The empowerment paradigm: Redefining success in customer experience

If organisations focus on empowerment they’ll deliver genuinely valuable customer experiences

Organisations that obsess over empowering both users and staff will gain a competitive advantage. They can create experiences that make a real difference in people’s lives.

Ambitious organisations that are obsessed with delivering an impeccable customer experience (CX) position themselves to drive loyalty, win lifelong brand advocates and gain sustained business impact. Indeed, Shep Hyken, CX and Customer Service Expert, writes in Forbes that “customer obsession is the secret to growing your business.” 

However, to ensure they're empathetic and keep their customers in mind, organisations need to be obsessed with empowerment — for both their customers and their staff. Doing so will promote innovation, positively impact customers' lives and set organisations apart from their competitors. But what are the keys to putting this into practice?

“The days of trying to satisfy shareholders are gone — instead of throwing everything at the customer, companies are being more empathic. They’re keeping the customer in mind, always.”
Kevin Devine Design Director at Nearform

Use design thinking to solve “unknown unknowns”

Great customer experiences aren’t just visually engaging, they’re designed around a fundamental understanding of the users and their known problems. But for organisations to deliver experiences that empower their customers, they must solve the problems that are “unknown unknowns”.   

Anthony Ulwick points out that customers can’t ask for solutions they can’t imagine. Ulwick suggests customers should define the metrics for success and organisations should innovate new products that deliver genuinely impactful experiences. It's this need for innovation that brings us to "unknown unknowns".

According to design researcher Alissa Millenson, there are three types of problems: known knowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. The first two are things that organisations are aware of and they can be solved by checklist thinking (known knowns) or analytical thinking (unknown knowns). Unknown unknowns are blindspots that organisations have yet to imagine, let alone solve. They’re the problems customers don’t know they have and they can be solved by using design thinking. 

Design thinking is a “non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.” It involves a five-step process: 

  • Empathise: carry out deep research to get inside users’ heads.

  • Define: describe all (beyond the obvious) the problems faced by users.  

  • Ideate: challenge assumptions made about users and work on ideas to solve their problems. 

  • Prototype: conduct experiments to determine the best solutions to the problems that have been established. 

  • Test: put the solutions through a rigorous examination process to see if they’re solving the users’ problems. 

Nearform embedded design thinking into TELUS Digital. Doing so enhanced TELUS Digital’s CX, improved its omnichannel experiences and strengthened the digital presence of its microservice brands. This enables TELUS Digital to “deliver seamless, human-centered digital experiences that empower our customers to manage their products and services via web and app.”

Focus on outcome-driven innovation

Engagement is how valuable a user finds a digital experience, based on how much they interact with a website, service or product. For this experience to become empowering, customers must be provided with the tools they need to make their lives better. Outcome-driven innovation helps organisations ensure they’re giving their customers engaging and empowering experiences. 

Outcome-driven innovation (ODI) is “a strategy and innovation process built around the theory that people buy products and services to get jobs done.” It focuses on delivering outcomes (be that via products, features or services) that are driven by what customers desire, rather than by more abstract demographic profiles. 

The idea is organisations identify the outcomes that matter to customers, but aren’t currently being served (either effectively or at all) by the organisation’s existing offering(s). By working in this way, organisations can gain insight into new market opportunities and areas to innovate that can help customers perform jobs better or faster.

Ambitious organisations rightly have very opinionated ideas about what they’d like to deliver to their customers. However, to ensure these views are customer (rather shareholder) centric, organisations need to dig into and interrogate the reasoning behind their opinions.

This simple discourse keeps organisations obsessed with delivering experiences that empower their customers, rather than focused on providing them with ones geared toward business objectives. Indeed, the organisation may determine an entirely different widget is required because it will provide an experience that solves one of the "unknown unknowns" faced by their customers.

Be a rebel and adopt an approach that fits

In the past, software stability and predictability were hallmarks of a good application. Moving forward, flexibility will define the winners of the future and prioritising it will empower organisations to deliver genuinely valuable customer experiences 

Building strong foundations that can grow organically over time is vital to creating successful applications that deliver outstanding customer experiences. However, the flexibility should not only apply to ensuring applications can scale easier, but also to the approach organisations take when developing new products and features. 

There has been much debate over the relative merits of Agile versus Waterfall and the best software methodologies. For instance, the former ensures organisations focus on customer centricity, while the latter helps companies create and prioritise segments within a user audience. Orthodox thinking would have organisations prioritising one methodology over the other — generally, Agile instead of Waterfall. 

But it’s important to accept there is no magic solution that will work for every organisation. Obsession with methods shouldn’t replace the ability to analyse and think critically about what works and what doesn’t. Design and development is about solving problems. Deciding how to solve a challenge is the first problem to overcome. 

Adopting a flexible approach and creating an environment that fosters innovation is more important than choosing a rigid development and design model and forcing everyone to fit into it. Leadership should approach their teams with that same customer-obsessed mindset when determining what tools to give them (think hybrid development approach) to complete their tasks perfectly.

Thus, by taking a flexible approach, designers and developers will be empowered to create innovative products, features and services that give their customers excellent experiences. This is because they can work in the most appropriate way for a given project, rather than being forced into a methodology that isn’t optimal for the desired outcome(s).

Gain a competitive advantage by focusing on empowerment

77% of organisations consider customer experience to be a key competitive differentiator. They’re right to think this, with research from Deloitte stating that organisations that do so are “60% more profitable compared to companies not focused on the customer.” By focusing on both empowerment and engagement, ambitious organisations can create customer experiences that truly differentiate them from their competitors.

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