Hindsight for 2020: Top Experience-Strategy Advice

Service Design

Orchestrating experiences in context

A column by Laura Keller
December 16, 2019

I enjoy writing for UXmatters because it gives me the opportunity to explore topics that are of interest to me through the lens of experience design. I love researching a topic to learn more about it and connecting it to service design. It also gives me the opportunity to reflect on my own work and find themes, principles, or approaches that might be beneficial to others in the UX community.

When you work as a consultant, your clients look to you as the expert. They want you to guide them, show them what they should do, and help them to see how they should approach problems and decisions. As I quickly approach the milestone of two decades in my career providing experience-design consulting and client services, I find myself becoming nostalgic, reflecting on all those client head nods and even vehement client head shakes that I’ve experienced. Thus, I thought it would be valuable to the broader UX community for me to outline six of the top pieces of advice I’ve found myself repeating to clients over the years.

Champion Advertisement
Continue Reading…

1. You can skip user research, but understand the risks.

This statement may sound like blasphemy to some of you. Yes, conducting research is a fundamental aspect of what we do in User Experience. Yes, we should always recommend research. But the reality is: sometimes there is just no time or budget for it. Clients just want to get to a solution quickly.

Also, because your clients expect you to be the expert, they think you should just know what solution people would find value in and adopt. Therefore, if it seems that research is not an option for my clients, I explain that we can leverage our existing knowledge and expertise. However, I also caution them about what skipping research could mean and the risks of doing so.

For example, on a project with a health-insurance client, they wanted an assessment to inform platform selection for their member’s digital experience. I recommended doing up-front user research to better understand their customers’ needs for content and functionality. But the client’s timeline was short, and research was the obvious thing for us to eliminate from the project’s scope. So I advised the client that we could rely on our current understanding of the health-insurance space, third-party research, and the use of design best practices to ensure that the recommended platform would meet their customers’ requirements overall. But I also explained that, in the future, some level of configuration and customization might be necessary, which we wouldn’t be able to anticipate without doing some level of research with actual customers.

2. Personas are only as valuable as the defined outcomes you’re seeking.

I’ve had clients say to me, “We’ve done personas, but didn’t find them valuable.” My response: “Then you didn’t do them right.” Simply put, personas illustrate the people who comprises a target audience at a glance; but this is a vague, broad explanation. I’ve seen hundreds of personas that start with useless information along the lines of: “Amy, 33, Admin: She wakes up at 8am and has her coffee.” Of course, this bit of information might be relevant if you were doing marketing for a beverage company. But, for experience design, we need insights about a target audience’s information needs, their likely tasks, and their common tools and devices.

The best personas are those whose purpose drives their design. For example, many of our clients are redesigning their internal IT services experience. A critical component of effective IT services is understanding the channels that employees would most likely use to make a service request, and this is highly dependent on where employees do their work. If a large portion of an employee base works in the field or travels, you can’t assume that they have the same easy access to an IT ticketing tool as other office-based employees. Personas must reflect the pieces of information that a designer needs to make relevant design decisions. Anything that’s not supportive of that purpose is meaningless.

3. Be self-aware in your relationships with your customers.

Clients often say, “We want to be the Amazon of the [fill in the blank] industry.” They see these model experiences and want to apply the same approach to their own organization. However, not everything that the Amazons, Apples, Ubers, Disneys, or Warby Parkers of the world do would make sense for every industry or client.

For example, consider the broad topic of how brands communicate with their customers. Customers’ expectations for how an organization communicates with them correlates directly to the relationship their customers feel they have with them—if any. A life-insurance client said, “We want to use SMS to engage customers, but we don’t know what content to include. We were thinking of doing, ‘Happy birthday.’” I asked, candidly, “Do you believe that your customers even remember they have life insurance with you?” They responded, “Probably not.” So I jokingly suggested a more appropriate SMS might be, “We see you’re still alive. It’s time to renew your policy.” My quasi-sarcastic point was that this life-insurance company needed to exhibit self-awareness about the relationship they had with their customers and understand their role in their customers’ world.

Is it possible to evolve a relationship to one where a more personal communication might make sense? Yes. But you first need to define the right engagement approach based on where you are now.

4. A process flow is not a journey map—and a business analyst is not a UX professional.

I’m not a believer that there’s magic in a journey map or other experience-design asset and won’t spend a lot of time debating industry lingo. (What really is service design?) But I do think it’s important to clarify the distinctions between things such as business requirements and user requirements, a business analyst (BA) versus a UX professional, and process flows versus journey maps.

Years ago, people simply didn’t understand or care about the differences between these things or get the value of User Experience. But that mindset has improved dramatically—so much so that, instead, I’m now seeing people try to UX-ify things such as process flows and business requirements. They sprinkle some human-centered fairy dust on it—for example, adding Emotions to a process flow and calling it a journey map. This has a two-fold impact: not only does it erroneously lead others to believe that a process flow is, indeed, a journey map but it also diminishes the discrete value of a process flow.

The reality is that you need equal representation of business, technology, and people to make a design a success.

5. The customer shouldn’t be the center of your universe.

Again, I know this statement may sound blasphemous, but the reality is that clients who are laser-focused on customer centricity often forget the broader experience and ecosystem of which the customer is a part. You must put equal focus on your employees. They may be responsible for interfacing with the end customer directly; or they may be more back office, but accountable for something that impacts the end customer. Regardless, if you don’t give these employees the tools, processes, information, and support they need to do their jobs effectively, this will eventually impact customers.

Companies are realizing that they need to consider the employee experience as complementary and of equal importance to the customer experience.

6. Solve the right problems and measure the right stuff.

Clients often have defined business objectives for an initiative—such as improving efficiency or increasing customer satisfaction—and they may even have measurements in place to assess their progress. But even when clients seemingly have concrete goals and data that illustrates problem areas, they may still be solving the wrong problem and measuring the wrong things. For example, clients frequently complain about low customer satisfaction with contact centers—perhaps based on survey data. They usually attribute dissatisfaction to long wait times or an ineffective interactive voice response (IVR) system—and these may represent part of the problem. But the reality is: calling a contact center is rarely the first path a customer would take. Customers usually want to solve any issue on their own through other self-service channels. If they call the contact center, it’s because those other channels didn’t work for them.

If clients don’t have a comprehensive Customer Experience (CX) measurement strategy, they won’t uncover all of the issues they need to address. The process for defining this CX measurement strategy involves journey mapping and identifying key moments at which measurement should occur. This process inevitably uncovers the broader issues that an organization needs to address.

Ideally, we can help our clients to redefine their solution to solve the full scope of the problems that we identify. However, more often than not, the client has already accounted for only the original solution—in terms of timing, budget, leadership support, and stakeholder alignment—so redefining the solution is not an option. In such situations, we must clearly explain what metrics we’ll be able to measure against accurately and what metrics would not be accurate until the full end-to-end solution is in place.


I hope you’ve found these bits of wisdom helpful for your own work—or at least that they validate some of your own experiences. I welcome hearing about the experience-strategy and service-design advice you find yourself giving to clients, colleagues, and direct reports in the comments. 

Director of Strategy & Experience Design at NTT Data

Woodbridge, New Jersey, USA

Laura KellerLaura’s 10 years of experience have focused on representing the human element in any interaction with a brand through actionable, business-impacting insight gathering and design. At NTT Data, Laura leads cross-channel experience design strategy engagements for clients. Clients have included AstraZeneca, Hachette Book Group, GlaxoSmithKline, Prostate Cancer Foundation, Honeywell, and the NBA. In addition to her Service Design column for UXmatters, Laura has written articles for the Service Design Network’s Touchpoint: The Journal of Service Design, User Experience Magazine, Communication Arts, and Johnny Holland. She has presented on service design at SDN’s Global Service Design Conference, the Usability Professionals’ Association International Conference, IxDA New York City, and IxDA New Jersey.  Read More

Other Columns by Laura Keller

Other Articles on Experience Strategy

New on UXmatters