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User Experience – Focus on customer needs

How can corporations learn to recognize ( changing) customer needs? How can the user experience be put back at the center of service models?

Written by Robert Hanke -
published on
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There is a lot of talk about disruptive systems, changing customer behavior, digitalization and how corporations should respond to these challenges. New departments are often created, new working models for cross-departmental collaboration are proclaimed, or even entire change management projects are launched. And this is sometimes done simultaneously with existing cost-cutting measures that have become necessary because the response to all the challenges has been far too late.

But the actual problems remain unchanged. If there were an honest analysis of one' own weaknesses, many of the companies and organizations in the B2C sector would realize that products and services have been developed for years without taking customer needs into account. And that's exactly where new, young entrepreneurs are scoring points.

By the way, startups often understand customers' needs better because they come from the target group in question. And because they have a strong personal interest in solving a specific, single problem that they themselves experienced as affected customers. Strategically, they are thus able to place themselves between the product and the user by offering interfaces that can be used intuitively and quickly and that can fulfill the needs of the customer in his or her particular life situation. The framework conditions under which a product can thrive are secondary; the startup is not regulated by any compliance department, by any sales manager, by any corporate identity, or by any parent company - of course, exceptions prove the rule here.


An example from the financial industry

For a long time, Number26 offered only an app for account management, without having a banking license and without charging money for it. This meant that the provider concentrated on the interface for the customer and left the complex, underlying banking business to partners. The app is intuitive to use, provides an overview of personal finances, and registration is done from home via video authentication and call center. For new customers, this means maximum convenience and fulfilling their need to "set up a bank account" just in time, without having to go to a bank branch or even wait for an appointment. And instead of charging x euros a month in account maintenance fees for x transfers, there is a clear, transparent payment model: the account is free. Why do established banks neglect this important part of the user interface and thus open the door for new players in the market? Because user experience is not considered that important as to adapt the sales model, communication, call center processes and IT across the board for it.

How can corporations learn to recognize (changed) customer needs again? How can the user experience be put back at the center of service models?


Observing the user

Welcome to the 21st century, the century in which users leave traces as thick as highways in the course of their consumer behavior - in the form of data and customer journeys. How many companies are already using these capabilities to better understand customers? How many companies already have direct feedback loops from online analytics to the call center or product development department? In how many companies is social service not just a buzzword, but already implemented in the channels and experienced individually? Who in the company is harboring this data and how much budget is being allocated to unearth the treasure and make it usable for the entire company?


Learn from the best

Since startups understand user needs and service design, but are often still unknown or have to make up for serious shortcomings in other business areas, they are usually interested in exchanging know-how with established companies.

Developer conferences, hackathons and bar camps are an excellent way to bring together communities from different worlds with the active employees. The mistake that is often made: The conference is set up with great effort and high internal awareness, but remains a one-time event because no one in the company maintains permanent contact and thus continuously creates knowhow. Know-how that may not be monetized immediately within the current board period.



Good old mystery shopping

The advantage of young companies entering the market and succeeding is that they don't do it behind closed doors. What prevents managers from using the services of the competition to find out what they do better? What is to prevent a market research or development department from extending its radar and analyzing not only established, well-known competitors, but also emerging companies and their products? For years, the representatives of established companies at startup roundtables can be counted on one hand.


Use of personas

Marketing and communications departments usually already have developed personas and customer journeys for some of their projects in order to have vivid images of potential users in mind before optimizing their communication channels. Of course, these personas should be available to all departments and employees of the company, and in particular they should be coordinated with the product development department. With the common personas in mind, it is easy to discuss the company's service performance based on real customer journeys.



Employ professionals

Hiring external, professional UX agencies has several advantages:

They know the industry and have a good overview of what works and what doesn't based on a wide variety of customer projects.
They know agile methods to generate ideas together with the company's employees and lead them to implementation. Keyword: design thinking. And they are proficient in their application.
They always bring in the outside and thus also the user view, without orienting themselves to the corporate structures or the difficulties of implementation.
They do not have to satisfy the demands of all internal corporate stakeholders, but only those of the commissioning department.
While internal corporate employees are trained to downplay their own weaknesses in service due to a lack of error culture, for external consultants a strengths/weaknesses analysis of the user interfaces is the basis for a successful customer project. How bluntly or strategically one deals with the results is another matter.

What is important is that companies once again offer their employees space, time and resources to put themselves in the customer's shoes. And that managers signal to their employees a desire to engage with the users' interaction with touch points in addition to carrying out their day-to-day business. This means that board members and management must also focus on customer needs and the user experience.