As our world becomes increasingly digitalized, we are seeing a greater emphasis on the value of experience in the form of “CX” (customer experience) and “UX” (user experience). And to deliver this experience, it’s essential to have a “design thinking” approach that grasps the fundamental issues for our customers and users and creates real value, says NRI’s Atsuko Takai. We asked her about the key points to keep in mind for delivering a better CX/UX.
CX/UX as the Key Differentiator
――Why are we talking about CX/UX so much?
If we simply keep improving our products and services from a technology-oriented approach as we traditionally have, we won’t be able to beat our market competitors. The key is to focus on how we can deliver value to our customers, and to distinguish ourselves by giving them experiences they can’t get from other companies.
――Are CX/UX an extension of improving UI (user interface)?
The usability of UI does affect the UX, but the UX isn’t limited to the interface—it has to do with the experience someone has when using a product or service. With UX, the emphasis is on providing the customer with a pleasant experience. For instance, there are various points of contact between customers and companies, like with searches done or orders placed on company websites, product delivery, and the use of call centers for inquiries. The cohesive, total experience that customers have throughout these processes is what we call CX. The manner of interacting with websites, the manner of interacting with call centers, and other experiences at individual points of contact—these are what we usually call UX.
UX doesn’t focus only on customers, it includes sales reps and sales staff in stores, call center operators, and other employees as well. That’s because an employee’s UX involves enhancing the quality of customer service, and ultimately leads to a better CX. With the increased mobility of human resources in Japan, it’s necessary to make good use of temporary staff and a diverse group of employees, and in that context UX also affects the quality of your business operations and your training costs.
Producing New Value with a Co-Creative Approach
―― Are the initiatives being undertaken by Japanese companies making any headway?
My personal impression is that there are many companies that believe they have to do something new with digital technology, but they don’t know what to use or how to use it to get the results they want. They seem to be groping in the dark for answers. Now, we’re seeing more companies attempting to incorporate “design thinking” as a way to solve the fundamental problems and needs of their customers, but so far only the phrase itself has caught on, and there are few examples of companies that have succeeded in fleshing it out.
――How specifically should companies go about achieving these experiences?
Conventionally, they’ve begun with analyzing their business environment or market and tech trends. With CX/UX design, you start with probing your customers’ needs, determining the value of your services or systems, and figuring out the essence of the problem. It involves uncertainty and considering new ideas that aren’t just an extension of traditional thought, so processes that use design thinking are well suited to the task.
With design thinking, you take a sympathetic view of your users’ sentiments and behaviors, and come up with hypotheses and scenarios about when and how your users will be getting their experiences. Along those lines, you have to alternatingly broaden and narrow down your ideas about what sorts of features or services you want to provide, as you create various prototypes and then evaluate them while letting your end users try them out. This is the process you use to really solidify the concept.
These kinds of projects often use a co-creative approach involving a variety of people, with the key points being visualizing and quantifying your users’ experience, sharing that vision among the relevant persons and reaching a consensus, and continuously running short-cycle tests.
Having Shared Goals Requires Fostering a Customer-Centric Mentality
――What aspects of this integrated process are particularly vital?
The first thing to do is to reach a firm consensus with all the groups involved about your shared goals, namely which customers you want to target and what kind of experience you’re looking to deliver. For instance, if you ask companies that are have problems with their existing systems, they’ll tell you they want to boost their ability to attract new customers, or to eliminate the difficulty of using the web for their call centers, or that it’s important to have their existing customers keep using their services. In other words, each business segment has its own ideas and conception of its customers, and it’s often difficult to come to a consensus. However, all business segments are either directly or indirectly involved in creating experiences, so if you set a single goal, it’s often possible to achieve your other objectives as a secondary effect.
Rather than thinking in terms of optimizing the individual contact points with your customers, you have to conceive of things from a “total” approach for delivering experiences that are consistent across all contact points. For instance, Amazon doesn’t only provide a web-based purchasing experience, it goes further by using its logistics infrastructure to ensure that products are rapidly delivered and ready to use. It delivers experiences that encompass the entire range of consumer behavior.
――Are there any improvements Japanese companies should make to think with a more “total” approach?
Companies need to foster a culture and a mentality that’s more customer-centric. They would probably then need to integrate their multiple interested business segments to create an organization that can broadly observe their customer contact points as a whole. NRI is here to help, and so we’re conducting digital thinking training to encourage the development of this mentality. Taking a co-creative approach with our customers, we hope to provide total support from the initial conceptualization stage all the way to practical application towards solutions and ultimately development.
Nomura Research Institute, Ltd.
Corporate Communications Department