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Source: Forrester Research Inc.

But these jobs aren’t made for us. We’re not even considered because UX isn’t a business discipline like sales, marketing, and operations. Those disciplines are tied to profit-and-loss much more than we ever have been. They also produce people who can maneuver through complex organizations much more easily than the typical UXer can.

Indeed, how many UXers can hold their own in a board room, or in front of the CEO alone making the (expensive) case for revamping the CX? Read The Customer Experience Fiasco and honestly ask yourself if you can imagine the typical UX designer in the role of the fictional Dana Chase. Her job is to find all the organizational problems that are leading her company to create a bad CX. She has to make a complex business case to senior management and ask for $80M as a starting point, and better UI’s don’t come into it. We’re not equipped for this. We’re not trained to look at our organizations this way and make these kinds of business cases.

Why? UX design has done a great job in the last decade of redefining (for the better) how we define requirements for products with digital UIs. There is no doubt about this. But this has come at a cost of upward mobility in our organizations. We’re functional players that make tactical work more efficient. We’re not strategic players that help our organizations transform themselves. The closer we look at UIs, the more pigeonholed we’re likely to be.

I agree with Leisa Reichelt when she writes, “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.”

(This is, of course, different if you’re a UX professional in a tech product company that values UX as a core part of the products they sell. In this post, I’m focused on the vast majority of other companies.)

Whether or not these jobs should be ours is one way to think about the issue. Another way to look at this is honestly understanding what we bring to the CX initiative. What can we do to get a seat at this table and move up the organizational food chain?

Alliance Building

Samantha Starmer addressed this about a year ago: “We need to act now to be part of the broader CX solution. If we don’t proactively collaborate across divisions and organizational structures, we will be stuck playing in the corner by ourselves. If we don’t figure out how to manage partnerships with other departments in a collaborative, creative, customer focused way, the discipline of UX as we know it is at risk.”

Where do you look for these alliances? It depends on your organization. I recommend looking into Jeanne Bliss’s discussion of the Power Core in The Chief Customer Officer. The Power Core is “the strongest skillset in the company or the most comfortable to senior executives…. [it] is one of the biggest determinants of how success, metrics, recognition, and company growth are defined inside the corporate machine.” Aligning with the groups that make up the core competencies of your organization gives you the best chance of success.

That said, for the UX designer, a promising place to look is in the relationship between the CCO and CIO. Even though CCO’s tend to come from outside of IT, the scope of their work inevitably affects the way technology is used to transform customer experiences. Take a call center for example. The agents may have incentives to achieve “one call resolution,” but this doesn’t happen unless technology makes this possible. When the issue is integrating a coherent CX across multiple channels and devices, then the relationship between CCO and CIO is filled with opportunity for UX practitioners willing to step up to the strategic challenge.

But stepping up may mean stepping out of our comfort zones. Whatever alliances we build, we can’t go in waving deliverables – our standard bulwark. We have to step out from behind our wireframes and prototypes and think strategically.

Call it UX strategy or digital strategy or whatever you want. The basic idea is this:

From the CCO’s perspective, a strategy-oriented UXer has the ability to understand the organization’s desired customer experience and can translate that into appropriate product and service concepts and designs that occur at each customer touch point.

Focusing on the Touch Points

The term “touch points” (as CXers and Service Designers use it) is important and can help shift the way we UXers think about what we can do. This is how The Customer Experience Fiasco defines them: “any interaction between the company and a customer, whether face-to-face, over the phone, on TV, or otherwise.” The touch points are going to be a mixture of people, processes, and technologies.

To be effective, we have to set aside our penchant for finding solutions in UIs and embrace the “experience design” part of what we do. (Is this starting to sound like “Service Design”?) Again, Samantha Starmer: “I view [CX] as an extension of UX, where non-digital experiences and services are just as important as screen interactions, and the full range of touchpoints with a brand across time has to be explicitly designed.”

To be sure, technology will almost certainly play a role in any high priority touch point, but the UI will not always be the primary consideration. We need to free ourselves from the bias of fixing things with UIs so that we can see more effective CX solutions.

For example, a common CX problem occurs when a technician is dispatched without the right equipment to fix the customer’s problem. This happened to me recently when my stovetop stopped working. When I called the company (otherwise known for good CX), the rep knew which model it was without me having to tell her. I described the problem in enough detail that the company should have known what the likely problem was. (The technician confirmed this when he told me that there only only two things that can go wrong with this stovetop.) So, armed with their knowledge of what stovetop I own and what the symptoms were, first-time-resolution should have been a slam dunk. But it wasn’t. Two trips were required — one to figure out the problem (which could have been diagnosed over the phone) and another after the part was ordered and in stock a week later.

Diagnosing the root of this CX problem and designing a solution is not likely to be UI intensive. More likely the issue is related to a communication process or poorly integrated trouble ticketing, inventory, and dispatching systems, not to mention training. The UI perspective that we typically bring to the table narrows our focus to the point where we can only think about and design one channel at a time. But the CX specialist has to be a multi-channel thinker. The CX specialist needs to see how touch points interact. The CX specialist is a business person who has to prioritize solutions according to budgets, cultures, and politics — and present the multimillion dollar price tag to senior management for approval.

Making the Transition

If UXers want to play in the CX world, we need to lift our heads up from our desks and step out from behind our clickable prototypes (“lean” or otherwise) from time to time. To finish this, I’ll discuss two different ways to begin the self-transformation: seeing CX problems that are often disguised as UX problems, and embracing the emerging discipline of Service Design.

Seeing CX Problems Disguised as UX Problems

UXers need to cultivate their ability to understand when we are dealing with CX problems disguised as UX problems — or even as a usability problem. This happens all the time. We just need to learn how to see it, and when we see it, call it out.

For example, I was asked recently to do a “usability” evaluation of a proposed new system for a financial services company. The system hinged upon two key assumptions about the customer. If either assumption proved wrong, the system would fail no matter how well-designed the screens were. Those assumptions cut to the heart of the CX that the company wanted to create.They were also out of alignment with the new brand image the customer was pursuing. I talked with executives, who expressed some trepidation about betting success on these assumptions. The project needed a CX strategy defined at the highest levels of the company before my project could or should become a UX project. We adjusted the work to focus on validating these assumptions.

How many times does this happen to us — we see a situation where the fundamental assumptions about “the user” are obviously flawed, but we plow ahead trying to design our way through these flaws? If you find yourself asking for personas and scenarios that don’t exist, chances are good that there is a larger CX problem, not just a UX problem. If you are designing a customer-facing system and you can’t get a straight answer about how it relates to other customer-facing systems from the customers’ perspective, then you have a CX challenge. Call it out.

The Career Case for Service Design

It seems to me that Service Design is another place for interested UXers to start looking for career growth in CX-oriented organizations. I’m no expert, but Service Design is so closely related to Customer Experience that at times I think of Service Design as a tactical extension of strategic CX. Service Design is about designing experiences that are appropriate to the larger CX strategy, which itself should be aligned to the company’s brand promise.

This discipline stretches our strategic thinking abilities more so than exclusively UI-focused methods. Being able to assess the customer’s experience across multiple touch points and understand the full scope of operational challenges in making this a good experience will bring you face-to-face with some sticky challenges that will stretch your skills significantly.

Closing Thought

The closer UXers can get to customer touch points in their organizations, the closer they get to where the strategy lives. Getting there will mean fine tuning our sense of profit and loss, improving our abilities to maneuver within complex organizations, and build alliances where we haven’t had to do so before. There’s nothing but upside in doing so.

Greg Laugero

Greg Laugero is a digital product strategist and Co-Founder of Industrial Wisdom. He helps companies turn their ideas into real products with great user experiences. You can follow him on twitter: @prodctstrategy.

11 comments on this article

  1. Craig Sullivan on

    I think one of the fundamental problems is that most decent UX people I meet/work with/apply for jobs – have been insulated from or haven’t worked to ROI/metrics/testing plans with their changes. They’re simply too far away from the impact of change upon the consumer.

    Many UX people I know (not the good ones) live in an ivory tower, moaning about why people don’t come to them, rather than getting out of their tower. Whilst there are some great people doing this kind of cross channel/silo/platform UX work, the truth is that most people are in the ivory tower of UX excellence. They know their stuff is good but not which part of it – they also don’t understand that some UX changes will be easier to deliver or have a higher impact, thus giving them an opportunity to prioritise or measure ROI just on those elements. One of the key reasons here that most usability testing reports just get filed in a desk drawer. Few people are looking for the value in commercial terms, business impact, productivity, cost savings or conversion gains.

    Those of us that have broken out of this to be successful, needed to apply a blend of commercial insight, service design, UX techniques and analytics – to make our projects sing. It isn’t good enough to be a UX expert anymore, especially one that is trapped inside that cylinder.

  2. BrianSJ on

    Good piece, sort of. UX and CX need to be able to work together. The key to this will be a deep understanding of the data they use. UX talks to design, CX talks to business and money. In the obsolete US MBA corporate model of business, CX has to be top dog. For organizations with a future, that assignment is less assured.

  3. Meghan Hayes on

    Nice article. I’m a 12 year UXer that evolved to Service Design and love it. It’s cool to create an outstanding interface but if the in-store or delivery (or whatever other touchpoint) experience is crap, the overall brand suffers. The future is in looking at the holistic customer experience. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that working in a Service Design-only agency is tough with clients still finding the concepts a bit “fluffy” and harder to grasp. UXers have the benefit of winning a client’s trust with something tangible and gently introducing SD concepts.

  4. Jeff Volzer on

    Great article. I’ve been hearing a lot about Service Design lately, but seldom do people compare/contrast it to the rich history of organizational change management and business process alignment that strategic business consultants have been doing for quite a while. This is not new to many large organizations, and my concern is that the CX/UX community may be trying to call something old by a new name. Service design and CX may very well be different, but it seems we need first to square our approach with this already established approach, and maybe pick up an MBA along the way.

  5. Ryan Winzenburg on

    Great read. I’m a UXer who works under a CXO in an Enterprise environment and I think your article nails the distinction on its head.

    I’ve found that one of the drawbacks of having a CXO team with a Marketing/Process Engineering background is that they rely heavily on surveys and market research to identify the VOC (voice of the customer).

    As a UXer I find a great way to be heard is to educate the rest of the organization on the benefits of User Centered Design (e.g., personas, contextual inquiry, design research, etc…). Like most marketing teams, the tools of the UX community are fairly new and need some explanation. I have found a UX approach to be well received since our techniques focus on customer’s behavior instead of marketing tools which focus on customer’s opinions.

  6. Linda Francis on

    Greg, thank you for articulating my thoughts so well. This is more than a game of semantics, UX vs CX it touches on the fundamental truth that everything is connected. We cannot be successful without acknowledging this, and working towards awareness and cooperation, allegiance and alliance to innovate, create, improve and maintain products and services.

    Your article also brings to mind another thread I’ve been pulling on lately, which is about experiences of other people, like factory workers, or “things” such as the environment. How are these affected by what we are doing? How can we ensure that they are not negatively affected or better yet, positively affected by our work?

    I’m toying with, “Lean, Green and Serene” design. And, I agree, “service design” seems a better description of what we are talking about, but I wonder if “experience design” is more comprehensive? I keep cringing with the concept of “user” it is too limited, and does associate the work to the digital graphical interface world. Under Experience Design (XD),we can affect not only physical and digital products and services but the people creating them and things impacted by their creation, distribution and use.

    Thanks again for this well written piece.

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  8. Paul Bryan on

    Thanks for this well written article. I agree that UX professionals will have limited impact on the success and direction of the businesses they serve if they focus only on the design of user interfaces.

    However, the article ignores a significant development within the UX community that addresses this issue, namely UX Strategy. UX Strategy combines user experience design with business strategy. It uses a broad range of business plans, customer data, market data, and competitive benchmarking to guide the design of customer experience touchpoints. The UX Strategy and Planning group on LinkedIn has over 2,000 members who are focused on the larger problems of business and organizational success through UX principles. Planning has begun for a UX Strategy Conference, that will address many of the issues you raised in this article, as well as building bridges between UX and other power cores within the company.

    The growing UX Strategy field, which is seeing an increased number of recent job postings that directly specify this skill set, gives UX professionals a career growth path that allows them to increase their influence while at the same time remaining involved with design. After all, many UX professionals do not want to move into jobs that involve the placement of bathrooms in stores, call center scripts, return policies, and hygiene of employees. Their passion is design, but they want to see the scope of their work include sustainable impact on the organizations they serve. UX Strategy provides that opportunity.

    (Disclosure: I am involved in the UX Strategy group and conference mentioned above)

    Paul Bryan

  9. Mohammed on

    Currently I see no industry standard for UX !
    I am a UX designer and I believe to be good at UX one must be able to understand the business side of things and not only the user side of things…
    Referring the IDEO model of UCD – it should be Feasible(Technology), Viable (Business) and Desirable (Users), thus making it essential for the UX designer to understand all the three and come up with solutions that meet all these requirements rather than just focusing on the User!
    Thus I would say…this doesn’t really hold true…

  10. Aditya Pawar on

    For me a former product designer turned ux designer turned design researcher! , the CX part comes together in the term UX strategy.
    We are in the act of defining and redefining stuff that’s been around
    For long time. For example service marketing existed before service design came into the limelight; and Infact architects/ urbanists have been creating service ecosystems since ages.

    These domains are termed based on a
    Strongest alliance domains, historic influences, the job at hand but also
    The professional background of people working in these jobs. In my case, I prefer to call it UX strategy based on my professional UX background. I stick to digital/product companies and make use of UCD processes to research, define and design. In a organizational setup, I also have close working ties with marketing intelligence, customer care, retailers, call centers mainly to feed customer centric learnings back into the product development funnel.
    In my view this works fabulously, with a chain of people managing each function with an over arching learning loop being created across functions. If I may call it, a model like this establishes a CX culture which is more important than the role of CXO.
    I would not advice a person with a core UX expertise to necessarily move towards a strategic function, but rather establish partnerships.

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