UX design – be a leader not a follower

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Cat Mules

The explosion of digital channels has created an empowered customer. This customer wants to get their job done quickly – and the sooner we can get out of their way, the better.

Understandings of the customer journey have changed dramatically over the past 10 years.  People then cared mainly about clicks and time on site. Now, UX leaders are changing the way we measure success. They’re focusing on supporting a user’s own outcomes rather than keeping them on site.

Consider how one programme, Auckland-based Sustainable Coastlines, brings volunteers into the folds of the Citizen Scientist journey. The purpose of the most recent work was to identify ways to nurture their Citizen Scientists so they stay engaged and feel committed and proud of the work they are doing. Their customer journey is unique in its environmental conditions and digital needs.

Where and when can we meet customers on their journey?

Every client has unique online engagement needs. They might have a problem to be fixed, systems to update, marketing push to modify, or even monitoring what competitors are up to. In the government or public sector, new regulations may need to be applied.

The whole team should be involved from day one – the designer, developer, tester, business analyst, as well as from the client-side marketing and internal designers. You’ll use collaborative tools to get all ideas out there and to get the client involved in the process. No matter how wacky, the beginnings of this transparent process will set the whole tone of the project.

A collaborative pairing of UX Lead and Business Analyst is helpful. Getting the developer involved sooner rather than later has payoffs with costs and implications for design too.

1. Understand your client’s context –

It is crucial to physically understand and contextualise customer experience. What is the context of the users’ interaction? Are they sitting on public transport and browsing around, killing time? Are they in a milking shed trying to fit herd testing into a demanding morning milking in the cold and wet? Are they on a beach collecting data for a beach litter survey with bright sun shining on their screen and while they are wearing gloves? Sustainable Coastlines’ digital consultants have to allow for the unique factors of each physical situation, such as weather, indoor and outdoor use, offline use, using the app while wearing personal protective equipment, and a very wide range of users from all walks of life with differing tech savviness.

2. Map out your scenario

There is never one perfect solution but by knowing the context of a user’s interaction obvious mistakes can be avoided. By understanding the stage a user is in their journey better decisions can be made about what information is being presented, making sure they are getting what they need to move to the next stage.

3. Focus on the top-level phases, and then add detail –

Get customers involved from day one – early alignment with clients essential. This involves keeping the process open and take any opportunity to draw them in. It’s a quick introduction: get everybody on the same page, walk through your ideas and quickly whiteboard together. Everybody agrees on a rough idea of where we want to get to. This baseline alignment is really important to understand where to get to next. 

4. Use ABC –

a) What actions does the user need to perform?

b) Consider context, what are the environmental impacts?

c) Emotions, what frame of mind is the user in? Are they in a hurry, are they in a high stress situation?

5. Identify big picture opportunities –

Focus attention on key areas. Weigh up the focus areas based on value to the customer, ease of implementation, impact on the business. We can’t fix everything but if the highest value areas are identified early we can go a long way to improving the overall experience.

Getting too detailed too quickly is a trap – don’t get caught up in the weeds too early.  Once you identify a problem or opportunity area, narrow done on it and split it out into sub-journeys to find solutions.

6. Iterate, iterate, iterate –

Don’t get hung up on trying to dig into deep detail right away. Start at a high level and revisit the process repeatedly. It is good to take multiple passes at this. At the end of a journey mapping workshop there will always be questions that need more investigation. Add the detail as and when its needed. 

Phasing, collaboration, customer centricity – these are the vital aspects of mapping the customer journey. This is how the kinks get ironed out–iterating quickly without getting hung up on the hues. It all depends on the customers – and you must constantly work with the real possibility that your clients might not actually know their own customer base very deeply at all. Nurture your clients through it, bring that empathy to help them understand their own customers. Sometimes there are internal problems to be fixed first to make the end experience for the customer better.

What are the risks with customer journey mapping?

We all know the scenario. A job or project goes badly because the customer hasn’t been involved enough in the process. Know that the customer journey is a disputed idea. An increasing array of experts are taking heed that customer journey mapping should be less about ideas like gamification, nudging or hooks to create addictive experiences – and more that the best design will be based on respect for the end-user, helping them get their job done more easily and effectively.

UX leadership will involve some key areas but it also involves recognition of the risks.

1. Empathise!

Empathising with the customer or end user is not an extra or optional feature. The customer is not in the room, leading to them being commonly misrepresented, based on assumptions. At the very least, you’ll need to follow up with customer interviews.

2. Don’t give too much floor space to HIPPOs

Understand that usually the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (aka HIPPO) wins. Using a whole team approach, involving the right people directly involved with customers, will help solve this.

3. Avoid investing when you don’t need to

Generally clients want to minimise the costs involved with understanding their customers. Check if clients have done this before. Do they have other customer research, personas or the like we together can build upon with our own insights?

How do I integrate technology to build my customer journey? 

Regan Vause, UX Lead at Enlighten Designs: Mapping out customers’ journey is often a good base to understand how your company’s image and products and services are functioning. We apply user flow mapping, wire mapping, user testing, prototyping, visual design workshops. Get ideas in front of customers – interviews, analytics, surveys for larger quantitative measures.

Working best with your wide team of stakeholders involves creating a public working space. Live working whiteboards become environments to do this. (Enlighten Designs uses MURAL for remote, multi-member team collaboration.) Open wireframing involves end users and customers in the process.

Taking deeper dives into the most pressing issues helps to map key requirements and how we’ll arrive at those requirements. (At Enlighten we have our Illuminate Workshop, it’s typically four-hours where we take detailed looks at the People, Props and Processes central to our aims).

Another useful approach is to go one step further and produce a Service Blueprint. This is essentially a combination of a Customer Journey Map and an Internal Process Map. It looks at the frontstage (customer facing) and backstage (business facing) journeys and connects them together. A Service Blueprint a very valuable for improving the delivery of services that extend beyond a single app or website.

Remember – cross-functional collaboration is essential to successful outcomes. Communicate publicly and frequently. Think of projects in phases not in isolated steps.

Don’t think about customers as products. Think about them as ongoing works-in-progress.

About the Co-Author: This rundown of customer journey mapping advice is from human-centric technology company, Enlighten Designs. UX Lead Regan Vause heads the company’s visual design and user experience on projects across the private and public sectors.

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Cat Mules

Umbrellar's Digital Journalist, coming from a background in tech reporting and research. Cat's inspired by the epic potential of tech and helping kiwi innovators share their success stories.

Enlighten Designs

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Enlighten Designs creates beautiful, user-friendly digital solutions. As an award-winning creative technical agency, our mission is to deliver digitally transformative experiences for customers ranging from small businesses to enterprise clients. Founded in 1998, Enlighten Designs is based on our passion to bring exceptionally designed, innovative and custom technology solutions from the shores of New Zealand to the world.

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