you – the customer experiences you deliver. And this is where Active Thinking can help you. Active Thinking offers ways for you to think differently about your customer experiences and to do things within your business that will make significant difference at both the operational and strategic levels.


First we need to construct a new model for customer experience that will lay out and identify areas where your business can deliver customer delight. Then we can apply the Active Thinking process to develop new opportunities that will deliver business growth for you.

Your Super-ordinate proposition

Great serviceThe only way in which any business can sustainably grow is to offer its customers an over-arching combination of quality products with a great service at a fair price. And the more effectively this is delivered, the better the experience that is delivered to the customer, and hence the more successful your business will be.

This over-arching combination of elements is called your Super-ordinate proposition, and the people who accept your Super-ordinate proposition are destined to become your long-term customers.

The four elements of a Super-ordinate proposition are:

  1. A valued transactional proposition
  2. Your service design
  3. Your service style
  4. Moments of Truth

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

A valued transactional proposition

Whatever you are selling, from Frosties to Ferraris, there needs to be perceived value in the money-for-goods transactional exchange in the eyes of the customer. If there isn’t a perceived fair value exchange, then the deal won’t take place – no matter how brilliant the other elements of your Super-ordinate proposition. A valued transactional proposition will always form the core of any business deal that you have with the customer.

Your service design

You need to be easy to do business with in whatever channel the customer prefers, and the way you design your service interactions defines this. Having a five-level interactive voice response system when customers phone in may help your call-centre to know the reason for an inbound call, but this isn’t what customers like to experience. Similarly, replacing it with a system where you simply speak what you want – but which can’t pick up the difference between a spoken ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ – isn’t good service design either.

You will invariably find that in most organisations, many of the services offered to customers haven’t been smartly designed – they have been iterated over time from a compromised initial solution. You need to look around to see what the best practices are in any given situation to see whether your service offers an appropriate level of ease to the customer in achieving their desired outcome.

Your service style

Your service style is the manner in which you engage with your customers. It’s the branded personality of the overall experience that you deliver. If you stripped away all the branding from (for example) your retail store and did the same for your competitor’s stores, would a customer be able to know which store experience was yours? When asked, would they be able to say it just ‘felt’ like what they’d expect from you?

Customer Experience 1A service style is the tangible manifestation of a company’s brand values and culture through all the various ways that employees interact with customers. As it’s a representation of your brand, it allows you to differentiate the experiences you deliver from that of your competition – for their brand values will invariably be different to yours.

Your service style may not be identical across your various channels due to the dissimilar nature of the interactions in these different channels. Each channel experience will dial-up or dial-down specific aspects of your service style as appropriate. This ensures that your distinctly branded experiences are delivered to your customers consistently, everywhere – and always.

Moments of truth

Moments of truth are the attention-getters where you have the opportunity to make a big impact on the customer and to significantly influence their behaviour or state of mind. These are the moments where you persuade them that you are the best company to buy from; to convert a complaint into a compliment; or to do something that will turn the customer into an advocate for your business.

Some examples of moments of truth are:

  • When an online customer watches a video about your company or reads reviews of your service
  • When a customer dials into a call centre and is answered immediately by a real person asking what they want rather than having to work through several layers of an interactive voice response system
  • When a customer first walks into one of your stores and has their initial experience of who you are as a business

Super-ordinate proposition summary

If a customer embraces only one element of your proposition and you fail to deliver on that specific element, then the whole relationship with you is at risk. However, customers who embrace your Super-ordinate proposition have a deeper level of engagement with you and are more willing to forgive you if any one element fails them in some way. Developing this willingness in a customer to forgive a transgression is the ultimate goal of any Super-ordinate proposition.

Appealing to customers – your Business Intent

The four elements of the Super-ordinate proposition come together to form your Business Intent – the aim of what you strive to achieve with your customers. This can be manifested in a statement of intent which identifies the overall guiding principles of the way you want to portray your customer experiences as a business. This is the master plan of the experienced feel of the output of all your efforts at doing business, and it should also show what ‘great’ looks and feels like for you.

SOP1 diagramThe other side of the interaction is the customer’s experience – how the customer actually experiences your Business Intent.

This model shows how your business needs to be set up to deliver your desired level and style of customer experiences. But it isn’t yet complete, for although your offer to your customers may stay relatively static, the customer’s needs change frequently, and often rapidly, depending of what their specific aim is with you at any point in time.

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