Design Your Organization as Thoughtfully as Your Products & Services (From 2017 CX Outlook)

I contributed to Kerry Bodine and Doberman’s “The 2017 Customer Experience Outlook”, a collection of 14 smart pieces about design and user experience in the coming year, with the following short essay.

Design Your Organization as Thoughtfully as Your Products & Services

In the six years since Forrester Research first wrote about customer journey maps in 2010, the drumbeat for such service design practices and deliverables has grown steadily louder. In 2017, the penetration of smartphones and cloud computing has turned every company not only into a service firm, but one where customers expect 24/7 engagement through their channels of choice.

Companies must be thoughtful and intentional in how they coordinate the delivery of their service offerings across multiple digital and analog touchpoints, or they risk confusing and losing their customers to companies that prioritize customer experience.

Most organizations have not yet fully come to terms with the implications of this shift, and still exhibit a product mindset while delivering services. They structure their teams around specific features and pay most attention to launching new functionality, but customer insights (drawn from research or analytics) don’t feed into product development. Marketing focuses on communications and campaigns that are tenuously connected to the product, with more emphasis on building awareness and traffic. Customer service and support consist of overworked front-line employees who do not learn of changes to the service until they hear it from customers. These departments are siloed, connected only at the most senior levels.

At the heart of any service is the relationship between the company and the customer. Understanding and delivering on that relationship distinguishes great services. This is why journey mapping has become so crucial—it illuminates the experience a customer is having and encourages insights for improvements.

Journey mapping also suggests that design teams should be organized by customer journey. For example, if you have a marketplace model with buyers and sellers, discard the old approach of embedding designers in product teams. Instead, have one design team dedicated to buyers and another to sellers.

This approach is gaining traction outside the design world. Ken Norton, a product management thought leader who advises the companies in Google Ventures’ portfolio, wrote on his blog:

“Organize your product managers around customers, not code repositories. Connect product management (PM) areas of ownership to users and their product experiences. Maybe you have a buyer PM and a seller PM instead of back-end and front-end PMs. Or in a healthcare company, you’d have a PM responsible for the patient experience and another for the medical providers. When each PM has discrete ownership over an experience end-to-end, they can understand the customer problems more deeply and go all-in on representing their needs.”

This is a deep foundational shift in how companies organize their teams. It requires recognition that in a services world, the relationship with the customer is the most important thing. It makes “customer- centered” literal in structuring the org. For design teams, one of the clearest implications is that it no longer makes sense to separate marketing design and product/UX design. Marketing experiences and product experiences (and sales experiences, and support experiences) are all simply way stations along the customer’s journey. They should be orchestrated and coordinated through one design organization, with teams structured by customers and their journeys.

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