Prototyping a roadmap to achieving something much greater than competitive advantage.

In the last 5 years or so there has been a rapid increase in interest and investment in Customer Experience (CX) and service design, human centred design.

I’ve been wondering if our efforts to create more seamless, convenient, delightful customer experiences could ultimately lead to reduced resilience, patience and increased anxiety in society. If so, this could present a challenge in the face of increasing uncertainty/complexity, particularly in political, trade, environment and climate areas.

Is CX more than a privilege of ‘developed’ affluent societies (where we expect better/ faster/ easier/ personalised, because we don’t have to worry so much about basic needs — shelter, food, water, energy).

Have we stopped to pop our heads up and ask — Where are we taking ourselves, through our focus on CX?

This post is an attempt to answer that question.

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In this post I’ve used the term CX but you could probably switch that for service design or Human Centred Design (HCD) if you prefer. How CX, service design, HCD etc are similar/different is a different conversation.

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Off with the blinkers

Most organisations have evolved (through a combination of command & control, a ‘we’re the experts’ mentality, and the division of labour) to inadvertently do everything they can to prevent employees from helping each other, and prevent them acting from a customer perspective.

This manifests in all sorts of ways, for example:

  • KPIs that encourage competition between departments, rather than collaboration,
  • call centre staff who can’t help customers because of constraints of their scripts and access/authority,
  • internal services (i.e. IT/ projects/ HR/ facilities/ marketing) being structured around features and functions rather than holistic solutions (despite often being structured as an ‘integrated service model’).

The relatively recent focus on CX (which I interpret as designing for end-to-end customer experiences) and elevation of CX to the executive table, encourages organisations to reconstruct themselves around the end-to-end customer journey. It holds the possibility for everyone in the organisation to approach their work from the customer’s perspective.

Hopefully operating from a customer perspective gives individual employees the opportunity to better understand the context of their own work and role, and how they can help their colleagues in their roles.

Off with the blinkers.

Why is this important, really? To society, humanity.

Motivations for building CX capability tend to be associated with building competitive advantage and market share, brand loyalty, minimising complaints/ inefficiency, and perhaps a little FOMO. That’s fine and natural. But what might organisations be like after we’ve all drunk the CX cool aid for another 5 to 10 years? Where could CX take us?

Where are we taking ourselves, through our focus on CX?

I hope what CX can do is build capability in organisations (and between organisations) for integrated interdisciplinary complex problem solving, centred on human prosperity rather than mere economic growth. CX can (and I mean we can) create more opportunities for creative thinking, for deep insight into social systems (and socio-ecological systems?), and ultimately more equitable and sustainable human systems.

By creating and innovating from customer and human perspectives, we move closer to aligning (individuals, organisations and nations) around a shared aspirational vision for holistic prosperity.

I think all of us here today would acknowledge that we’ve lost that sense of shared prosperity.
Barack Obama, 2008 (in Jackson 2009, p.1)

CX is important because it’s a stepping stone to fundamental change.

There are futures where we look back and say “I can’t believe we used to be so siloed”, where all employees are recognised as people and as co-creators, rather than flesh-robots. Futures in which we feel confident and secure in our collective capability to tackle serious challenges around things we currently take for granted, like food security.

For example current and future challenges in food, water and energy are complex and will require deeper and more integrated financial, political, technical, social, ecological, ethical understanding and experimentation. No one organisation or silo or discipline has the capacity or capability for this.

A Roadmap for Employee Development

The biggest area of poverty I see is in a mindset conducive to innovation and creative problem solving.
Dr Melis Senova, 2016

To create desirable futures, while building our CX impact today, perhaps some critical things to cultivate in all employees right now are:

  • Mindset for human centredness, learning, co-creation, possibility, and the courage to be vulnerable.
  • Knowledge of interdisciplinary processes, creative problem solving processes.
  • Skills for empathy, listening, prototyping*, experimentation, reflection.

I mapped these ideas onto a timeline below, which I titled Learning for CX and Beyond. This diagram is an adaptation of Figure 14.20 from Nelson & Stolterman (2012, p.236). It could be used to provide some strategic intent and structure to corporate ‘professional development’ offerings, educational courses, and family relationships!

Learning for CX and Beyond

Future-focussed organisations will emphasise training in the above adaptable skills (as well as training in routine procedures). They’ll create conditions where each employee will have the capability AND opportunity to contribute as co-creators of positive change — both responsive and proactive change.

I know some organisations are already heading down this track. That’s great!

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*Prototyping is modelling or simulating your best current understandings precisely so you can have a shared set of understandings that enable communication, especially among people with very different discipline bases

Senge et al 2005, p.147

This post is a prototype.

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