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Is Customer Experience as a discipline getting confused?

CX & Design are not one and the same. We discuss the different types of design and how they enable great Customer Experience.

Published on
March 8, 2023
Alyse Behringer

There is growing confusion surrounding Customer Experience (CX) and Design. Are you clear on the difference?

CX industry software providers, practitioners and even large consultancies are confusing the means to achieve excellent customer experiences with the resulting outcome. Paired with Forrester Predictions that 50% of above-average brands will either decline or stagnate in 2023, it’s concerning to see the waters of CX getting muddier.

Symptoms of this confusion we’ve seen include:

  • A reliance on 'expert' opinions that forego explorative and generative design research. 
  • Disclarity of when or how to employ Customer Journey Maps for strategic value.
  • Focussing on how the organisation enables an experience rather than how your customer experiences it.
  • Not using customer insight to anchor a proposed future state customer experience.

Our guidance is to ground your strategic choices on customer insight; insight is crucial, providing justification and direction to cut through and embed CX improvements. Insights must be profound, and how you use the design process is critical to success.

As presented in our 2023 CX Trends, it’s time CX got back to basics. After all, CX is a fundamental strategic choice that no company can afford to avoid. But to do that, the confusion needs to end.

So CX vs. Design - aren’t they one and the same? 

Simply put, no. But they do share the same goal: creating an emotional bond between an organisation and its customers. So how exactly are they different? 

CX is the outcome. Design is how you get there.

The practice of Design can be broken into many sub-disciplines, with the ones of particular focus for CX being Strategic Design, Service Design, and UX (User experience) design. Let’s explore these different types of Design through an illustration we all understand: a local coffee shop.

Most Australians have a local haunt. The trendy one that only gives you the options of ‘black’ or ‘white’ coffee (starting at $6, mind you). The one beside the park where parents can sit and watch their children play. Or the one without the best-tasting beans, but boy, is their service fast. The reason for one’s success over another's lies in the experience it consciously creates for its customers. 

Strategic Design considers the ecosystem of an organisation, its business model, strategy, and culture, including people's beliefs and behaviours in the pursuit of creating an emotional bond with customers. To do this, clearly prioritise what your company will and won’t do, including adopting principles such as under-promising and over-delivering and focusing on peak-end moments.

Let’s consider our coffee shop. Every day it faces decisions that have implications for the short-term and the long-term. What’s our aspiration? How will we achieve it? Who’s our target market and how will we win their business? Strategic Design states that these decisions need to be made with consideration for how they affect other decisions and to be ultimately guided by customer needs.

The strategic decisions will inevitably affect the service delivered to customers. We like to think of Service Design as the enabling factors behind the scenes of the end customer experience and why one coffee shop is chosen over another.

Service Design focuses on making the functional aspects outside of a core product easy to use. Service Design considers the entire experience ecosystem, including stakeholders, employees, partners, processes, systems and technology. It would look at how staff are trained and communicate, the level of self-service or table-service, how foot traffic is managed, how orders are taken and delivered quickly, and even the waiting experience. Service Design must also consider the supporting systems behind it, like Point of Sale (POS) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

While Service Design takes a broad and holistic view, User Experience (UX) design focuses on the customer touchpoints across the experience. These are the moments the user interacts with the service to achieve what they want to do.

For example, our coffee shop needs to determine how users can view the menu: is it a blackboard on the wall, a paper menu on the table, or on their phones? The same goes with taking payment; do customers pay upfront or after their coffee? The UX design is how the business facilitates the interaction.

To enable great Customer Experiences, we must teach, coach and develop strategic thinking and design skills across Strategic Design, Service Design, and UX Design. These teams will be empowered to drive extraordinary customer experience outcomes, as demonstrated at the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA). 

"Our CX Toolkit, created with CEC, has been invaluable in improving our design processes agency-wide. By enabling structured and purposeful divergent and convergent thinking, the toolkit laid the foundation for optimising our CX." Darian Eckersley, Director of Experience and Service Design, ADHA

Together, with our expertise in Customer Strategy, Experience Design and Digital implementation across Private, Government and Not-For-Profits, we can propel your customer strategy to new heights, increase customer advocacy, and meet your customers’ rising expectations. Get in touch with us to discuss your wicked problem.

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Raj Mendes
Founder & Managing Director
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