Connection is everything
David Foster Wallace told a story that went something like this: Two young fish were swimming along one morning. They passed by an older fish. “Morning boys! How’s the water?” asked the old fish. The two young fish swam on. A moment later one turned to the other and asked “What the hell is water?”
I’m sure he told it better, but the heart of the story is a simple insight: it’s easy to lose sight of the context that we exist in. For the last few years, digital has been the focus for most marketers. It’s changing the way customers engage and how they make decisions. As organizations adapt they are creating special digital initiatives, organizing dedicated teams and channels, buying up agencies—and so digital becomes a word that divides.
From a business perspective it makes sense. We organize things into orderly domains with the idea that it can be better managed and measured. But digital is different; its value lies in its ability to connect, to enable us to find our own paths, build community and create our own value. We can’t assume that the mindsets and processes that have defined business for years will enable organizations to engage the real power of digital today.
The kind of change that digital suggests—and customers are coming to expect—is larger than a project or a department. We have to open up and follow the flow of digital through and across the organization.
Let’s take a standard web redesign project as an example. We know it’s UX and UI design. They typically happen with reasonable amounts of collaboration. Then there’s frontend code and backend development on a CMS platform, another pretty clear point of integration. But a web redesign is never just a web redesign. To deliver the kind of utility and experience customers expect, the work can reach deep into technology strategy and enterprise architecture, content strategy, product, customer support, data integration and more. All these factors influence what you can build and what you can deliver through your website.
It takes a lot of effort—and a lot of trust—to bring teams like this together effectively. The opportunity is clear: Digital experiences can deliver real utility to customers, create value, and earn a place in their lives. But most businesses are not there yet, and it’s a problem.
Reading the experience
Every day, across the digital ecosystem we see examples of businesses getting digital wrong. Engagements that start from a broadcast and audience mindset; internal turf wars over ownership of platforms; a focus on meaningless metrics; content marketing strategies that automate the streams of 3 steps to… and 7 kinds of… rehashed fluff and call it “nurturing.” All are symptoms of organizations trying to fit digital into business as usual. No wonder 30% of marketers say that their organization’s inability to adapt is limiting them from becoming the marketers they need to be1. This is more than an internal challenge, though because by now digital has taught your customers how to read the language of experience. Digital experiences bring them closer than ever before and they see the gaps in the experience, the broken promises and disconnected touch points for what they are—an inability or unwillingness to make the connections necessary and put the customer first.
Digital offers a unique opportunity precisely because it doesn’t fit into the ways of working that were developed to manage traditional products and services. It requires new approaches that are oriented to networks and experiences, rather than audiences and channels. The best way to look at digital isn’t as a campaign or a project. The most useful definition of digital is one that connects you, your organization, and your client: Digital is a way of engaging that reveals the truth of an organization’s vision and capabilities.
Today, organizations that can connect the stories they tell with their systems, their people, and their vision are the ones that create the opportunity to connect with their customers and earn a place in their lives. The more you force digital into siloes and quarters and groups competing for resources, the less digital can do, and the opportunity to make stronger connections with your customers will be lost to those who can.
Your local water company doesn’t have two hydrogen departments and one oxygen department—their product doesn’t exist as individual elements. And neither does yours. It’s not brand or technology or channels but the ability to weave them together that enables organizations to succeed. Digital is important, but connection is everything.
1 Digital Roadblock: Marketers struggle to reinvent themselves, Adobe, March 2014
Connected organizations, connected experiences
Delightful and sustainable online experiences are not easy to deliver. Typically it’s not from a lack of creative ideas or effort, it’s because most businesses aren’t built to align around the key moments of customer engagement. The departments, processes and technologies that support these experiences were built to serve the needs of the organization–not the customer. There are plenty of good reasons why things are the way they are, but the result is that departments and teams are sometimes defined as much by what divides them as the common purpose they serve. Because of these silos and the complexity of the systems we rely upon, very often the best efforts of the business result in disjointed and disappointing experiences for customers.
Many companies are suffering from a lack of organization alignment and technical enablement necessary to craft connected customer experiences. One way to ensure a purposeful, sustainable and delightful experience for your customers is to develop a Digital Experience (DX) Strategy. A DX Strategy defines the purpose, value and principles that guide decision-making in the complex, interconnected digital space. Unlike a marketing strategy or a technology strategy, the DX Strategy connects your business strategy and brand with the hard realities of customer expectations, operational capability and your technology platform.
At the highest level, your DX Strategy aligns three critical components of the experience:
Strategy: the business strategy and its expression through your brand
Story: your brand’s role in your customer’s lives–from their perspective
System: how you structure the experience and its supporting platform
Ultimately, you are looking to balance these three elements in a way that allows you to identify and define the overlap between what your business wants and what your customers need, in a unique way. This space can be defined by bringing the right stakeholders together along with customer data and insights. This team works to map and understand the relationships between brand, customer and platform so you can see where to focus in terms of activities, services and value. This gives you the clarity you need to get to work building out the key tools that will help you define and express your DX Strategy across your organization.
Many companies are realizing the value of having a consistent and accepted customer-centric lens to guide ideation and decision-making. When understood and applied, it becomes more than a way to execute, it unites the organization and becomes a foundation for better business.
Don't Just Optimize, Humanize
For those of us focused on delivering delight, measuring and optimizing the experience is a critical step. But delight is about more than squeezing out maximum performance and conversion—it’s about understanding your place in the users’ life and delivering function, value and meaning.
Over the next few months we’ll be highlighting ways that organizations can optimize, personalize and humanize experiences across the digital ecosystem and through the internal teams that support it. We’ll look in detail at the following areas of opportunity:
Wearables: We’re entering a new phase in the design and development of products. From the Fitbit on your wrist today to Google Glass tomorrow, digital products and services are becoming smaller, more specialized and more intimate. They are augmenting our abilities in new and increasingly personal ways. To be successful they need to adapt to us, not force us to adapt to them. How do we make these discrete technologies have the ability to respond, evolve and grow with us?
Marketing: The brand and marketing promise beautiful, valuable things. The business demands hard results. As marketing becomes part art and part science, the CMO must find a balance between these tensions and optimize performance in the right direction for the brand and the business. Often, increasing performance means streamlining the experience—but does it have to come at the expense of ownable, unique brand moments? Is there a right way to optimize for the business, the brand and the customer?
Technology: As more technology products become services, the user experience becomes ever more critical. When your customers are paying each month for access to your products it changes the dynamics of the relationship. Sure, you still have a certain level of protection because switching costs are high, but in the user’s mind that monthly bill gives a greater perception of power and creates a different mental model for what they expect from the service provider. That puts a lot of pressure on the technology to deliver a great and constantly evolving experience. How can today’s technology leaders and developers deal with this power shift and ensure that the services they deliver are not just optimized, but that they also continue to grow and become more user-friendly?
This is just scratching the surface of the challenges and opportunities that we see our clients addressing. It can often seem impossible for organizations to wrap their arms around the scale, complexity and velocity of these changes from the inside. The silos that exist in most businesses make this even more challenging.
That’s why it’s critical to have a shared and workable customer-centric perspective living inside your organization. It’s the most pragmatic and defendable way to accelerate your organization’s arrival at truths that connect your silos, support the business strategy and set your organization up to delight your customers.
Delight isn't for everyone
As some of the Delight Conference attendees experienced, airlines continue to focus on maximizing revenue rather than delivering a great customer experience. Most airlines today choose to scale back service and pack planes so tightly that using the traditional four inches of seat reclining space has become a battle between customers for personal space. If we’re seeing an arms race brewing over how two adults come to an agreement over how to share four inches of space, it’s clear that for many organizations, customer experience is all marketing and not part of the business strategy.
Delight isn’t marketing. It’s not frosting or sprinkles. It’s part of a business strategy rooted in a commitment to putting the needs of customers first. And that’s not easy. It requires dedicated investment, discipline and an organization-wide focus on quality. Seth Godin calls this these types of organizations Servant companies. But for airlines, cable providers, and other large enterprises, it can be an unnatural state. The motivations and incentives at large organizations are rarely aligned in the right way to deliver on this strategy. That’s why so much disruption is coming through digital start-ups. They may be competing in the same space, but they are playing a different game with different rules and incentives that get them closer to creating new value for the customer.
Power in positive deviance
Even within large organizations there is room to make progress. In Dave Gray’s keynote at the Delight Conference, he mentioned the concept of positive deviance. The idea is that the people on the ground have the best chance of solving problems if they choose to look at their capabilities in the right way. One of the principles of positive deviance is that it’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than thinking your way into a new way of acting. It’s not about breaking the rules, but defying the expected application of those rules through simple, everyday actions.
When individuals at large companies get to do this, something really interesting happens. Rather than an exhausting race toward bottom-line growth at any cost, companies can identify, understand, and conserve the resources that create energy across their organization and in their customers.
In our over-scheduled time, that energy can be a business’s most valuable resource. It’s how a Zappos customer service associate can stay on the line for 10 hours. And maybe that’s why the few large organizations that understand how to do this end up not just beating their competition, but as Watermark’s 2014 CX ROIstudy shows, they beat the market. For USAA, it helped them become a $20 Billion company in 2011 while other banks teetered on the edge of collapse.
An organization that is aligned around creating new areas of value for its customers is charged with a sense of purpose and pride. Employees are engaged and can work with their heads and hearts, not just their hands. That’s the ultimate value of focusing on understanding and serving your customer today, and it’s how your organization can grow into serving unmet and unknown needs, too.
Sorry, it’s you
Delight is unique to each company and its relationship with its customers. And getting there through positive deviance means each employee needs a clear understanding of the organization’s values.
So whose job is this? The pat answer is that it’s everyone’s, and while that’s true, it’s not helpful. The harder, better answer is: it’s you. If you’re reading this, if you’ve attended Delight or similar conferences, or if you just get inspired by understanding what other people in your organization do everyday, you’re probably one of the people who can get the train rolling.
The overlap between what the customer needs and the business wants should be the territory your organization wants you to explore. Take a few steps around this space and see who’ll join you in small acts of positive deviance. You just might be able to make a meaningful shift in your organization.
Selling your digital experience strategy starts with telling a story
A digital experience (DX) strategy focuses on creating new areas of value for your business and your customer. Once the strategy is created it’s natural to feel that everyone will immediately see the value and work to execute it. But creating a strategy and communicating it effectively are two different things. To give your strategy the rollout it requires, you need to go beyond traditional slides and documents and make a purposeful effort to engage people on both a rational and emotional level.
Forrester Research recently published the report A Picture's Worth 1,000 CX Strategy Slides, which highlights how organizations are delivering their DX strategy to ensure a shared understanding of the vision. As Deanna Laufer, a senior analyst serving customer experience (CX) professionals, writes in the report:
“Firms build great customer experiences on solid strategies that people sharing a common vision execute. But most companies will find that their employees and executives lack a shared understanding of this vision. And it’s no surprise, given the propensity for dense strategy presentations and graphics that leave audiences befuddled.”
Start with a story
Just as a DX strategy focuses on the customer, the delivery of that strategy needs to focus on its customer: the individuals within your organization and their values, beliefs and attitudes. Because they work within the existing system you need to communicate how this initiative is different. And often the best way to reach them is to tell a story, which starts in a place that's uncommon for many businesses—the suspension of disbelief.
Once you start telling a story, you change the context of the conversation, free people from the typical way of thinking about the business, and give them an opportunity to create a new mindset. That's really valuable because there’s typically no shortage of energy and desire for change; it just has no productive outlet.
A well expressed story gives people a place to put their frustrations and transform them into something constructive. It invites people in and creates space for empathy and imagination. These are critical components of design thinking that become accessible and engaging to everyone.
Understand that change is personal
Your DX strategy should describe how the organization can play a positive role in the lives of your customers. But the issue you need to address when delivering the strategy is the opposite: resistance to change. Change is hard, and with a DX strategy it’s important to understand that everybody will experience different kinds of change in different ways.
To counter resistance to change you have to get personal and paint a picture of a future that the individuals want to be part of. Strategy is a “what we can do” conversation, but story is about “what I can be.” It highlights the role of an individual as part of something bigger.
Share provocative inspiration
Choosing the right medium to illustrate your story is important. Personas and journey maps hold a lot of valuable information, but they’re design tools. Gantt charts and spider diagrams can hold a lot of valuable data, but they need context. To deliver a strategy that can transform an organization, you need to connect and demand attention.
You want something that represents the seriousness and scale of what is planned but which is also accessible, clear and shareable. Kaiser Permanente’s Garfield Innovation Center have shared their strategic vision for the future of healthcare, Imagining Care Anywhere. They chose to create future state videos they described as “provocations,” which is a great way to think about what you need to deliver:
• It has to provoke engagement.
• It should be worth thinking about and making the effort to understand.
•It should provoke discussion and drive individuals to take action.
Selecting the right medium for your DX strategy is a matter of understanding your audience, your resources and the impact you need to make. Whether it’s video, audio or printed materials, make sure you create something worth engaging in. Look for things that people have shared, engaged with or commented on. They may have already laid the tracks for the communication you need to create. As Kaiser’s provocations show, video can be very powerful, but the production value is really important if you want to convince people of the seriousness of the initiative and the level of organizational support. Think creatively about how you use video to inspire people without the need for a Madison Avenue budget.
Find good storytellers
For the DX Strategy work we did with our client KinderCare Education (KCE) we created a three-minute video that showed a prototype future state experience in action. But we knew that to gain traction this couldn't be another “anthem” video from an agency partner. To engage the organization, we needed to empower KCE stakeholders to take ownership of the vision and bring it to life for themselves. So we delivered the final video without a voiceover. Instead, we provided talking points so the clients could tell the story themselves.
Putting clients in the role of storyteller empowers them with the opportunity—and responsibility—of owning and sharing the vision themselves in a personal way. This meant letting go of some of the specifics. But that's appropriate at this point. Until you get everyone on the same page it can be dangerous to get too specific, because it gives the skeptics a way to challenge or discredit the vision before it takes hold.
Get alignment around the ‘what’ before the ‘how’
When you have established commitment to the vision it’s appropriate to share more specifics. We developed a “growth chart,” a five-foot tall poster showing how the organization would evolve over the lifetime of one customer.
This eye-catching growth chart placed the roadmap in a timeline and metaphor that everybody was familiar with.
This made growth feel natural, measurable and purposeful. It also gave us away to lay out a long-term vision in an engaging manner that communicated on both an emotional and practical level. When the time is right, sharing the rigor that goes into planning helps build credibility and convince the organization that this is not business as usual.
A customer-centric strategy needs customer-centric delivery. Like any good design project, telling a story starts with understanding your audience, embracing constraints, and clearly defining the required outcome. First, engage the organization in the big picture to ensure understanding and alignment. Then, follow up with compelling details that build credibility and clarity. This last step in your strategy process is the first step toward the delivery. Make sure you deliver something that will live in the imagination and heart of your organization, not locked up in a dry, dusty deck on a shelf.
1 A Picture’s Worth 1,000 CX Strategy Slides: The Right Way To Illustrate Your Customer Experience Vision To Achieve Clarity And Buy-In, published by Forrester Research May 5, 2016 and authored by Deanna Laufer