It may seem counterintuitive, but as interactions between companies and customers become increasingly digital and automated, the human experience of those interactions becomes more and more critical. The reason is that the risk of alienation will rise concurrently.
As business leaders consider delivering the next rounds of disruptive digital innovation, they must factor in the user experience not at the end of development – after testing, piloting, or implementation – but from the very start. That’s where design thinking comes in.
With roots in Stanford University’s School of Engineering in the 1970s, it flowered among Silicon Valley product designers in the late 20th century. Design thinking is a human-centric approach to developing new ideas that, according to design thinking shop IDEO, integrates “the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”
What was once the realm of designers and product developers is now proving its value to any business seeking to deliver customer-centric innovation.
A design thinking approach turns traditional innovation on its head. It starts by evaluating what customers want as opposed to developing a new product and then trying to sell it. And it works. A recent Forrester study found businesses with advanced design practices reported more loyal customers and increased market share.
Unfortunately, many companies attempting to reinvent their customer experience are trapped in old thinking. As a result, they fall short of what’s possible, and some make the customer experience worse. Other companies, eager to adopt the latest tools – AI, augmented reality, IoT and so on – become so focused on the technology they lose sight of the customer.
Design thinking can help companies break out of a conventional mindset. By marrying deep customer insights with an understanding of shifting technology and market forces, they can reimagine how they interact with customers, effectively putting themselves in their customers shoes and the customer journey at the center of the design process. They don’t focus on what product or service they want to develop, but on solutions they can create to solve customer problems or ease pain points.
The design thinking process is built upon gathering intelligence on what customers need, defining and articulating the most pressing problem that need solving, generating ideas in a cross-functional group, prototyping the best ones, and refining them based on ongoing input. In this way, customer insight leads to new ideas that can be developed and tested rapidly through prototyping (the foundation of agile development) with only the best ones brought to market. The result: interactive and intuitive customer experiences rather than poorly conceived offerings built around technology for technology’s sake.
Examples of design-led corporate success abound not just among digital giants but also traditional companies transforming their offerings to compete in the digital age. For example:
· Starbucks has focused on delivering a superior in-store experience, creating an easy-to-understand mobile app and loyalty program, and providing welcoming, useful environments for socializing and working that suits an increasingly mobile workforce.
· When Lincoln redesigned its town car for the Brazilian and Indian markets, it looked at the needs of luxury car users in a holistic way. Local drivers complained of air pollution, so Lincoln made sure its car was well-sealed. Also, due to endemic traffic delays in these markets, business meetings are often held in cars, so Lincoln equipped its autos with tray tables and other conveniences.
· Financial services company USAA recently launched a 120-person design studio. Its aim was not to develop new products or banking services but to create new customer experiences to rival digital leaders like Google and Amazon and look for opportunities “to change the conversation and emotion” around money and life.
With design thinking, the customer – not the technology – is at the center of every decision, design choice, test, implementation and refinement of a product or service.
And, yes, it works.
About the author(s)
Akhilesh Tiwari is Vice President & Global Head, Enterprise Application Services (EAS) at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). In this role, Akhilesh oversees strategy, growth, and customer success, lending direction to a portfolio of cross-industry and pan-enterprise business applications.
Akhilesh and his team of technology experts and business consultants help global enterprises build on their foundational enterprise applications to integrate new and emerging technologies such as analytics, automation and artificial intelligence. By bridging IT and business together, he helps companies create new business models and fuel opportunities with customer experience, finance and HR transformations and strategic IT initiatives.
With over 25 years of international and multi-faceted leadership experience, Akhilesh focuses on identifying strategic opportunities to truly build and grow businesses. He has forged and deepened partnerships with many of the world’s leading software companies, including SAP, Oracle, Salesforce and Adobe. Under his leadership, the practice was awarded a variety of SAP Pinnacle Awards including SAP Partner of the Year and Run SAP Partner of the Year.
As the technology landscape evolves, he identifies and creates partnerships with future-leading companies that address his customers’ business needs with emerging technologies.
Akhilesh has a Master’s in Business Administration from MIT Sloan School of Management, as well as a Master’s in Materials Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology. He currently resides in the Greater New York City area with his wife and two children.