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Cooper and Cooper U, Part 1

September 21, 2015

Cooper has long been a respected leader in UX design and strategy consulting and training. Alan Cooper and his wife, Sue Cooper, co-founded Cooper in 1992. Alan pioneered Cooper’s user experience practice, innovating the goal-directed design methodology and humanizing the users of technology products by inventing personas, which represent a product’s real users and help teams to keep users in mind throughout the design process. Alan is the author of two seminal works: The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity and About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design. Sue handles the business side of Cooper and has built a company that has had a significant impact on technology products, the UX community, and users of technology products. She is the company’s heart, established Cooper’s great culture, and continues to guide its future.

In 2002, Cooper established Cooper U to teach their clients, UX professionals, and other members of product teams its goal-directed methods of design. Kim Goodwin, former VP of Design and General Manager at Cooper, led the effort to create the original Cooper U interaction design curriculum. The growth of Cooper U also owes much to Kendra Shimmell, Managing Director of Cooper, who expanded its offerings beyond the core interaction design curriculum and created the popular Design Leadership course and UX Boot Camp. Today, Cooper offers training in customer experience strategy, product definition, UX design and research, brand strategy, and leadership development.

At a time when some have expressed concern about the future of UX design agencies—as more and more companies are building internal UX teams and big companies are acquiring UX design firms to bolster their in-house UX design and research capabilities—Cooper continues to be sanguine about technology companies’ valuing outside, expert advice on UX design and strategy and is growing. Just last week, Cooper announced that it has acquired the Catalyst Group, a UX design consultancy in New York City. With this acquisition, Cooper has extended its footprint coast to coast, across the USA.

Recently, Cooper invited me to review several of their Cooper U public courses. I’ve always been interested in Cooper’s approach, so signed up for the following courses:

  • Transforming Customer Experience—I was in attendance for Cooper’s launch of this new, two-day course on March 26–27, 2015, which was taught by Nikki Knox and Izac Ross. You’ll find my review of this course later in this article, which is Part 1 of a two-part series.
  • Look for my forthcoming reviews of the other Cooper U courses that I’ve attended in Part 2 of this series:
    • Design Leadership—Teresa Brazen and Jenea Hayes taught this two-day course, which took place on July 20–21, 2015.
    • Designing Culture—I attended this relatively new course, which was also taught by Teresa Brazen and Jenea Hayes, on July 22, 2015.

While at Cooper, I took advantage of the opportunity to request an interview with Teresa Brazen, who is a Design Education Strategist at Cooper.

Interview: Teresa Brazen of Cooper

Teresa Brazen, shown in Figure 1, kindly consented to this interview, during which we discussed Cooper’s mission, Cooper U and their new courses, Cooper’s user experience practice, and trends in UX training and consulting.

Figure 1—Teresa Brazen
Teresa Brazen

Pabini: What is Cooper’s mission today and the vision for fulfilling that mission?

Teresa: In today’s climate of industry disruption, new business models, emerging technologies, and rising consumer expectations, companies have to ask themselves different kinds of questions than they have in the past, like: Are we effectively helping our customers meet their goals at every point of interaction with our company? What industry-held assumptions do we need to challenge ourselves to think differently about? Do our employees have a solid grasp of emerging technologies and how they might impact us? This can make for a terrifying or exciting time for companies, depending on where they’re at.

We see ourselves as a partner that can help companies navigate that complexity and turn it into a time of opportunity. There are a couple of ways we do that. Companies can hire Cooper to do consulting projects where we might help a company envision and design a product or service. Or, through our training line of business, Cooper U, we can help companies build out the skills of their teams, so they are better equipped to innovate.

Cooper U

Pabini: When in the history of Cooper did the company begin offering training for UX professionals?

Teresa: Our training program started about 14 years ago. Back then, there weren’t many formal UX design programs at universities like there are now, so people entered the field from all kinds of backgrounds. We created an internal training program to help everyone on our design teams get on the same page about process, tools, and language. It was really effective. At some point, we realized, “Hey, this would be valuable to people outside our organization.” There was a lot of debate about whether to “give away” our secrets, but we ultimately decided it was a chance to impact the quality of work coming out of the emerging design industry, which would be good for all of us in the long run.

Pabini: On what kinds of courses did Cooper U initially focus?

Teresa: Well, our roots are in software design. We were—and still are—the guys who would take on big gnarly problems that lots of other early design firms wouldn’t touch. So, our Interaction Design course is where our training really began, and it’s still one of our most popular courses.

Pabini: How has the focus of Cooper U changed over time? On what kinds of courses is Cooper focusing today?

Teresa: I’d say we’ve become a more holistic partner with many different training tools that can help our clients transform their business.

The design industry has matured from creating single-point products to creating whole ecosystems with multiple products and services, so our practice has grown to reflect that and our courses reflect that. Our teams not only design digital products, we help clients rethink an entire service from end to end or define new product strategies. For example, we just worked with a startup on designing a mobile dentistry service that comes to your door. We also helped a new sport, National Pro Grid League, think through the fan experience and how the scoreboard and floor play into that. So our workshops have also expanded to help teams develop more strategic skillsets like assessing and designing an entire customer experience from end to end.

Also, after being in this business for 24 years, we’ve accrued a ton of practical experience around how to get good designs launched. We have a great deal of knowledge around how to collaborate across cross-functional teams, get buy-in, have influence, enroll others—all the stuff they don’t teach you in most design schools. That expertise definitely influences our current curriculum. We have a very popular Design Leadership course, and leadership, communication, and collaboration skills are infused across all of our workshops.

Pabini: Tell me about the new courses that Cooper has launched recently.

Teresa: We did some research last year and talked to design and hiring managers to understand what skillsets their teams are lacking. Out of that research, we created and launched six new workshops:

  • Transforming Customer Experience gives people a methodology and tools to assess their entire customer service experience—across touchpoints like mobile, Web, call centers, and mailers—and identify gaps, breakdowns, and new product or service opportunities.
  • Managing Product Definition and Design is designed to help product managers get a better grasp of good UX practice and methodology, so they are more effective and their work with designers is seamless.
  • Leading Creative Ideation teaches people brainstorming methods and facilitation skills to help teams arrive at better, more innovative ideas.
  • Defining Brand Experience teaches people how to run a very specific kind of workshop to help diverse stakeholders communicate and get concrete about how the company brand should be expressed in products or services.
  • Putting Personas to Work addresses challenges people face when trying to get buy-in on this often misunderstood and misused design tool. We also share tips around how to use personas more effectively in product or service design practice, day to day.
  • Uncovering Customer Insights provides a deeper understanding of design research methods and how to synthesize the results of research more effectively.

Pabini: Do you have more new courses under development?

Teresa: We’ll likely refresh our Interaction Design course to incorporate some of the emerging technologies on the horizon. We have some other exciting things in store, but I can’t share that yet. (Grin.)

Pabini: At Cooper, do designers and researchers also work as course developers and instructors? Or do individuals focus on one or the other?

Teresa: Absolutely! Our consulting and training lines of business are very integrated. One of the benefits of working at Cooper is that you can dabble in both. So our designers help with curriculum development and teach between consulting projects, if they are interested in doing that. I find this combination really helps their practice, because teaching forces them to reflect on, understand, and articulate design thinking, methods, and tools in a much deeper way.

Pabini: You and Nikki Knox, shown in Figure 2, are both Design Education Strategists at Cooper. What roles do the two of you play in addition to working on training?

Teresa: Nikki and I work as partners to run and manage most aspects of Cooper U, which means we wear a lot of hats. We identify skill-development needs, determine what new classes to develop, create the curriculum, teach public and private workshops, train new teachers, manage sales and marketing, and work on consulting projects from time to time. And we squeeze in a few public speaking gigs here and there. It never gets boring around here!

Figure 2—Nikki Knox
Nikki Knox

Public and Private Training

Pabini: Cooper offers both in-house courses and training and problem-solving workshops that you deliver at client organizations. How do those differ?

Teresa: We’ve offered both private and public training for a long time. All of our public workshops are available to companies for private training as well. Public training, as you’d imagine, is for a variety of people from different organizations. In those classes, they get the benefit of hearing about the challenges and practices of people in other companies. Private training is focused on one team—or representatives of teams that collaborate—so the activities and discussions are focused around their current, unique work challenges.

For private clients, we also offer Coaching Workshops. We can come in at any phase of a project they are working on and help them tackle something specific that they need outside expertise or facilitation around. Things like preparing for or synthesizing research, creating a set of personas, mapping out a blueprint of their typical customer experience, ideation, or resolving brand strategy for a new product. We can help them get past a particular hurdle so the team can keep moving forward.

Pabini: How important a part of Cooper’s business is training? What is the relationship between consulting and training engagements?

Teresa: Training is an important part of our business in a few different ways. We have eleven public workshops on everything from service design to leadership development that are attended by people from companies all over the world. Once they see what we teach and how we work, it’s not unusual to end up having conversations with attendees about consulting projects or private training for their organizations. Also, many of our consulting projects have a training element baked into them, either in the form of workshops or coaching sessions with staff members during the engagement. So training is infused through a lot of what we do.

Pabini: What trends do you see in UX training?

Teresa: UX is hot right now, there’s no question. There is a lot of work out there for good designers, and a lot of companies are competing for them. The challenge is that it takes some time and practical experience to become an effective UX designer. I’m skeptical of programs that proclaim to turn someone into a good UX designer—and maybe even land them a job—in a few quick months. This trend could impact the integrity of our profession as a whole over the long term, turning UX into a meaningless job title because there is such a disparity in skillsets.

Collaboration at Cooper

Pabini: What is Cooper’s approach to collaboration?

Teresa: Our core teams are typically a combination of two UX designers, one visual designer, and an executive lead who manages a lot of the client relations. Sometimes a developer is in the mix, depending on the project. Each team works on one project for its duration and has a dedicated project room. So, for eight hours a day, they are hunkered down in that room together, figuring out how to solve problems. (Figures 3 and 4 show a couple of the collaboration spaces at Cooper.)

Figure 3—A collaboration space at Cooper
A collaboration space at Cooper
Figure 4—Another collaboration space
Another collaboration space

We have many check-ins, presentations, and meetings with the stakeholders and partners from our client teams. Those folks are often involved in ideation sessions, help us identify who and where to research, see highlights of our research while we’re on the road, and obviously, are highly involved in providing feedback. By the nature of being a consulting business, we have to be highly, highly collaborative and communicative to pull a project off successfully.

Pabini: Tell me more about your collaboration spaces?

Teresa: In addition to having dedicated project rooms for our teams, our entire office is intentionally flexible. We have lots of micro-workspaces, whiteboard walls, chalkboard walls, places that people can take over for an impromptu meeting or brainstorm.

Trends in UX Consulting

Pabini: There seems to be a trend in UX consulting businesses to shift from focusing mainly on tactical research and design to focusing more and more on UX strategy. Is that true for Cooper? How has this changed things at Cooper? In Cooper’s business, what is the balance between strategic versus tactical work today?

Teresa: I’d say roughly 90% or more of our work has a strategic component of some sort today. But, while it’s important to define a strategy and vision, it’s just as important to map a way to get real results and not get stuck in analysis paralysis. So, for us, that means projects that have an end goal of delivering strategic recommendations also have an eye toward next steps and how to make those strategies real. We don’t want to go too far in the opposite direction of tactical research and design—meaning lots of flowcharts, but no path for moving from strategy to execution.

Pabini: We seem to be at an inflection point when more and more companies are bringing UX in house. What is the pace of this change? How has this shift affected Cooper’s business model? Is Cooper helping companies to make this shift?

Teresa: Obviously, our training program helps companies make that shift to having an in-house UX team. And you are right that there are more and more companies doing that; we’re certainly getting more clients who are in that transition. Many of them are finding they have to compromise when it comes to hiring talent because the competition is so stiff. We can help them build out the skills they don’t quite have in their current team or help whole teams get on the same page about process, approach, and vocabulary.

But, I think there will always be a need for companies—even those with an established internal UX team—to get an outside perspective. One of the advantages to being a consulting firm is that we get direct exposure to emerging technology, new business models, and changing user behaviors in all sorts of consumer, business, and specialty domains. That allows us to make crazy connections, see cross-industry trends and patterns, and apply inspiration from one sector to another.

Pabini: What business consulting services does Cooper offer?

Teresa: We help clients bring new products and services to the marketplace. We work with a wide variety of industries, so we know what’s happening with technology, new business models, and shifting behavior trends. Because we really get what makes people tick, we can see unexpected opportunities for our clients. And our years of experience designing products and services helps us see around corners during the process of bringing them to life.

We offer expertise in research—in fact, we pioneered techniques for understanding people’s goals and needs—strategy, vision, design, prototyping, and development. All the things you need to go from identifying the right problem to tackle to executing upon and launching a great idea.

Pabini: How do you see the UX consulting market evolving in the future? Where will the opportunities lie?

Teresa: I think we’ll continue to see the trend where big product companies try to get an instant dose of design by acquiring small consulting firms. When the dust has settled, there will be fewer, but stronger consulting firms—like Cooper—left to continue bringing an outside perspective to companies who need help navigating really big, important problems.

Pabini: Thanks, Teresa, for an enlightening interview!

Overview: The Cooper U Public Course Experience

The Cooper U experience begins when you register for a course on EventBrite. Once you register, EventBrite sends you a confirmation email that includes your order summary, the course schedule and location, and information about what you should bring and where you should stay if you’re an out-of-towner. For some courses, this email also includes a link to a homework assignment that you can complete to prepare for your course. You’ll also receive an email message from Cooper titled “Getting Ready for [Course Title],” which contains pretty much the same information—sans the order summary—as well as the usual EventBrite reminders.

All of the courses that I attended took place at Cooper’s office in downtown San Francisco, so course attendees get to experience the work environment at Cooper. Next year, Cooper will begin offering courses in New York City as well.

Each day of a course begins at 8:30am with a continental breakfast. Courses begin at 9am—on the first day, with some sort of warm-up exercise to help attendees get to know and feel comfortable with one another. My favorite of these warmups took place at the beginning of the two-day Design Leadership course: Teresa Brazen gathered all of us in a circle and asked us to introduce ourselves, sharing what we do, as well as something unique to ourselves. Passing a Catchbox—a throwable microphone, shown in Figure 5—around the circle clockwise, each of us introduced ourselves. Then, Teresa asked us to toss the Catchbox to someone whose name we remembered, picking up the pace as we went until the Catchbox was leaving our hands the moment we caught it. Finally, we went speedily around the circle a few times, increasing the pace each time. By the end of this exercise, we knew the names of most of the people in the room. Plus, everyone got used to speaking into the Catchbox microphone, which helped during group discussions.

Figure 5—Teresa Brazen holding the Catchbox
Teresa Brazen holding the Catchbox

On some days, Cooper brings in lunch for course attendees, who gather in the Cooper cafeteria to eat. On other days, Cooper provides a list of nearby restaurants, and people seek out their own lunch spot. At breaks, Cooper offers sweet treats to pick up people’s energy. In the mid-afternoon, when attendees’ attention tends to lag, there’s an exercise break. Izac Ross led my favorite of these during the Transforming Customer Experience course. After putting on some EDM (Electronic Dance Music), Izac guided us through a variety of stretching exercises. The best part was when he had us stretching to draw a variety of shapes in the air. Sketch-aerobics are fun!

Each day, courses end at 5pm. Once a course concludes, attendees gather in front of the Cooper sign in the lobby for a group photo like that shown in Figure 6. Then Cooper awards you with a certificate of completion.

Figure 6—Group photo of the Design Leadership course attendees
Group photo of the Design Leadership course attendees

After your course, Cooper sends you an email message providing links to the presentation and other materials for the course on Dropbox. This message also includes information about future Cooper U courses, as well as discount offers for them, and a link to the Cooper U Alumni group on LinkedIn. Cooper also requests that you fill out a Post-class Survey to provide feedback on the course.

As a result of many years of iterative design, Cooper U is a very well-oiled machine. Just last year, Teresa Brazen and Nikki Knox did a vision project—for which they conducted research and issued a report about their findings—with the goal of ensuring that Cooper U’s offerings meet their audience’s needs. Here are a just few learnings from their report that pertain to training:

  • Students need training in soft skills such as collaboration, selling ideas, presenting designs, and facilitation; and they want that training to “be grounded in the context of a process.”
  • Instructors should have “real-world experience and a point of view.”
  • Designers learn applied design skills on the job, not at school.
  • As designers advance in their career, businesses expect them to develop business skills.

Review: Transforming Customer Experience Course

Instructors: Nikki Knox and Izac Ross

Cooper’s goal for their new Transforming Customer Experience course is to help organizations’ leaders, product managers, designers, developers, and others—that is, business stakeholders and the core members of cross-functional service development teams—to understand the complexity of their customer experience and deliver an experience that is “cohesive, connected, and delightful.”

In advance of the course, Cooper sent a Pre-class Survey to registrants. It included questions about our current role and, if in management, the size of our team; what our day-to-day work involves; past accomplishments and goals for future accomplishments; and what we hoped to learn from the course.

Nikki Knox, shown in Figure 2, and Izac Ross, formerly a Senior Designer at Cooper and shown in Figure 7, did an excellent job on the first-ever presentation of this course.

Figure 7—Izac Ross
Izac Ross

Day 1: Creating Service Blueprints

Nikki kicked off the Transforming Customer Experience course by telling us that we would “learn by doing—a lot of collaboration and working in teams.” This was a very hands-on, practical course, and experiencing its activities and exercises, working in collaboration with other attendees, constituted the core value of the course. During Day 1 of the course, Nikki and Izac led ten activities and eight exercises; during Day 2, another ten activities and ten exercises. In this review, I’ll cover a just few activities that are core to the customer experience design process—particularly, customer journey mapping, defining a service ecosystem, and service blueprinting. Nikki also told us, “This course is a space for conversations to happen,” and she and Izac facilitated very interesting discussions throughout the course.

Nikki and Izac began by presenting a brief introduction to the course’s subject matter: “The tools of User Experience are good, but limited [in their ability to help us make] strategic decisions about how to move forward.” In contrast, “Customer Experience is all about strategy, … about process.” “How do you reconcile all the touchpoints across channels? … Cooper is moving away from design as the creation of a thing, product, or deliverable and toward design as the process of creating a cohesive, unified experience.” Figure 8 provides an overview of Cooper’s customer experience design process, which comprises five phases: Discover, Describe, Determine, Develop, and Deliver. It shows the most effective tools within each bucket.

Figure 8—Customer experience design process
Customer experience design process

What Is the Value of Service Design?

Nikki and Izac shared the video “What Is the Value of Service Design?” from Nile HQ, which made the following key points:

  • “Services allow meaningful connections and interactions and can change the way a business is run.
  • “Consciously and carefully designed service experiences are new, and they’re often the key differentiator that make us return to the same brand, product, or company over and over again.
  • “As we move from commodities and goods to services and experiences, giving people what they really want is a way to gain or maintain a real competitive advantage.
  • “We all expect good customer service, but when an experience is well orchestrated, we don’t remember the service. We just remember how it made us feel.
  • “What can service design do for your company? It can increase profits…, grow margins, and streamline operations…. It can create solutions that attract millions of new customers…. It can redefine your brand’s reputation….
  • “Too often, business insights don’t lead to real customer satisfaction, or customer insights don’t lead to business results. But by working in collaboration with … your customers, service design can make a company’s offerings more usable, efficient, and desirable to create solutions that build value—not only for your customers, but for the bottom line as well.”

For today’s service-oriented companies like Uber, Facebook, Alibaba, and Airbnb, consumers are no longer anonymous. Now, service providers co-create cross-channel services with users.

Customer Journey Mapping

As an example of the efficacy of mapping a customer journey, Nikki and Izac presented a Cooper case study about Studio Dental, shown in Figure 9. A Studio Dental truck parks outside a workplace and helps people to make use of their dental benefits. Customers can schedule an hour appointment, then get back to work in time for meetings. How do you schedule an appointment and get someone in and out the door without having to deal with payments or other hassles? The first-visit journey map shown in Figure 10 helped Cooper to answer these questions.

Figure 9—Studio Dental
Studio Dental
Figure 10—Studio Dental first-visit journey
Studio Dental first-visit journey

By mapping Studio Dental’s first-visit customer journey, Cooper

  • “discovered opportunities to turn dreaded interactions into delightful experiences
  • “became aware of outside forces that might influence the service experience
  • “saw how to more effectively deliver on the brand promise
  • “uncovered new partnership opportunities”

A customer journey map depicts “what goes on in front of customers; a service blueprint, what goes on behind the scenes.” Customer experience is about the user “interfaces of services, the gestalt of the overall experience, and the outcome or impact you’re having. Businesses understand customer experience, but the tools are those of service design.”

What Makes a Good Service Experience

What are some characteristics of good service experiences? They

  • “link customer and employee experiences. Happy engaged employees [result in] happy and loyal customers.”
  • “nail the basics and deliver pleasant surprises”
  • make things “easy and reduce the effort of the user”
  • are “personal, considerate, human, and tailored to consumers’ rather than companies’ needs. They’re about the user, not the bottom line.”
  • “deliver—fulfill the promise”
  • are “seamless, integrated, high touch”
  • offer options—choice
  • give “the feeling of being in control”
  • “reduce stress”

“The value exchange is clear and worthwhile. Many companies do one thing really well; they get the core right.”

“These are different from business goals.” How can you reconcile delivering great service experiences with business goals? An experience “cannot be everything to everybody; you can’t please everyone. What is most important to deliver and why? Amazon nails the basics, but now is going beyond that.”

“Great experiences are both intentional and emotional. Intentional [experiences] address both business and user’s goals. Emotional [experiences] consider how people want to feel.”

Defining Customer Service Ecosystems

In a customer service ecosystem, key phases are Discover, Evaluate, Buy, Access, Use, Get Support, and the last step branches to Leave or Re-engage. Discover “is really about learning,” and field research is an effective tool for discovery. “The Re-engage phase is often left out, but it’s key. A single-time user is most expensive, so you must consider re-engagement.”

“There are a lot of players in a customer-service ecosystem.” Service providers include employees and agents who deliver services and partners who play a role in service delivery. Front-stage employees and partners are visible to customers; back-stage employees and partners are behind the scenes. “Look at the people, places, and dynamics that might touch or influence the service experience. … Look at the big picture to make sure that [you] are solving the right problem. Focus on goals [and create] different solutions to satisfy them. Quickly find out what you’re omitting and close the loop. This is not just about the transfer of money.”

To provide an example of a service ecosystem, Nikki and Izac showed us a map of the Cooper U service ecosystem and its service actors, which is shown in Figure 11. “It’s about relationships. The point of an ecosystem to identify all of the actors involved; making sure you’re not forgetting anybody.”

Figure 11—Cooper U service ecosystem and actors
Cooper U service actors

Touchpoints are “exchanges through particular media.” “The words channels and touchpoints are sometimes used interchangeably. Channels are the overall medium. A touchpoint is an individual moment of interaction within a channel.” Examples of channels include phone, SMS text messages, a Web site, face-to-face interactions, print documents or media, and an application or product. Figure 12 depicts the current Cooper U service journey map, which shows phases, actors, actions, and emotions, or feelings. Nikki and Izac shared a brief Airbnb case study, too.

Figure 12—Cooper U service journey map
Cooper U service ecosystem

Nikki and Izac asked attendees to break into teams to work on a sample project together. Each team chose a service experience to transform:

  • public transit
  • mail/shipping
  • ordering/making meals
  • parking
  • utilities
  • banking
  • mobile communication

“The first step in transforming a customer experience is understanding the customer experience. 80% of service companies believe that they have a superior service proposition. 8% of customers agree. Field research helps us understand the gap between the promise and the actual delivery of the service. We use qualitative methods to encourage storytelling, reveal emotions, and communicate desired qualities and outcomes. Sell only what you can deliver on. Look for the magical inconstancies. Look for factors out of the service provider’s control.”

Next, we did some guerilla research. Our instructions: “Conduct an interview.

  1. Pick one person in your group with a recent experience with the service. Take turns interviewing them to learn more about what that experience was like from start to finish.
  2. Then ask: What worked? What didn’t? How did they feel along the way? Take notes.”

Leading into the next exercise, Nikki and Izac told us, “Now that we know a little bit about the service experience. Let’s zoom out and look at the larger ecosystem. What else needs to be considered?” For this exercise, each team defined their service ecosystem based on what they had learned from the interview they conducted, using the service ecosystem worksheet shown in Figure 13.

Figure 13—Service ecosystem worksheet
Service ecosystem worksheet

Our instructions for this exercise were to “brainstorm elements within the service ecosystem.

  • Actors:
    • Who are the people involved? There are many service providers even for new services. Forcing people to make a list forces them to acknowledge other roles. It’s important to identify partners up front. Companies worry about the privacy of those relationships.
  • Current situation:
    • What activities is this in support of? Activities
    • What channels and touchpoints support these activities? Channels and touchpoints
    • In what places and contexts does this service happen? Places
  • Other considerations:
    • What current trends influence our customer? Trends
    • What does the business hope to achieve with this? Desired outcome for stakeholders and users

To help us complete this exercise, the instructors handed out the palette of touchpoint types shown in Figure 14. Figure 15 shows attendees working on their service ecosystem worksheets. This process “forces companies to have conversations they don’t want to have.”

Figure 14—Palette of touchpoint types
Palette of touchpoint types
Figure 15—Working on service ecosystem worksheets
Working on service ecosystem worksheets

Key Deliverables of the Customer Experience Design Process

Nikki and Izac defined some key deliverables that are part of the customer experience design process:

  • personas—We synthesize common goals and behaviors into an archetype called a persona. Doing 10–12 interviews is enough to come up with your primary personas. More and you’ll hear the same things over and over again. Not all personas are role-based. Distinctions between goals, needs, and behaviors are more important. Personas call attention to distinct sets of motivations and behaviors. Decide which personas to focus on and why—the complex, hard-to-satisfy cases. Personas provide your team with a specific design target to keep members aligned toward helping an individual person.”
  • service blueprint—We understand how to support a cross-channel experience using a tool called a service blueprint.” Blueprints are more comprehensive than journey maps and can provide an overview of a multichannel experience. When creating a service blueprint, ask, “What are the most critical, complex situations. They encompass smoother, simpler paths. Satisfy the most demanding persona.” You can create a more detailed blueprint of a moment within a blueprint. A blueprint “adds the service provider’s viewpoint. Blueprints help your team assess what needs to be done within the organization to improve how customers experience different parts of the service. Service blueprints
    • clarify the interactions between customers, digital interfaces, and employees
    • map the value exchanges and touchpoints
    • reveal how these are supported by backstage activities”
  • journey map—We articulate the whole customer experience—from the customer’s viewpoint—in a tool called a journey map. Journey maps are good at communicating multichannel experiences.” You can create a journey map “for a particular touchpoint or channel or for a journey across multiple channels. A customer journey map can expand or contract to focus on different things. It’s more specific than a blueprint. The process of mapping provides your team with shared insight into how a customer typically experiences a service—feel, think, do—in different contexts, over time.”

“Start with personas, then create a service blueprint, then create detailed journey maps.”

For their next case study, Nikki and Izac looked at Project Mandate, whose goal was to reduce anemia resulting from cancer treatments. They shared personas for patients, healthcare staff, and oncologists, which included goals, background information, their emotional state expressed on ranges of opposite emotions. Then, they showed us maps of the decision process and the oncology patient journey.

Creating Service Blueprints

Nikki and Izac recommended that we create service blueprints when

  • “designing services with a mixture of digital and non-digital touchpoints
  • “many IT systems, people, props, and partners are involved in creating an outcome
  • “[formalizing] high-touch services into lower-touch forms [of service]
  • “clients have lost track of how the service gets produced”

For our next team exercise, Nikki and Izac asked us to create a service blueprint of the current state of the service, using the service blueprint canvas they provided, which is shown in Figure 16, and a handout describing the anatomy of a service blueprint, shown in Figure 17. They also showed us an example of a service blueprint, which is shown in Figure 18.

Figure 16—Service blueprint canvas
Service blueprint canvas
Figure 17—Experience blueprint
Experience blueprint
Figure 18—Example of a service blueprint
Example of a service blueprint

Our instructions for this exercise were to blueprint the current service, following these steps:

  1. “Write down the steps they take as they go through the service cycle on Post-it notes.
  2. “Place the customer actions you heard from your interview on the blueprint.
  3. “Add physical evidence and time as you progress through the customer’s actions.
  4. “Fill in the Service Employees, Digital & Devices, and Backstage Action swimlanes for each customer action.
  5. “Identify the support processes.
  6. “Add connections and arrows.”

Izac told us, “Start with Customer Actions, then add more detail.” Physical Evidence and Customer Actions are all “things the customer is doing and what the customer sees going on.” Physical Evidence comprises artifacts of the service. The context of Customer Actions may be very important. “Below the Line of Interaction is what the business is doing to deliver the service—the systems in place.” For project plans,“ the three swimlanes that really matter in blueprints are the Line of Interaction, Line of Visibility, and Line of Internal Interaction. Below the Line of Visibility are Backstage Actions—service employees and digital devices. Below the Line of Internal Interaction is where partners come into play.” Figure 19 shows teams working on service blueprints. Figure 20 defines the swimlanes in service blueprints.

Figure 19—Working on service blueprints
Working on service blueprints
Figure 20—Swimlanes in service blueprints
Swimlanes in service blueprints

Nikki and Izac reviewed some tips for creating a service blueprint:

  • “Things that happen simultaneously are stacked.
  • “All physical evidence (props) required are listed at the top—no matter where they occur in the stack.
  • “Arrows in blueprints have a ton of embodied meaning in them. They indicate controls, who moves the service forward.”
    • “Double arrows indicate agreement must be reached to move the process forward.
    • A vertical arrow crossing a horizontal line indicates “value exchange.” These are micro-touchpoints.
    • Arrow direction indicates “control dependency.”

Annotating Service Blueprints

For the next exercise, we annotated our service blueprints with stickers to indicate painpoints, financial opportunities, and service strengths, as shown in Figure 21, numbering them so we could list them in another document. Service strengths are things customers love that you should not change.

Figure 21—Stickers for annotations
Stickers for annotations

Using Metrics to Measure Customer Experience

Izac recommended that we measure customer experience around moments of truth, as shown in Figure 22. These are “elements of an experience in which a service succeeds or fails such as transactions.”

Figure 22—Measure around moments of truth
Measure around moments of truth

Nikki and Izac shared some types of measurement from Forrester’s, “7 Steps to Successful Customer Experience Measurement Programs,” which include

  • “Descriptive metrics: What happened?
    • how long
    • how much
    • sentiment
  • Perception metrics: What did the customer think about...?
    • does it meet needs
    • how easy
    • how enjoyable
  • Outcome metrics: What will the customer do as a result of what happened?
    • return purchase
    • churn
    • likelihood to recommend

“Outcome metrics are the ones businesses care about.” They also showed some relationships between metrics, breaking perception metrics down into CX attributes, CX dimensions, and the overall customer experience. Outcome metrics may include actual outcomes and intended outcomes. They also provided lists of common metrics and their data sources and some examples of metrics. “A painpoint anywhere in the process eventually impacts the customer experience.”

For the final exercise on Day 1, we applied measurement metrics to our service blueprint, following these instructions:

  1. Identify places where you can measure descriptive, perception, and outcome metrics.
  2. Write these measurements in the measurement lane of the blueprint.
  3. Place stickers where those measurements could be taken or are currently being taken.

Summary of Day 1

We learned a lot during Day 1 of the course and completed some in-depth exercises that taught us how to create service blueprints. In summary, Day 1 covered “how to:

  • Explore the service ecosystem and gain contextual understanding.
  • Translate research into useful tools.
  • Measure and assess the current customer experience.”

Day 2: Using Service Blueprints

Day 2 began with Nikki and Izac’s recommendation that we share our blueprints with stakeholders, as follows:

  • “Explain the anatomy and purpose of the blueprint. Walk the stakeholders through it.
  • “Demonstrate how to use it as a decision-making tool.
  • “Summarize opportunity areas across or within phases of the service
    experience.
  • “Focus on specific channels or touchpoints, as appropriate.

Cooper tweaks their blueprints to show what they need to show. For example, they might use a heatmap to indicate painpoints. Nikki and Izac presented a case study on an aviation service whose challenge was to handle last-minute changes. For this project, Cooper created an experience blueprint.

Identifying, Evaluating, and Prioritizing Opportunities

Through a series of exercises on Day 2, we identified, evaluated, and prioritized opportunities, following these instructions:

  1. “Look across the current state blueprint to identify opportunities for improvement.
  2. “Use 5x7, white index cards—portrait style—to record each opportunity you discover. Give each opportunity a title and brief description. Use drafting dots to post them along the bottom of the blueprint.
  3. “Weigh the opportunities you’ve identified according to the user and business goals. Give each opportunity a score from 0 to 10 in each of the following categories:
    value for the customer
    value for the business
    ability of organization to implement
    overall gut feeling for the idea
  4. “Each person should vote independently … for which opportunity to focus on,” using their green dots for the most appealing opportunities and red dots for those that are least appealing.
  5. “Assess and discuss the votes. Choose one key opportunity.
  6. “Then, define metrics of success for the opportunity—[both] business metrics [and] customer experience metrics.

Alternatively, you could number painpoints and tie each of them to an opportunity, summarizing all of the opportunities in a list. When prioritizing opportunities, “consider the different perspectives of business, technology, and design—perhaps also operations; any stakeholder whose perspective is important to making decisions about opportunities.”

Leading a Strategy Workshop

To prioritize opportunities, it’s necessary to get decisions from stakeholders, so Nikki and Izac recommended that we lead a strategy workshop for discussing and prioritizing opportunities with them. They provided the following facilitation tips for strategy workshops:

  • “Invite key representatives from each group. You have to have buy-in from the appropriate people.
  • “Use personas to give the user a seat at the table. We do a persona empathy map. Pretend you’re a persona. What would be your feelings, concerns, and actions? Pick critical or upsetting moments for personas.
  • “Introduce the blueprint and opportunities.
  • “Invite participants to weigh opportunities with their expertise and experience. (Use voting dots!) Give each a score.
  • “End with discussion of and alignment on priorities.”

“Domain experts have really good ideas, and we’re trying to pull those ideas out of them and decide what to focus on.”

Leading a Brand Experience Workshop

In exploring prioritized areas of opportunity, Nikki and Izac suggested, “Start with the brand to guide idea-generation exercises to ensure ideas are aligned with the brand. Consider the brand promise and how it might inspire new solutions!” They provided a framework of values within which to act:

  • Consider “how modern company cultures are built.
  • “Create consistency in experience in people touchpoints.
  • “Align [frontstage] and backstage through shared understandings of goals.”

“If the brand experience isn’t already defined, give stakeholders tools to describe the ideal experience with the service. Think of words that are unique to a brand and give it a competitive advantage over others.”

In the next exercise, our goal was to answer this question: “What is your brand promising?” Nikki and Izac gave us these instructions: “For the brand that supports the service you are exploring in your teams, write down a list of 3–5 descriptive words that describe the brand experience, based on your impressions and understanding of that brand. Use the experience words cheat-sheet for inspiration, or look up the brand online and see how they describe themselves.”

Generating, Assessing, and Refining Ideas

After taking a sketch-aerobics break, it was time to generate and assess new ideas. Nikki and Izac gave us the following instructions:

  1. “Push yourself to create 10 ideas [in five minutes]. One idea per index card.
  2. “Use the brand attributes as fodder to generate ideas on your own [for five minutes]. Just generate, don’t evaluate yet!
  3. “By yourself, assess each idea using a scale from 0 to 10:
    value for the customer
    value for the business
    ability of organization to implement
    overall gut feeling
  4. “Choose one idea to share with your team.
  5. “Share your ideas with your team, and vote on which ideas to move forward with.
  6. “Each team member has one minute to share their idea and summarize the overall impact/value.
  7. “Vote on which idea to move forward with. [This] may be one person’s idea or a combination of ideas.”

To iterate upon and refine ideas, “test your ideas out by bodystorming. You’ll quickly discover what feels wrong, right, and is missing from the experience. Try it out. Services are highly affected by context, other actors, and numerous other outside elements. Bodystorming gets you closer to the unknowns. Define the how. Focus on how the experience unfolds over time rather than on the details of each individual interaction.”

Our next team exercise: bodystorming! “Acting out an experience.” Here are the instructions Nikki and Izac provided:

  1. “Assign roles. Who will be the service user? Service provider(s)? Note-taker and observer?
  2. “Create any supporting props you will need using paper and sharpies. For now, leave your props as basic and simple as possible, avoiding details.
  3. “Bodystorm, [running] through your team’s idea, focus on how the service is unfolding over time rather than on the details of what is involved.
  4. “Call out new ideas or alternates as they come up in the bodystorm. However, follow one path as far as it can possibly go before switching to an alternate.
  5. “Document what you are learning with each rehearsal.”

The instructors gave us these tips on improvising:

  • When acting out a scenario, use the tap out to “take out one participant and insert yourself in that person’s place rather than disagreeing” with him or her.
  • “Yes, and… is a primary rule of improv.
  • “Try not to be too literal.
  • “Act out your interfaces.
  • “Story is really important. Services and stories have arcs. I have a problem. build toward a solution or climax.
  • “Have a person who is not in a scene document what is changing.
  • “Document a high-level overview of the bodystorm using sticky notes.
    Just the most important points.
  • “Meet off site or in a neutral space that no one group owns—that gives people permission to do things differently.”

“Prototyping could take months, but you can do a bodystorm in a few minutes. You could do bodystorming with users. Move forward into a simulation of the touchpoints.”

Creating a Future State Journey Map

The next assignment that Nikki and Izac gave to each team was to create a future state journey map of the service we’d just bodystormed, following these instructions:

  1. “Sketch on stickies—one key activity per sticky note. Include the actors and props involved. Focus on the emotion and value being delivered rather than the details.
  2. “Arrange these along the timeline.
  3. “Underneath each sticky, describe the service from
    the persona’s perspective.”

“Why experience prototyping? Services are not static. They are dynamic. They must be rehearsed and refined before they go on stage. Types of service prototyping” include discussions, interviews, participatory design, simulation, and pilot tests.

Leading a Roadmap Workshop

Leading a roadmap workshop can help you to deliver on a new service offering. Nikki and Izac shared the following facilitation tips on leading roadmap workshops:

  • “Invite key representatives from each group.
  • “Present the service proposition in a persona-based narrative.
  • “Include a summary of feedback from user-feedback sessions.
  • “Invite participants to assess the value delivered to both business and the user in the service proposition.
  • “End with discussion and alignment on next steps.”

They also provided a Service Roadmap Canvas that consisted of multiple phases, each of which comprised the following goals for design, operations, and technology: Enter/Onboard, Entice/Attract, Experience, Exit/End of the experience, and Extend/Bring customers back, as well as success measures for the brand. “A tool to use at the roadmap workshop.”

“Show storyboards or scenarios at your roadmap workshop. Break them into projects with priorities. Phase 1 is the cupcake version. You can deliver it in a few months. Phase 2 is the birthday cake version. Phase 3 is the wedding cake version. We hate the MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Lots of times engineers deliver the frosting, but no cake.”

Pitching Ideas

Persuasion skills are important. “Over and over again, we see great ideas die because presenters get caught up in selling the details and features rather than design intent and goals.”

For the final exercise of the course, we made a pitch, following these instructions:

  1. “Prepare a three-minute pitch.
  2. “Create a case for your service proposition that includes:
    a brief summary of the problem you are solving
    a glimpse into what the future service could look like
    benefits/value to users and the business
    a narrative describing how the service unfolds over time
    the ask: what you need to take it from here to there”

Summary of Day 2

Day 2 was chock full of lively, fun activities. In summary, Day 2 covered “how to:

  • Socialize, prioritize, and select opportunities….
  • Envision a more ideal service experience.
  • Plan how to deliver on the new service experience promise.”

Conclusion

In its first iteration, Transforming Customer Experience was already a great course that covered the topics that are essential parts of current CX design practice. But, since I took the course in the Spring of 2015, Cooper has evolved the course significantly, adding new content, case studies, worksheets, and examples of deliverables; clarifying the course’s content, and refining the course’s structure. I strongly recommend that you experience this course for yourselves. 

Principal Consultant at Strategic UX

Founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of UXmatters

Silicon Valley, California, USA

Pabini Gabriel-PetitWith more than 20 years working in User Experience at companies such as Google, Cisco, WebEx, Apple, and many startups, Pabini now provides UX strategy and design consulting services through her Silicon Valley company, Strategic UX. Her past UX leadership roles include Head of UX for Sales & Marketing IT at Intel, Senior Director of UX and Design at Apttus, Principal UX Architect at BMC Software, VP of User Experience at scanR, and Manager of User Experience at WebEx. Pabini has led UX strategy, design, and user research for Web, mobile, and desktop applications for consumers, small businesses, and enterprises, in diverse product domains. Working collaboratively with business executives, multidisciplinary product teams, and UX teams, she has envisioned and realized holistic UX design solutions for innovative, award-winning products that delighted users, achieved success in the marketplace, and delivered business value. As a UX leader, she has facilitated conceptual modeling and ideation sessions; written user stories; prioritized product and usability requirements; established corporate design frameworks, standards, and guidelines; and integrated lean UX activities into agile development processes. Pabini is a strategic thinker, and the diversity of her experience enables her to synthesize innovative solutions for challenging strategy and design problems. She is passionate about creating great user experiences that meet users’ needs and get business results. A thought leader in the UX community, Pabini was a Founding Director of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA).  Read More

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