Lean Customer Experience Design

By Jon Miller Updated on September 23rd, 2017

Customers are front and center when it comes to lean transformations. We want to win them over, delight them, keep them, strengthen the relationship and grow the business, by continuously improving what we do. Too often for non-services business that are not face-to-face with the customer every day, it is easy to forget about customers and focus on improving the internal operations. Unless we design and improve operations with a good understanding of what our customers expect, our efforts can be in vain.

A book titled Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy and the Art of Customer Delight by Patricia O’Connell and Thomas Stewart does a great job laying out both a case and methodology for designing customer experience. The authors boil customer service design down to five principles, summarized below.

1) The customer is always right – if the customer is right for you. In simple terms this means we can’t and shouldn’t try to serve a customers who are looking for something we don’t offer. A discount store can’t successfully design customer experience for a luxury shopper. On a more subtle level, lean operations are undermined all of the time because organizations don’t have the courage to fire customers, or take a careful look at what kind of customer behaviors enable them to operate at the best combination of service, quality, delivery and cost.

2) Don’t surprise your customers – delight them. Know what your customers expect. Meet these expectations, reliably. Deliver quality on-time at a fair price, profitably. Don’t put an extra cherry on top, if the ice cream sundae isn’t all that great. It sounds very simple. The effort needed to meet expectations reliably and consistently is the key, leading to #3.

3) Deliver without heroic effort. The authors that processes to delivery great service should be “efficient, effective, scalable, and if not error-proof, error resistant”, getting into familiar territory for lean practitioners. Essentially, the authors argue that great service should be the natural outcome from following standards of well-designed processes. Good processes, good results.

4) Design great customer experience across the enterprise. Specifically, customer experience design must reach across all touch points and all platforms. We are talking about looking at the extended enterprise value stream end-to-end, making sure that wherever the customer interacts with product, service, company or it’s suppliers, the process is well-designed and reliable. The authors point out that this is a great challenge. Customers don’t care that you have a supplier problem. You can’t only do your job well, you need to make sure everybody along the service supply chain does their job well.

5) You’re never done. Continuous improvement, iteration, innovation.

The book is well-researched, the examples in the book are interesting and persuasive. Notably, the patient-centered Lean healthcare standout ThedaCare is featured for their application of the Toyota Production System to designing customer experience. It is not surprising that the authors absorbed a lot of lean thinking in formulating their five principles and in writing the book.

This book has one of the most practical and useful  Appendix sections I’ve found in any business book. The “Tools for the Journey” section include questionnaires, a self-assessment tool covering both the customer-facing and operations-internal sides, guides for mapping customer experience, and more.

This book will help the experienced practitioner wishing to extend lean into the area of customer experience design at their organization get off to a running start.

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