It’s not easy to reform the experiences of mutli-national giants like McDonald’s, IBM, and Air Canada (to name a few), but experience design veteran and visionary Mike Wittenstein has. With almost 2 decades in experience design, Mike stands out in the customer experience space for his holistic view on building valuable experiences, focusing on three core factors: delighting customers, engaging employees, and increasing stakeholder profits.
For Mike, big wins are about the results that last. President and Principal Experience Designer of Storyminers, Mike focuses on service companies in both B2B and B2C, startups to established multinational brands. His methodology and insights have helped organizations to see the forest from the trees to differentiate and deliver value that gets their customers talking. Mike believes that great experiences are the birthplace of word-of-mouth.
From my chilly ISITE Boston office desk, I connected with Mike in Atlanta to hear his observations and predictions on what it takes to deliver and maintain exceptional experiences in any organization.
What’s In a Name?
Ask Mike to define this thing everyone’s buzzing about – customer experience design – and he explains that “Customer experience is everything your business does for and to your customers, and how it makes them feel.”
He’s equally quick to share the observation that: “…for many, [It’s] a cool new wrapper for the same old stuff”.
Mike explains we’re seeing a land-grab for Experience Design, with more than 100,000 professionals now identifying as CX professionals (citing research by the Temkin Group) and increasingly frequent claims in advertising. Buzzwords aside, “Experience creates value,” says Mike.
He also notes a constant overlap between service design and customer experience design. “Service design is better at process,” he says, while “experience design is better at customer understanding and creative.” Less inclusive of rightsizing protocol in favor of generating positive emotions as an outcome for clients, experience design has a lot to learn from service design – and vice versa.
The Line Between Storytelling and Branding
Dave Wieneke’s reflections on beloved companies declared that truly delightful experiences stem from “story living” versus storytelling, and a chat with Mike Wittenstein perpetuated the sentiment.
“Storytelling is the new branding,” Mike says, “[some organizations] see storytelling as a way to involve customers and prospects with artifacts and experiences of their brands – they know that engagement breeds conversation. They have to deliver great experiences for customers to share their stories.”
According to Mike, facilitating storytelling (or “story living”) requires three things:
- Truth. Customers want brands to stand for something, not empty promises.
- Understanding. Organizations need to stop thinking about what they want to say, and start making their business best at what customers want – and want to share.
- Value. “When companies replace the “make money” mantra with a “create value for customers” one, they end up making more money.
As with any new discipline, organizations face challenges like prioritization, funding, and strategy hindering their CX efforts. With clients from across the globe and a bevy of industries, Mike explains that internal alignment is the single biggest issue he’s seen with CX implementation.
So how do you connect the dots internally? In the spirit of the New Year, kick some of these bad habits:
- Obscuring principles – If the business design of your company is hidden in layers of org charts, this is a problem. “Your brand is a giant promise-making machine, and the biggest promise you can make is what your brand stands for,” says Mike. He suggests drawing a visual of who owes what [outcomes] to whom so that everyone can see how they fit into the overall value-creation-for-customers process. Mike is a big fan of graphic facilitation and sketching during discovery and design sessions. “Visualizing the flow of promises in a company is a nice way to get everyone on the same page.”
- Gating projects – It may be difficult to assign criteria for advancing CX initiatives, but organizations must stop fearing boat-rockers. Instead of trying to prove the future, defy it. Design, then test it. One change can affect many parts of the experience, so replacing silo metrics with more universal ones is key.
- Waiting on metrics – Mike aptly notes that most people ask for lots of data up front, making the experience design process slow. Instead, he says, organizations would be wise to refine observation skills to see more clearly than data can sometimes show what customers really want. Mike stressed the importance of mid-experience feedback tools that measure customer sentiment—and let the business take action immediately when a fault in the service design or experience delivery is uncovered.
- Focusing on the customer, only – Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Of course the customer is getting the experience, but the brand feeling comes from how the employee is treated, too. Eliminate areas requiring excessive and unnecessary effort internally.
The Future of CX
As we reach a time where customers are not only design aware, but design savvy, Mike sees the next 3 years in the CX space demanding a design-oriented focus from companies. At a time when “experiences are as numerous and disconnected as they’ve ever been”, brands have a large opportunity to offer better blended channel experiences. Expect to see “customer experience” fading as a specific notion in favor of a more holistic brand perception for customers, as they come to terms with what true multi-channel experience means.
As for big data, Mike sees a time in the not so distant future where personalized experiences won’t cost more. Brands will include more personalization than competitors (at the same price point) to win buyer attention and loyalty.
At the end of the day, the highest and best use for CX, according to Mike, is value creation for the customer.
This interview first appeared on www.delight.us, in January of 2013. Mike was interviewed by Katie Del Angel, a content strategist at ISITE Design.