Beyond the buzz of ”human-centred” design

Stephen Megitt | 11/27/2020

If you hadn’t already shifted the way you think about your customers, the market just did it for you. The last five months have proven that if your customer isn’t at the heart of everything you build, you’re not building anything at all. How can you turn the test kitchen that 2020 has been into long-term results that sustain your business and drive growth? Mine the data to pull all the insight you can from the last few months. Then, reset course not just for now, but in anticipation of what could be next in a market that’s changing so fast.

Get better tools

Gut instincts are important — and gut instincts backed by real data, monumentally so. We can’t afford to over-index on personal experiences at the expense of research-based facts. Whoever your customer is, they’ve likely changed. EY research reveals consumers face a host of new barriers — like a totally different breed of accessibility issues — that simply didn’t exist before the pandemic. Addressing these needs requires a new mindset to evaluate business or product design ideas through the lens of desirability, feasibility and viability.

Validating what you’ve picked up in recent months by interviewing or even observing customer behaviour, asking better questions and distilling findings into core themes is a great way to bridge from what your customers needed before, to what they need next.

In the EY Design Studio, we get there using rapid design workshops. Taking an empathetic spirit and workshopping without judgment or limitations helps us redraw the customer journey. We start big, with teams quickly sketching out every possible solution that comes to mind for a given challenge. We narrow down quickly, to cement consensus around what’s most important to our user, and the must-have design factors we can't afford to leave out. This works by level-setting our user understanding in a methodical, deliberate way. Whatever tools you use to put the customer first, reinforcing what you think with what you can prove, gives you the chance to make crucial tweaks along the way. Sharing that insight across the organization helps, too.

Rethink the way you sell

Setting up new offerings now will require you to adapt the service or product and the way you pitch it. Forget boardrooms and slides. It’s time to get real in what’s likely to be a largely virtual working world for a long time. This is about understanding how to show your value proposition to a customer whose needs, capabilities or wallet may have dramatically changed since March. How do you reposition high-end bistro meals as upscale take-away without the benefit of the savvy server? How do you show a potential buyer the benefits of a $1 million home when you’re limited to touring over Zoom?

This isn’t only about selling better — it’s about communicating differently because everyone's context has changed. Just like a hand-written note can distinguish you in a noisy sales process, unexpected and empathetic gestures can set your service or product apart now. Moves like delivering a bottle of champagne for buyers to sip while you virtually show a home can blend traditional sales tools and two-way engagement in ways that resonate for your customer’s new journey. Putting yourself in their shoes through deep understanding makes it possible.

Check the context

The moment you try to apply past context to future context, is the moment the wheels fall off the wagon. Diving deep to understand what your customer needs now is table stakes. Rethinking the way you communicate and engage them in light of that customer-first understanding is crucial. Doing a litmus test to figure out the friction points between your customer’s new journey and the broader business environment can distinguish your brand from the competition.

Our team is doing this in real time to help digital investment firms get the process right. We’re helping reframe customer roadmaps by carrying out audience interviews to generate new user stories. By understanding what’s changed for these customers, we can better understand the broader context they're operating in. That allows us to adapt not only the services offered, but the communications and interactions fostered. Maybe adapting to your customer’s new normal requires you to stock a different line of materials, but the supply chains you’ve counted on before aren’t delivering now. Maybe engaging your customer in personalized two-way dialogue empathetic to their reality requires different data, but you don’t have the right platforms to collect it. Aligning customer context with business context is how you succeed. Once you understand how the journey has changed, and how to sell against it, you’ve got to zero in on your own obstacles to execution.

There’s a time for everything. That includes the trial-and-error approaches to design we’ve all been dabbling in for the last few months. What counts next is how you channel what you’ve learned into the next iteration of your strategies, personas and journey maps. The iterative learning we’ve all done this year is a veritable gold mine. How will you mine it to reimagine what’s possible?

Stephen Megitt is Executive Strategy Director at EY Design Studio Canada. He co-leads a practice relentlessly focused on helping clients understand their organizations, employees and customers best, to design something better. For more EY Design Studio Canada perspectives, read here