Improve customer experience through design for reliability

Design for reliability and early adopters

“Proactive experience reliability and innovation” — which is another way of discussing design for reliability — is one of my five customer experience competencies, which I’ve developed over 30+ years of doing this customer-driven work with companies of all sizes. In Episode 3 of my new podcast, I talk a good deal about design for reliability with Scott Dille, a Senior Vice President at Northern Trust. And just last week, I wrote up another blog post about how you can take the five competencies — including design for reliability — and start hitting targets and moving the needle immediately in your organization, via the customer experience competency recipe cards. (You can also find a ton more about this and the other competencies in my books.)

Let’s talk briefly about the importance of design for reliability, or proactive experience reliability.

What do I mean by design for reliability?

The goal of proactive experience reliability is to let you know — before customers even tell you — if the experience you delivered to them was valuable and reliable. The most common way this goes awry is through silo’ed management. One team focuses on one project and set of metrics, and another team focuses on a second project and set of metrics. When both teams deliver something that will face a customer, the experience is now disjointed — and if the CEO or ultimate decision-maker approves both because they’re good silo work, now you have a real problem. The experience for the customer isn’t consistent, and that’s going to lead to lost customers, lack of referral, and other issues which will affect your growth.

Even think about it like this: many companies still silo ‘digital’ and ‘traditional’ marketing, which is funny. Many people are connected digitally these days, so ‘digital marketing’ shouldn’t be its own silo. When that happens, the digital marketing experience — the one that might reach customers in real-time, or on their phones — ends up looking and feeling different than the traditional marketing experience.

You need to be designing customer experiences that are reliable across platforms, across ways of accessing the experience, and across different touchpoints. If the experience isn’t consistent, reliable, and valuable, you’re losing money.

Design for reliability and the interface

This is interesting research that’s been done in the past few years, and I wanted to highlight some of it here. Consider these two examples to start:

  • Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, but we didn’t see major use and productivity gains from it until the 1920s
  • The Internet was theoretically invented, connections-wise, in the late 1960s; we didn’t see widespread use of it until the 1990s

You may have seen graphics like this in Malcolm Gladwell books and other places, but now consider this:

Design for reliability and early adopters

If a company has a new product or technology and wants to get it towards ‘scale’ — i.e. a lot of people using it — there’s a “chasm” they need to cross from innovators (the first-ever people to discover it) to early adopters (as the ‘scale’ begins).

If you want to cross that chasm effectively in the modern age, what you need is a simple, elegant interface. This is design for reliability in customer experience at its core: your interface, or the way people get into your product or offering, needs to be consistent across all platforms, valuable, and reliable. I just did a podcast with Aisling Hassell of Airbnb, and one of the reasons that company has been so successful — they’re now in 191 countries and 34,000 cities — is because of their simple, elegant interface. That’s a major aspect of customer experience. If you do it right and it’s largely intuitive, reliable, and valuable — you will retain existing customers and capture new ones. If you do it in a clunky, disjointed way? You won’t.

I have dozens of examples of companies I’ve interacted with where the design of the customer experience wasn’t reliable across touchpoints and channels, and within 1-2 interactions, I stopped the relationship with them. I’d love to hear some from you.

There’s a belief that someday all CEOs might need to be ‘designers-in-chief,’ and that has some potential truth to it. In reality, I think all CEOs need to be focused on the experience of the people buying their products and services. Without that focus, it’s going to be very hard for your organization to cross the chasm.

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