According to Tanya Koshy, Fmr VP of Product at UserTesting
Customer experience (CX) according to Blake Morgan of Forbes’ Magazine is “the total journey of a customer’s interactions with a brand”. Whether it’s just browsing the official web site with ease, or getting a courtesy email from a service specialist after a purchase — getting the customer experience right in services today is not left to chance. This is why in today’s market, CX has the power to determine the success and failure of any business.
But what makes for a great CX, and why should we care? Tanya Koshy, VP of Product at UserTesting (now Co-Founder & CEO at Starling Cooperative) talks about lessons learned from her times working on teams at companies including Google, Facebook, and Groupon. At UserTesting, Tanya leads initiatives where her teams work to empower clients with tools and capabilities to use customer feedback and data to make product decisions and validate ideas as quickly as possible.
In light of her past work, Tanya has developed a unique understanding on building services and ensuring customers who spend time with any brand have delightful experiences. During our conversation she also shares her recommendations for what it takes to empower teams to design great CX.
Now if you’re a user experience (UX) designer, your first assumption in regard to customers would be to simply understand how they think and feel as they interact with a service. Tanya suggests however, that you must go deeper:
“Understanding CX means understanding the difference between what customers say they need and what they actually need.”
To ensure her product teams are geared towards meeting the needs of customers and driving growth for the company — Tanya makes it her mission to broaden the way in which her teams and clients talk about CX and understand the importance of it. “In regard to CX, one of my key goals is to broaden the aperture through which designers and mangers approach customer problems.” She explains:
“It’s like that popular phrase by Henry Ford — where if we ask people what they wanted, they would have said that they wanted a faster horse. We [product designers] do need to listen to our customers, but we also need to develop a real intuition for their needs.”
To cultivate this ‘real intuition’, start with how you define your strategy to stakeholders. For example, imagine you’re in the cosmetics retail business (e.g., MAC, Nordstrom, etc.). You’re trying to boost sales, but you discover return rates are high because after customers buy online and receive deliveries in person, they realize the products are not right for them.
As a designer, don’t describe the challenges to stakeholders as:
“We need to improve the CX to ensure customers buy the right products and reduce our product return rates.”
Instead of literally speaking about ‘customer experience’ or ‘CX’ — use terms that broaden and explain the challenges you’re trying to address within the product or business — and don’t forget to explain the reasons why. Describe the challenges, goals, objectives, and ideas for strategies to test — all in ways stakeholders can easily understand:
“Our data shows that customers are returning items at high rates. Let’s find out why. We need to find out if it’s because they are changing their minds after getting the deliveries, and if so, then why. Is it because they bought the wrong item? Did the delivery arrive too late? Were they not satisfied with the quality? If it’s for other reasons, we need to find out why so we can devise ways to meet their needs when the products don’t meet expectations.”
“If it’s because they bought the wrong items, we need to help customers know how to buy the right kinds of products for them. Let’s see if we can experiment with ways to help them make informed choices. Maybe we can provide education materials on the product category pages, better descriptions on the product detail pages, video demos, FAQs, easy access to product reviews, chatbots, dedicated customer success teams, etc.”
Terms like ‘CX’ and ‘customer experience’ have a way of impressing upon stakeholders that all they need to do is simply ask customers what they want, and then build just that. However, Tanya believes that CX is more than just focusing on asking people what they want:
“We must do more than just talk to customers. We need to broaden our understanding of what customers say by testing and validating what customers say they want, in order to determine what they really need.”
Marketing includes business activities that cater to the CX. This is because successful customer experiences lead to repeat business, and marketing professionals understand that it’s easier for businesses to retain customers as opposed to seeking new ones. The objective to retain customers is arguably where product professionals influence CX strategies.
“Which metrics do you recommend to your clients in order to measure impact with optimizing CX in their products and services?” I ask Tanya.
“I work with clients towards leveraging their marketing funnel so they can build up how to acquire, activate, and engage with customers, and then discover how that can drive growth and referrals,” Tanya replies. “Specifically, acquisition and engagement are particularly important metrics, because they are key towards growing a user base.”
Given the rise of digital transformation in business, it’s apparent it created the need for CX design and marketing funnels to perform as a team. After all, when I examine distinctions between the two, I can recognize how these entities complement each other:
- Marketing funnels help professionals find opportunities to engage with customers as they access products and services.
- CX design helps professionals define and measure the effectiveness of those opportunities.
- With marketing funnels, marketing professionals track when customers go through the different stages, from the moment they learn about your product or service, to the moment where they either buy or discard it. The stages are: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action (AIDA).
- With CX, product and UX professionals design, analyze and optimize user journeys included in the funnel stages — the screens, features, content, interactions, expectations, decision points, goals and feedback — all between customers and products/services.
- Marketing professionals focus on ways to motivate visitors through a funnel to buy products, and become satisfied and loyal customers.
- Product and UX professionals focus on ways to optimize experiences by encouraging visitor motivation within the user journeys — also towards creating loyal customers.
With marketing funnels, it’s about positioning products/services to ensure the best exposure to customers. With CX it’s about ensuring the exposure is engaging, seamless, and support what’s needed to bring about conversion.
Most importantly, what marketing funnels and CX share in responsibility — is they both strive to demonstrate how the benefits of products/services outweigh the costs. This is how customers find value.
This is why Tanya believes a deep understanding of the funnel and its performance is essential:
“The funnel is a great intermediary for how customers are flowing through your product and business, but to me companies need to find the fundamental measure of value they deliver for customers, and optimize that accordingly. That’s how you achieve product success.”
The process for buying a product is not the same as using a product. It’s the difference between a ‘customer’ and a ‘user’. Yes, there are moments when the customer and user are the same.
Doing good UX and CX work is also knowing when, how, and why the journeys are separate. It’s also good to know that UX work within a business or product design context is a component of a larger CX initiative.
The interplay between UX and CX is something Tanya describes as the ‘human experience’ and being aware of these distinctions is what helps her to keep in mind what’s most important. Whether it’s a user or customer, don’t lose sight of what really matters — the human:
“It’s important that you don’t lose sight of the person and how they experience touchpoints with your company. Startups understand this which is why startups are determined to please their customers. As companies get bigger and as professionals within them become specialized, they lose sight of that determination and lose sight of the customer or user as a whole person.”
Focus on the human is critical because it empowers businesses to provide quality services to customers and users. It’s because customers and users communicate with each other about service quality, especially when they are a part of the same organization or community.
Customers and users find value in your brand, services and products by interacting with the spaces and pathways you provide. How they travel these spaces and pathways creates the ‘journey’ and the impression it leaves — that’s the ‘experience’.
But as the internet continues in its third decade, businesses must go beyond just creating spaces in digital products, apps and web sites. It’s also about creating spaces where customers can interact with people representing the business in person — the ‘physical spaces’.
If optimization of CX, customer satisfaction and customer retention are the goals, interactions between businesses and customers must go beyond just transactions of products for money. Customer retention can only be possible if there is a mutually valuable and sustainable relationship where customers keep coming back because they are satisfied consistently — and businesses benefit from profit and growth, as Tanya explains:
“E-commerce for example, generated a lot of success during the early years of the internet. Nowadays however, there is evidence that for businesses — web sites and apps are not enough. Even Amazon adapted to this reality. Customers still want to talk to real people, and they want to try before they buy products.”
Whenever services are introduced by a business, this question needs to answered prior to release: Do they want to be accountable for when the outcomes of services vary for customers in unexpected ways? Maybe some variances are expected, but regardless of the possibilities, companies launch services when they believe returns on investment are worth taking the risks. This according to Tanya, applies to Amazon and their Two-Day delivery service.
Tanya feels that while Amazon has a remarkable track record for great service, there are trade offs in providing Two-Day delivery — especially for a business that has experienced rapid growth. These trade offs as a result sometimes puts the perception of their customer experience quality at risk, as she explains:
“There are times where I feel that, with Amazon Prime’s Two-Day delivery feature, their promise sometimes fall short, and the ‘Two-Day delivery guarantee’ can vary and stretch out to three or four days.”
She also found herself ordering just for the gratification, because Amazon makes it easy to order anything online. “I noticed that I was ordering things from Amazon when I could have just walked down the street and buy it from a store.” Tanya says. “I realized there’s a difference between something being easy and something being valuable. Ordering things from Amazon was easy, but I no longer found value.”
However, when Amazon opened a store at a nearby location — she was delighted that she now has the option to buy in person instead of online.
Perhaps in Tanya’s case and others like her, it’s one of the reasons why Amazon opened physical stores. Amazon recognized variances in how Two-Day delivery worked for customers and decided to experiment with physical stores. Obviously there are other reasons, but what’s apparent is Amazon was able to respond to the variances and invest in both digital and physical services. Amazon’s response also turned out to be a good differentiation strategy — even if just from a marketing standpoint. This is arguably an example of how marketing can support CX.
Once teams understand a CX strategy, it then becomes a matter of organizing work to be done. That’s because there are challenges in creating valuable CX when design assumptions have not been tested.
So how does a product team work to understand how these assumptions positively impact customer behavior, perceptions, and create value at the same time? The Lean methodology according to Tanya, is a good way to find the answers.
Tanya explains it’s important to keep the team’s CX work approach fairly Lean. It’s because she believes the team needs to be focused on systematically and incrementally building, testing and releasing solutions. The make this happen, the team must strive to learn about the customer, problem, and solution — while accomplishing it all quickly. The Lean methodology works because no matter the solution in mind, there are always unknowns:
“No matter the solution, you aren’t going to know everything about your customer and you’ll never have a full understanding of the solution. You’re just refining your understanding over time. The objective [with Lean] is to get something out the door so that you can continue to learn. That’s why I want product teams to stay focused on the best lightweight solutions.”
Any business that manages CX would know that it takes more than just making sure transactions go well. Businesses want to understand the reasons for transactions, understand the situational context, and identify opportunities to make enhancements throughout the relevant touchpoints. To do this successfully, Tanya feels it requires collaboration from everyone in the business:
“I believe that without proper context, it can actually be problematic to say that CX is assigned to one team. I believe that everyone in the company should be a CX expert, with some being more involved than others.”
The product experience as a whole is not limited to the physical or digital product that is delivered. It includes things like marketing, sales, product management, engineering, design, customer renewal, and customer support. This experience can’t be owned by any one individual or team, because it touches on every major aspect of the business.
This is what drives to need to see the bigger picture of CX, which again, is a testament to Tanya’s belief that no one person or team should specialize in CX. Everyone should have a customer experience hat handy, because every aspect of the business requires it:
“Ultimately, CX is about needs and value. You need to deliver a product that satisfies your customer’s needs and provides them with something of value while the company as a whole is seen as open and transparent.”
When the conversation is about the genuine need to keep customers and users satisfied and loyal, you don’t necessarily end up with perfect solutions at the outset — and you won’t. However, if the goal for any business is to truly be successful, then Tanya believes without a doubt that it’s about being customer-friendly by delivering real value; And for customers — that means something.