Why design thinking in the contact center drives CX innovation

Discover the role of design thinking in reinventing the customer experience.

Posted November 1, 2018

Continuous improvement in the contact center is mandatory in order to gain and maintain a competitive edge. There is no shortage of levers to pull, processes to change and training to offer agents that will improve performance metrics. The challenge is identifying and orchestrating each individual instrument to play together in harmony.

“There are a million things you can do, but how do you decide which ones are the ones that matter?” says Jim Tincher, mapper-in-chief at Heart of the Customer, a customer experience (CX) consulting firm.

An increasing number of brands believe design thinking holds the key.

According to design firm IDEO, which popularized the practice of design thinking in the business world, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Design thinking is useful in all manner of creative problem-solving, but it’s especially well-suited for rethinking products and processes to ensure the user (in this case the customer) is at the center of it all. Companies like Marriott, Capital One and furniture purveyor, Steelcase, were recently identified in a CIO Review article as active users of design thinking to “create seamless, intuitive experiences as they interact with a brand.”

The most important aspect of design thinking is ‘walking a mile’ in the customers’ shoes in order to better understand their needs, wants and pain points.

Understanding the process of design thinking

A full hands-on approach to customer service could be exorbitantly expensive and potentially damaging to the customer experience if not maintained over time. Just imagine if your internet service provider sent a technician to your home every time you had an issue with your Wi-Fi connection.

So, how do you design the optimal process for serving customers? Design thinking starts with getting a much more nuanced understanding of the current customer experience through customer journey mapping.

Only after you’ve mapped the customer journey can you understand the key pain points (sometimes called “moments of truth”), which will inevitably lead to opportunities for solving them, says Tincher. “A journey map is really the visualization of what your customers go through. You need to uncover how hard is it to be your customer, and what are those points of pain and moments of truth to really be successful.”

Many companies that undertake this process have realized significant gains — but adhering to the process is critical for all organizations. For example, even though Be The Match, the world’s largest bone marrow donor registry, isn’t a for-profit enterprise, engaging customers in the most effective way often means the difference between life and death for patients looking for a donor.

With a contact center and customer support operation of about 100, it was absolutely critical to design a process to engage potential donors in ways that make donating easy, says Michael Smith, director of donor operations and experience at Be The Match. The first step in the design thinking process was an intensive journey mapping exercise through which the Be The Match team identified and developed three main personas to represent their current customers.

Those personas included a family member of a cancer patient hoping to save their life and a true altruist willing to do whatever it takes to help another person. The third persona was the most challenging of the three, said Smith, and the one that offered the opportunity for design innovation: People who are registered but aren’t necessarily committed to helping when the moment of need arises.

“We hadn’t previously identified them before,” says Smith. “If you have cancer and look at our registry, there can be four people out there who match you and could save your life, but we know that almost half will not respond or say no, and that’s really hard on a patient.”

Through a months-long journey mapping process, Smith and team identified key moments to engage those challenging potential donors and encourage them to either commit, or to remove themselves from the list.

Journey mapping best practices

Tincher has a lot of advice and lessons for companies, after spending years of helping them undertake a true journey-mapping process — something that can take as long as six months.

First, says Tincher, it’s absolutely critical to bring a truly cross-functional team into the process. You can’t just tap into your customer service team’s knowledge and expect to understand the entire customer journey. You need representation from IT to HR. “In the contact center, each group holds knowledge about the customer in a narrow area. They often don’t have a full picture of the customer’s environment,” he says.

His second piece of advice seems almost too obvious: Involve actual customers. You can’t go into a room with your own team and do a whiteboarding or Post-It note exercise and expect to really understand your customer, says Tincher. “If you’re not willing to talk to customers, then don’t bother doing it at all. If you can’t afford to go talk to your customers, what can you afford?” he asks.

Tincher also highlights the need to select the right journey to map, and selecting the right customer to map a journey for. “A journey about everybody doesn’t really tell you about anybody,” he says, adding that companies should map the journey for at least 30 customers to get a true sense of the journey on a broader scale.

Finally, says Tincher, make sure the journey map is visual and identifies the key moments in the customer’s journey. Resist the urge to present it as an elaborate Excel spreadsheet and make your design-thinking exercise more compelling with the help of an actual designer. If they don’t appeal to the viewer, then no one will make use of a potentially game-changing document, he adds.

Design thinking at the heart of customer experience innovation

Only once you have a thorough understanding of the customer journey does the second phase of design thinking come in. That phase includes rapid prototyping and testing to develop tools, products and processes to better serve the customer.

When journey mapping and design thinking are done properly, performance improvements are significant, often leapfrogging what was possible previously. The team at Be The Match offers an inspiring example: “We’ve maintained and improved our donor satisfaction, improved donor availability and retention and we’ve improved our employee engagement, all of which results in more lives saved,” says Smith.

Bringing design thinking to the contact center can bring a tangible competitive advantage to companies that truly seek to understand — and design for — their customers’ real-life experiences.

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