Strategic UX – some recommended reading

I had the honour of doing a short talk about my thoughts on Strategic User Experience at the Content Strategy Meet Up last night and in my presentation I included a list of reading that I’ve found particularly useful in helping to understand how UX can work more strategically within organisations.

This is far from a comprehensive list, but is a good place to get started.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on the Harvard Business Review and Forrestor’s CX Blog.

If you’ve got any other recommendations you think people should know about, feel free to share below.

Happy reading.

Improving UX and CX through Customer Journey Mapping

Lately I’ve been asking the same set of questions to UX people.

How many weeks in the past year did you feel as though you were doing the right kind of work, on the right kind of project. How often do you feel as though you’re really being properly utilised, that you’re using your skills and experience in a way that is really helping companies make a difference?

Based on my own experience, my hypothesis was that the answer would be pretty depressing. And, with a few exceptions, it has been.

At a time where companies are crying out for User Experience people to come help them solve problems – and there are so many problems to solve – the people who are at the coal face generally feel as though they’re either not able to work effectively, or they are doing great work but tackling the wrong problems.

What a tragic waste of talent, of time, of money, of life.

The last few months I’ve seen a lot of movement in the UX field – people moving in house out of agencies, starting their own companies, leaving freelancing – it feels like we’re generally a little restless at the moment, and it’s a feeling I’m familiar with. I need to stop taking briefs and trying to reshape them, and instead to work with companies to give them the tools to make better decisions, to give better briefs, to allow teams to work together more productively. We need to get out of the design or UX department to solve these problems.

So I’m shifting my focus to Customer Journey Mapping.

In workshops and conference talks I’ve done recently I’ve waxed lyrical about the Customer Journey Map and how it has, without doubt, been the thing that has most transformed my practice as a User Experience practitioner over the past few years. In particular it does three things that immediately accelerate an organisation’s customer focus:

  1. Makes the customer experience understandable and addressable – even for quite small companies, understanding what it is like to be your customer at all points of the customer lifecycle and across all channels can be difficult. Creating a customer journey map helps make the big picture of customer experience understandable so that even as we deep dive on specific projects, we’re maintaining a consistent and coherent experience at all times. By picking out the critical moments of truth and focusing on those touchpoints, we make significant improvements much more achievable and measurable.
  2. Unites the silos, ignites customer focus – often organisations are filled with people who are passionate about customer experience but who are functionally separated from each other and have difficulty communicating effectively and aligning their efforts across the organisational silos. A customer journey map gives them a focal point and a shared language and way of communicating the insight they have and activity within their functional group, improving the organisation’s ability to maximise the efforts and expertise of its customer champions.
  3. Visibly connects business value and customer value – Peter Drucker tells us that the purpose of the business is to create value for our customers and that profit is the feedback we get from doing it well, but the connection between customer and business value is often difficult to see in today’s organisations. A customer journey map provides a way to show how the critical moments of truth for customers – the touchpoints that should be most thoughtfully designed – almost always maps to places where money flows in or out of an organisation. Customer journey maps provide a way to measure CX metrics that directly impact the organisations bottom line.

I’m not giving up the usual research, design and strategic UX work I’ve done over the years, but I’d like to spend more of my time working on making Customer Journey Maps with clients and helping to focus their energies on the UX projects that will really make a difference for their organisation, and also to bring some more ‘design’ into the world of Customer Experience (CX) (yes, CX is different to UX, and yes, I totally understand how confusing that sounds).

So, if your organisation needs some customer experience mapping done, or you hear of someone who does, I’d love it if you’d send them my way. With a bit of luck and good management I can do my bit to help make sure more UXers are working on real and important UX projects in the coming years.

Customer Experience v User Experience

In the process of writing the book (A Practical Guide to Strategic User Experience, yes, it’s coming, I promise!) I found myself surprisingly flummoxed when it came to writing about Experience Strategy and the role it plays (or should play) in business strategy. I’ve talked about Experience Strategy with clients over the years, written Experience Strategies for projects I’ve worked on, and worked under the illusion that I was clear about what this actually entailed… however, in coming to write about and thereby define what it meant, it all of a sudden felt very fuzzy.

What is Experience Strategy?

Having done a review of some of the significant contributions to this topic from the UX community, I found myself dissatisfied… Steve Baty wrote a detailed essay on the topic for Johnny Holland some time ago. This essay does address a lot of significant issues around what businesses should be doing to create better experiences as differentiating opportunities… but at the end of it I can’t help asking myself – isn’t this just a part of a good value proposition? And where and how does/should a User Experience person get involved in these kind of activities that go way beyond the interface and into the mechanics of how the entire company functions?

Then I discovered Customer Experience (CX).

Turns out there is this whole other profession, born, it seems, mostly from the marketing discipline, who have an active interest in orchestrating company wide good experience for their customers. They are experienced in making strong, financially driven business cases to management at the highest level, getting decent budgets and then investing in infrastructure that enables an organisation to deliver good customer experience (such as ‘single view of the customer’  and ‘voice of the customer’ programs that enable an organisation to aggregate their understanding of a customer into one view (how rare is this for most established organisations, and how crippling is the typical fragmentation), and enables an organisation to hear and respond to what their customers are saying to and about them.

Reading some of their books (I particularly enjoyed this one) it strikes me that they have a much more mature and structured way to approaching company wide good experience than we User Experience people (generally) do. Given the choice of having a Chief Experience Officer (CXO from a UX background) or a Chief Customer Office (CCO from a marketing/CX background), I’d probably choose the latter – for the more comprehensive, well rounded view of the organisation and all its working parts than the interface obsessed UXer is likely to be.  And I’m more confused about where Service Design fits into all of this than ever.

I’m writing up a lot more about what people who do CX do, and what they think about in the book (and I’ll no doubt share some more of that here, now that I’m back writing again!) but I wanted to take a moment to flag how – from my own experience and a lot of the people i’ve been talking to – we don’t really know people who do Customer Experience, in fact, most of us probably don’t even know they exist and will be immediately skeptical upon discovering them.

Similarly, in reading what they write about, it is disturbing how little reference Customer Experience people make to User Experience people. I’ve come across several references to human factors and usability, but you’ll almost never find Customer Experience and User Experience in the same book/article/room.

This worries me.

It worries me because I think that actually, this is possibly one of the best, strongest alliances that could exist in companies. It worries me because so much of what CX people do is what we need done so that the experiences we’re designing have a real chance of being good. And it worries be because I think we as UXers could really benefit from understanding, in greater detail,  a lot of the structure and discipline and business focus that CXers bring to our combined cause.

We’ve done a lot of hand waving about Good Experience and Experience Strategy over the past few years, but we’ve done very little to explain HOW to make this happen. Getting to know our Customer Experience colleagues, getting more of them in our organisations and  making them aware of our existence could really help move this forward.

Portfolios are silver, LIVE design is gold.

If you’ve spent any time hiring User Experience Designers chances are that they’ve shown you some examples of their work in a portfolio with the following disclaimer:

don’t look at the website though, it’s terrible.

We’re currently operating with this tacit agreement that you can do great design ‘in theory’ but that it’s not our fault if that design never makes it to market. Or if it gets totally transformed so that it’s unrecognisable by the time it goes live.

Can we really go on like this? Doesn’t it make you question your own existence?

Sure, there are a LOT of things that come into play between the time you present your awesome design and when the code hits the live server, but it seems to me that, as UXers and designers, we’re largely stepping away from the plate to wash our hands clean of responsibility for what happens. (How’d you like that mixed metaphor?)

I think we might be letting ourselves off a little too lightly and, for myself, I’m going to take starting a lot more personal responsibility for whether and how much of my design sees the light of day by thinking more about:

  • the nature of my engagement with clients and the shape of my projects - as a freelancer, the way that I engage with clients can vary a lot from client to client. I’m going to think more about how I can design engagements that maximise the chances of good design going live (this is part of the reason I recently kicked off UX Tuesdays)
  • communicating design and user experience strategy – are you spending enough time on communicating your design to the project stakeholders? Are you giving them tools that they can use to help make good decisions as they move through the implementation process (where, let’s face it, some of the most important design decisions are made in the absence of a designer). Do your clients/managers understand the implications of the decisions they’re making on the integrity of the user experience? Quick tip: a functional spec does not tick this box.
  • staying in the debate – are you still around when your design is being taken apart? are you engaging in a discussion to help save your design work? It’s easy to swan off like a princess mumbling under your breath about people who don’t appreciate good design work when they see it. Are you helping them (sometimes with a little force) to learn to appreciate it?
  • making sure you’re designing things that can be implemented – it’s all well and good to design a thing of beauty but does the team have the resources to bring it to life? Have you made something that’s beyond their current capability? If so, then, how good is your design really?

From this point forward I’m taking personal responsibility for the design that goes live, no matter how far it is from the documents I might show you from my portfolio.

In the Drupal community they say ‘talk is silver, code is gold‘.

Let’s make a new UX motto: ‘portfolios are silver, live design is gold‘.

Let’s own the work that goes live, understand and explain why it is as it is, and work on the skills we need to make sure more good design actually makes it over the line. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Are you in?