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Why CX now?

5 min read

The current emphasis on Customer Experience is bewildering to me. Shouldn’t it have always been the focus?

These days, not a week goes by without a client reaching out to us for Service Design, Digital Design, or User Experience Design. Before that, it was User Centered Design (UCD), and before that, Design Thinking. Some of these—Service, Digital, and UX Design—are distinct disciplines, and important enough that Ziba has spent years building our capacity to provide them at a world-class level. UCD and Design Thinking are simply principles of good design practice that have been packaged and marketed in a way that makes them sound innovative. All these terms, though, have at some point been a buzzword—a “flavor of the month” that’s been marketed and written about so much that companies become convinced they need it in order to stay competitive.

What gets lost in this frenzy to find the next big design trend is the customer, which is really the reason we’re designing in the first place. The Customer Experience (CX) is, in our opinion, the umbrella that all these other disciplines sit under and defining and implementing an effective CX strategy eclipses any other design task an organization might have.

Through hundreds of project engagements over the last 25 years, Ziba helped pioneer the “experience economy”, recognizing early on that the design of customer experiences is what matters, not the design of things. Of course, we had no idea what to call this approach, which today would be defined as CX and Service Design. We were simply pushing ahead to do what was best for our clients and their customers, and in the process helped evolve the field of Design (with a big D).

In their book Outside In: The Power Of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, the market research firm Forrester cites several examples of CX and Service Design work done by Ziba over the previous two decades. Our role in transforming how FedEx interacts with in-person customers gets special attention, as an example of how research-driven insights can reveal small changes that have a big impact on the consumer experience. In 2015, Forrester followed up by naming Ziba as a global Service Design agency, specializing in Fuzzy Front-end Innovation, Physical and face-to-face Experience Design and Digital Experience Design.

The work that earned us this recognition didn’t feel revolutionary at the time, just appropriate to the task at hand. When we started incorporating user research into product development in the late 80s, it wasn’t because User Research was the hot new thing at the time (it wasn’t). It was just the best way to get to a product with maximum business impact for our clients. The same was true when we brought brand archaeology into the front-end innovation process in the early 90s, to help frame opportunities more clearly. And in the late 90s, when products started being replaced by services, and services started moving online, we brought Digital and Service Design into our studio too. Not because of a pile of magazine articles, but because that’s what was needed to provide the right customer experience.

If the purpose of a business isn’t to serve customer needs and provide them with their desired experience, then what is it? Is there a business without a customer? I guess when there wasn’t much competition, the specifics of the customer experience could be left to chance, because there was little choice. But as goods and services proliferate, and information and access become global, it’s hard to think of a single category where customers don’t have alternatives and their experience is the most important thing.

So perhaps that’s the answer to the question of “Why CX now?”: As technology empowers consumers, more companies are finally waking up to the fact that a great customer experience is the only differentiator they have left.

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