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Five Secrets of Good Customer Experience Design

Five design principles that help create successful design

Customer feedback, process measurement and data analysis are great ways to identify customer experience problems but they rarely, if ever, show you how to design a good solution. It is fantastic as a customer when you encounter design that works well. We all love a simple to use app or a process that is quick and easy. However, the processes we ask front line staff to use with customers are often littered with complexity and the legacy of change history. They can be complex and cumbersome and appear to customers as “bad experience design”.

Technology can help make things easier and customers how have amazing self-service at their fingertips. However, the tendency has been to automate simple and transactional requests leaving behind complex processes for staff to handle. As complexity increases, the need for improved design increases in order to make these experiences less painful. Digital adoption also creates new customer experience problems like how to give customers access to their accounts when they lose a mobile phone or how to verify individuals quickly and painlessly in an era of hacks and data breaches.

The design challenge is also made greater by companies looking to cut corners over an extended period. Over the years, customer facing processes often “atrophy” acquiring complexity, workarounds and obstacles for staff and the customer. It is much easier for companies to add another check and be risk averse than do the hard yards to take things away and make things simple. Processes and systems just get longer, more complex and less easy to learn. In a nutshell, customer experience designs often get worse unless you go out of you way to make them better.

In this paper we’ll explore some techniques we find help create designs that work well. We’ll explore five key design methodologies that we have named:

1. Design with three ends in mind

2. Design in multiple integrated dimensions

3. The need to challenge everything

4. Obsessing about sequence

5. The benefits of omni channel design

1. Design with three ends in mind

The triple bottom line construct (shareholders, customers and staff) is much talked about, but it becomes invaluable in any design process. Keeping three goals top of mind allows those in any design team to challenge complexity or customer effort in any process. For example, if a current business process has been designed to protect the business against a risk, but one that is rare, the customer focus can allow this to be challenged or help a design team reduce the impact of this control.

Good example:

Identity checks are an example of a process design built in to protect a business but often at the expense of greater customer effort. Often businesses have become so risk averse that identity is always checked regardless of the customer’s need. This process can be changed to benefit

the company and customer by making the identity check conditional on the customer’s need. In situations where a customer wants generic information like “where to find a form” or “branch opening hours” they don’t need to be identity checked. Therefore, a triple bottom line focus in design can help “simplify” the portion of interactions where complex identity checks aren’t needed. A bank adopted this approach by recognising “no risk” requests where information could be provided with no identity checks.

Bad example:

Many companies put their needs ahead of the customer. One company had a complex IVR system that forced customers to make a minimum of three selections. The data gathered was used for reporting but didn’t drive any customer or process improvement. The calls went to the same group of staff, regardless of which options the customers selected. This was an example of company needs overriding the effort of the customer in the design. The company derived little benefit but still put their needs first.

2. Design in multiple integrated dimensions

Good design is hard in business because it means “integrating” multiple dimensions of an operating model. The methodology we use integrates six operating model dimensions namely:

  • Processes

  • Resourcing (the people/their training etc)

  • Indicators and Incentives (measures and rewards)

  • Structure (team, skill and work queue structures)

  • Management

  • Technology

A good process design will exploit the technology, complement the structure, be easy to manage e.g. have few exceptions, sit well with the capabilities of staff and be easy to measure. It’s not easy to integrate all the dimensions but by recognising all six, it tends to force the thinking and produce more complete solutions.

Good example:

In an ombudsman service, a new process for handling complaints was integrated with changes on other operating model dimensions. The design also included:

  • revised training and induction on the new process

  • new measures of process duration and quality

  • revised workflows and coding structures in the complaint management software

  • a structural movement of some processes from one team’s responsibility to another

  • new management techniques to plan daily assignments and measure quality

The process change therefore integrated with all operating model dimensions to produce a holistic change that delivered for all parties. That integrated design produced a way of working over 25% more productive than the old mechanisms and generated faster turnaround for customers.

Poor example:

In contrast, another organisation introduced a new CRM application to provide staff with a “360-degree view of customer”. The system was designed by data analysts who saw the problem from a data perspective. Staff had to capture more data and classify interactions and add extra notes. The system was rolled out quickly, so it was up to staff to figure out how to best integrate this powerful software into the customer facing process. The system didn’t cause “bad experiences”, but as it wasn’t designed “into the process”, it often added time and effort, and rarely reduced it. The technology focused rollout also created data integrity issues as the quality process wasn’t updated to check whether information was captured correctly. This was an example of a one-dimensional design that failed to achieve the benefits that were possible.

3. The need to challenge everything

We have already mentioned processes can get out of date. For example, extra steps get added to processes because of a one-off incident and then stay forever. Good designers therefore need to question everything. We call it the “three-year-old child test”. Some toddlers go through a phase where they ask “why” a lot. Good designers do that as well. Why do we need to do that? is a key question often followed by levels of further root cause and historical analysis.

The opposite thinking tends to be exception based. When reviewers or management start with the sentence “but we can’t do X because Y might happen”, they are often designing for the exception rather than around the exception. The challenger mind set looks for alternatives and isolates the exceptions. In the book “Your Customer Rules” we summarised this principle as “don’t tar me with the same brush”. It is amazing how often 99% of customers have to go through a process designed for the 1% of exceptions. It’s not easy to challenge this risk averse mindset but it can be rewarding through simplification or finding ways to isolate those exceptions.

Good examples:

It's amazing what opportunities can be unlocked by asking the “why” question. At one bank, this challenger mindset took out 20% of interactions by challenging why customers had to opt into a process rather than opt out. The company had never asked why they had designed it that way. They were putting 90% of customers through an exception treatment. The change of thinking stopped 20% of the work because they reversed their thinking on what was an exception. They revised the design so that the 90% who opted in had nothing to do while the 10% exceptions had more effort. In another example, one design session challenged why all customers had to be read the detailed terms and conditions rather than be sent the terms and conditions. Both processes were compliant, but one was time consuming and the other was quick. This questioning mindset can strip back huge amounts of customer and company effort.

Bad examples made good

Some online retailers make it really hard to return goods purchased. In its early days Amazon asked customers to provide detailed information on any returned order. Customers also had to make contact to be sent return labels in a multi-step and multistage process. Sending back an item was a high customer effort process.

Contrast that with today where return of any order is as simple and low touch as Amazon can make it. Customers have to tick a box with the reason for the return and select between a credit, a repurchase or a refund. Then they print a label and take the box to a nearby Australia Post outlet or ship it. Amazon aren’t encouraging returns, but they have tried to take the pain out of the process by challenging everything.

4. Obsessing about sequence

In good design sequence matters. Things are done in a logical order to save time and effort.

Let’s take a simple example. Many customer interactions do things in an illogical order. They don’t think through what we call “the leaky funnel”. The idea in any process is to eliminate quickly those things that occur most commonly rather than start with questions or rules for obscure exceptions. So, an application form process designed to qualify prospects or applicants should try and rule out the largest groups first rather than force a large portion of prospects through a complex form, only to rule them out at the end of the process.

Bad examples:

There is nothing worse than a long complex internet or phone application process that asks a “knock out question” 30 or 40 questions into the form or conversation. One government body asked their knock-out question twenty minutes into the call. Customers who answered “no” to that question simply didn’t qualify for the process. What a waste of time. The key question needed to be somewhere in the first five questions, rather than question forty. An insurance application form had a similar problem as the process didn’t ask for the value of the insured property until question 20. That was a knockout question for all properties over a certain value. Another example of a question that needed to be early in the process.

Good example:

Another sequencing technique is to link or concatenate questions. Asking two things at once can save

time. Customers are smart – they will answer the relevant question or both if need be. That’s another sequencing technique. In one complaint body, a redesign of the “intake function” brought all the crucial knock out questions to the top of the process. This and other sequence changes took 40% of time out of the intake calls by getting rid of those who didn’t qualify, faster. Another company re-sequenced five “knock out” questions to the start of one product application form and found that applicants opted out saving them time as well as time of the team processing the forms, who received fewer non qualifying applications.

5. True omni channel design

A crucial technique today is to embrace and link different interaction channels through design. Recognising the strengths of each channel and the willingness and desire of customers to self-serve can create far more streamlined processes. However, those who work in manned channels like face to face and contact centres, often know little about what is available digitally. They have to be shown the best ways to promote and integrate these other channels. Omni channel doesn’t happen by accident – it must be by design. Increasingly, customers expect manned channels to support and understand self-service. It can also save staff and customers a lot of time if they are equipped with texts and emails to help guide customers to other sources of information or process.

Good example

This major Telco recognised that their front-line staff were increasingly first line support for digital

channels. They coined the phrase “digicare” for the role of their support teams. They didn’t leave customer education to chance. The designers thought about when and how it was appropriate to educate or link customers to digital solutions. They equipped the staff with texts and emails to jump customers to appropriate digital content and processes. They also trained staff on how to educate, when to educate and the situations to avoid. This way of working increased digital take-up by a significant percentage. It had other benefits as it also raised net promoter scores on calls where digital education occurred, even if customers didn’t take up the offer. Customers were grateful for the assistance and help recognising that it was in their interest.

Bad Example

This retail organisation wanted staff to encourage digital use. They updated their quality score card to include “digital education”. Staff weren’t trained on how to do it or when to do it. The result was that staff would scramble a “did you know we have a great digital solution?” message into the end of the call. Customers would hang up mid-message and most ignored it. It ended many calls on a negative note and didn’t help customers understand the benefits of the digital solutions or how they could use them. Staff knew it was inappropriate but felt forced into this “fries with that” like process because of the measurement system.


In this paper we’ve explained five design techniques that help turn design from an “art form” into a science. In a brief paper like this we can’t explain the techniques in detail but if you’d like to know more on any of these methods, please feel free to get in touch at or call David Jaffe 03 9499 3550 or 0438 652 396.


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