Stop talking about customer-centricity and start designing for your customers

3rd May 2023

Too many companies talk about being customer-centric, having a customer-centric strategy, and placing the customer at the heart of their business, but how many really achieve it? You get an early indication when you use the dreaded IVR (interactive voice response) system. Press one if you are a new customer, two for existing customers, three for billing, etc.

You immediately know you are being directed down the functional structure of an organisation.

Navigating the maze of choices

When interacting with these systems, how often have you paused to think, “which option should I take?” – before taking your best guess? If you guess wrong, then find yourself bounced around between different teams, left on hold whilst they discuss what to do with you.

As the customer, you are expected to understand the way customers are serviced within the organisation, and unless you have worked there (or understand how contact centres function), you usually don’t have a clue. All you want is to have your query dealt with in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Your relationship is with the organisation, not a department or function within it.

This problem applies to the digital world as well as the contact centre. After all, navigating a website can be difficult if you don’t know exactly which page you want. If I am honest, I have struggled through the GOV.UK and HMRC sites – going from PAYE to Self Assessment to VAT – getting lost in the process and ending up back where I started. I still don’t understand the navigation logic.

I suspect I am moving between different websites, designed by different departments using different design standards. Customers and website users alike want consistency and simplicity so that they can complete the task with a minimum of effort.

The key to customer-centric design

To be truly customer-centric, organisations must start looking ‘outside in’ as a customer and not ‘inside out’ as an employee. Design the process as the customer would see it and not as the worker understands it. The customer journey needs to consider who the customer is and what they are trying to do. Instead of thinking about the business process, ask yourself, “what are the customer actions?”

They might be one and the same – but don’t assume that. Think as a customer when designing the customer journey.

Don’t make assumptions

We are all consumers, users and customers. We contact organisations all the time in our home lives, and yet once in the corporate/organisation, we revert to operating within the traditional organisational structure.

However, business professionals designing the customer journey have more knowledge and understanding of the business processes and the underlying technology, than the average customer. Don’t assume the customer knows all this. The customer should be shielded from the functional structure of an organisation.

Avoiding the happy path fallacy

Don’t just design the happy path. New customers/users of the service will undoubtedly press the wrong button, click too many times, and find themselves lost in IVR hell or digital confusion.  Understand the potential failure paths that a novice customer can take, and build it into your design.

The importance of continuity planning

Understand the potential disruptions that could hinder your business and create a plan to protect the customer from being adversely affected by them. I remember trying to reschedule an engineering appointment to repair my cooker, it occurred at a time when this organisation was having unprecedented calls relating to tumble dryer issues.

I was unable to get through on the phone, the webchat option had been turned off, presumably because they were unable to handle the call volume. There was no email address visible on the website.

I tried using Twitter, but no response. Eventually, I found the number for the complaints department, and knowing how generally complaints calls are given priority, I tried the number and got through – the first time. The engineer was cancelled and rebooked successfully.

If I had been a first-time customer, what impression would I have taken away? Think about continuity planning and what steps can be taken to ensure customer service is maintained in high-pressure situations.

Achieving a better outcome for your customer

How can you overcome the problems discussed in this blog post so you can achieve better outcomes for your customer?

  1. Think like a customer, look into the organisation with the customer’s eyes
  2. Always assume it will go wrong and design the customer journey with ways out
  3. Don’t assume the customer knows your organisational structure
  4. Design a customer journey not a business process
  5. Don’t use business terminology; use something a customer would understand
  6. Include customer journey designs as part of your business continuity planning
  7. Have your customer journey tested by someone who understands the customer

By following these guidelines, your organisation can design truly customer-centric experiences that delight your users and keep them coming back for more.


Blog author

Nigel Medforth

Senior Consultant


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