Volume 6, 
November, 2008


Designing for Experience
Offering Customers the Experiences They Crave


Richard Tait

"People remember experiences. They don’t remember attributes or benefits."
-- A.G. Lafley, the CEO of Procter and Gamble, in a Business Week interview, January 28, 2005

This morning I stood in front of the mirror contemplating my cheeks, which were covered in a layer of super aloe shave gel. I raised the 3-blade, lubricated, swivel-head razor and traced a path through the shave gel. It slid easily across my cheek. What a different experience from the one I had when I first began shaving: single blades that lasted only a few days before rusting; nicks and cuts that had to be stanched with a styptic pencil; a face that ended up feeling as if an overzealous woodworker had gone over it with sandpaper.

Today, when I finished shaving, rinsed my face, and rubbed my chin my skin felt smooth and soft. The razor, which cost more than the single blades I used to buy, now lasts weeks, not days, and has an indicator strip that tells me when it's getting dull. Shaving has certainly evolved over the last 20 years. I'm thinking I'll take the next step in the evolution and try out the latest innovation: a battery-powered, 5-bladed phenomenon with a microchip and an accompanying manual. I can't wait to find out what kind of experience that will be.

The days of viewing a product as a collection of features providing benefits to a customer are long over. With the increasing complexity of the world and the increasing sophistication of customers, companies are abandoning traditional ways of approaching product design. They're thinking about not just features and benefits but the experience a customer has when using a product or service. My experience of shaving every morning is just one of hundreds of experiences during which I interact with various products and services throughout the day.

This article describes how considering customer experience -- be it in a business-to-consumer or business-to-business environment -- offers valuable new insights into product design. The cornerstone of this new approach is something you probably already understand well: the need to listen to the voice of the customer (VOC). PDC's Customer Experience Taxonomy provides a framework for these new insights. (See my article, co-authored with Robin Karol, "The Corporate Innovator’s Challenge – Creating a Winning Bundle of Customer Experiences").

Getting at Customer Experience Through VOC Research

Customer experience has always been part of PDC's work to help companies create market-winning new products and services, although we haven't necessarily called it that. For years, we have espoused the importance of listening to the voice of the customer to understand what sacrifices customers make in their experiences and thus what they value and will pay for.

Capturing the voice of the customer offers a way to understand what customers really care about, what hurts, and what could fix the hurt. We believe that in order to offer a true picture of customer pain points and needs, you must conduct VOC research face to face, preferably in the environment in which the customer works or lives. You must dig deeply to get below superficial observations and responses, following up initial questions with further probing. When you do, you capture the essence of customers' experiences. You understand not only the experiences they're having today that they'd like to get rid of (those that are irritating, disappointing, stressful, or causing pain) but also the experiences they are not having that they would be delighted to have (those that would make them feel valued, interested, happy, pleased). When you couple this understanding with a prioritization of which experiences customers value most highly, you gain critical insights into what customer experiences your products or services need to deliver to win in the marketplace.

Painting a Picture of the Customer's Experience

Erika Bajars, US Marketing Director at PDC client BD Medical, led a team that was tasked with figuring out how to grow the pediatric segment of BD's medication delivery business. To do so, Bajars worked with a cross-functional team to, as she describes it, "paint a picture of what it's like to be our customer today."

Bajars and her team decided early on that they didn't want to begin by asking what customers did or didn't like about BD products (in this case, the devices for delivering vaccines that were part of a relatively commodity-driven market) but wanted to take a step back to understand the broader context of the company's ultimate customer, the physician. What keeps doctors up at night? What are the major challenges of their jobs? In short: what are the experiences they have as physicians?

Dimensions of the Customer Experience

The customer experience is not one-dimensional but multi-dimensional. We have identified at least six elements of how customers interact with and perceive products, which, in aggregate, form a taxonomy that's useful for viewing the customer's overall experience. This taxonomy can help you think through the design process in a way that goes far beyond the old feature/benefit or functional performance model.

Image diagram
This portion of an image diagram from BD's work with physicians leaves you feeling as if you are there in the room with them as they deal with vaccinating children -- a true portrayal of the experience of the physician.

Emotion turned out to be a big part of the experience for BD Medical customers. "By asking questions about what our customers do and how they feel about it, we got at the whole emotional aspect of their experience," Bajars says. "We got a really strong feeling from them about what it's like to be in primary care pediatrics today." (See figure above.) BD Medical found that its customers, in this case pediatricians and their staff, were most affected by the social, emotional, and financial elements of their experience.

Deconstructing and Reconstructing

After deconstructing the customer experience by gathering data through a mix of phone and in-person interviews, Bajars and her team identified the specific requirements that would lead to an offering that would give pediatricians more experiences they liked and fewer that they didn't like. The team winnowed an initial 1,400 images to 26 to create an image diagram, from which they derived measurable requirements. They then tested these requirements via a quantitative survey. Bajars comments, "To me the key was not just getting the prioritized requirements, but determining what was really important and what was not so important… Understanding what areas were already being taken care of helped us focus on where we could make the most difference. We came up with a few ideas that fell in the 'delighter' category."

In a unique twist, the BD Medical team had decided from the outset that they did not want to pursue product solutions. Rather, any new ideas would be in the realm of marketing, packaging, content, or educational programs. "If we had looked at the data through a different lens, we certainly could have come up with new product ideas," Bajars says.

BD Medical's approach was consistent with the idea of designing for customer experience, since the customer's experience consists of the product and everything wrapped around the product. Designing for experience opens up a broad realm to innovation. Perhaps your innovation will be, as it was in the case of BD Medical, a change to a labeling system or to the development of an educational program to help parents understand and deal with the vaccination process. Regardless of whether you are creating a new product or service or creating something new to wrap around the product or service, your aim is to change your offering in a way that contributes to a more positive customer experience.

Creating a Winning Bundle of Customer Experiences

At this very moment, users of your product or service are going about their work days, experiencing joy, frustration, satisfaction, impatience, and a hundred other possible states of being. They are making coffee, shaving, washing clothes, delivering vaccines to children, providing corporate financial services, or creating machinery to sell to aircraft manufacturers. No doubt, they also feel pain or discord around some aspect of their daily experience. By tapping into customers' experience of the world, you can ensure that your products and services (and whatever wraps around them) help customers have more of the experiences they want and fewer of those they don't want. And you can help eliminate pain and discord from their daily experiences -- which translates into a winning proposition for all.

Richard Tait is an innovation expert whose accomplishments are highlighted by a 22-year research, management, and consulting career with DuPont. He served as a founding member and innovation manager for the DuPont Center for Creativity and Innovation and was a co-developer of the Institute for Inventive Thinking for the National Inventors Hall of Fame. His recent work with PDC focuses on design for customer experience.


Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
2 + 7 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.