Have you started executing your Experience Vision?

The beginning of another year. It's the perfect time to start executing your Experience Vision. Take advantage of renewed focus as your staff return after the hard-won successes of 2018.

Might we be getting ahead of ourselves? For starters what's an Experience Vision? Most companies haven’t even got an Experience Vision, let alone know how to execute one. Why should they and what would it even look like?

Glad you asked.

An Experience Vision helps align teams so that everyone's working in the same direction. Staff can see how their work improves the customer’s experience. Most importantly, as well as seeing their individual contribution, each staff member understands how the team interests are connected. They realise exactly where and how they need to support each other’s objectives.

Defining and explaining the Experience Vision clearly keeps teams motivated and focused when problems and distractions arise. And simplicity and efficiencies naturally fall out of this clarity. 

The effect is palpable.

When you come across someone who can describe the Experience Vision their team is delivering for their customers, their deep understanding of what they do and why is truly inspiring. Vitality Insurance, for example, lives up to their name because their Experience Vision is so clear that just talking to them makes you feel better!

Establishing an Experience Vision puts your organisation well ahead of your competition.

But whose job is it to develop an Experience Vision? Is it the remit of the CEO? Or the C-suite?

Actually, the answer is that any leader or manager should be developing their own Experience Vision for their current product or service - or the next launch (or relaunch). And if it’s for a new launch, it should be thought about well in advance, rather than just before lift-off.


So, if you’re ready to begin crafting your Experience Vision, there’s a simple process to follow. It involves just five questions. The important thing is to avoid getting caught up in exact answers; it’s better to scope an overview of your Vision first and refine the details later.

Here are the five questions:

1. What's the current Experience we deliver? Make sure that you base this on real customer feedback and not just on internal views of how you think you’re doing - these two are rarely the same!

2. What Experience do we want to deliver in the future? If you’re not sure how an ideal future experience looks, you can do two simple things. Firstly, take the things that you know are not quite working now and flip them so that you’ve removed the drag you know about. And secondly, step outside your Manager role. Think about what you want as a customer, a person, someone’s son or daughter. Think about what your parents want, your partner, your peers, your children. Make it human. Add some soul.

3. How does the Ideal Experience fit with what the business wants? This is a hugely pragmatic step in the process - and without it, infighting is almost certainly guaranteed. There is “ideal” and then there is what the business can afford and logically embrace. A whole pile of blue sky that will cost too much and has no clear ROI is a whole pile of empty air.

4. How are we going to deliver our Experience Vision? Another thing to consider is “Can we do this?” Some ideal experiences are perfectly envisioned and wonderfully articulated, but miss the fact that the current staff need to be tasked to deliver. Do they have the skills, experience, time and operational support to meet the brief? Have you really scoped out the battle plan?

5. How are we going to think and behave differently to make this stick? Your job is to inspire and lead. To win hearts and minds. And to keep winning them day after day. Can you lead your staff away from their old views and entrenched mindsets? Can you help them see things afresh after every customer interaction?

Which brings us back to the power of January.

This is the month when you can harness the best ‘psychological calendar’ of your whole team. It’s also when you are most likely to be able to take advantage of your own clear vision and fresh perspective.

We can help you design outstanding experiences that people love. Get in touch to find out how. It’s a perfect time.

Contact experience@protopartners.com.au or call us on (02) 8379 6600

Posted on January 17, 2019 .

Digital transformation: the biggest trend and the biggest threat

In the 'In the 'Age of the Customer' more organisations are recognising the need to build customer-centric businesses. Too many organisations are confusing a ‘seamless customer experience’ with the need for a new app or platform.

However, an emerging concern is that Digital transformation isn’t being truly informed by the customers' needs and therefore does not improve their experience. Research we have been reading points towards an over-focus on the busyness of digital innovation, which leads to an under-focus on the real business of CX.

Spending $20 million on a digital transformation without knowing what your customers want can be a waste of investment. In our experience, what customers want is for organisations to first fulfil the expectations they set when they signed up, which may be something as simple as answering the phone in less than 5 minutes.

"In a global survey of 800 CIOs by Dynatrace, 73% of respondents said the need for speed in digital innovation is putting customer experience at risk. The study found that on average, organisations release new software updates three times per working hour, as they push to keep up with competitive pressures and soaring consumer expectation. And nearly two-thirds (64%) of CIOs admitted they are forced to compromise between faster innovation and the need to ensure customers have a great experience." Neil Davey writes.

Many large organisations are falling victim to what we call ‘Shiny iPad Syndrome’. They’re more engaged in developing shiny new technology solutions and digital transformation than addressing the core incompetencies in their business model and service delivery. More often than not, the effort isn't informed by deep customer understanding and therefore doesn't give rise to what customers actually want.

Forrester’s research director Harley Manning recently remarked, "Even with ‘service’ as the brand promise, most ordinary brands are not equipped for a CX transformation."

Furthermore, Colin Shaw, CEO of Beyond Philosophy explained “This year we have seen the continuation of the headlong drive into digital transformation - what is new is we are seeing the start of AI implementations. Both of these have the obvious benefit of increased efficiency and cost-savings. However, both share a BIG threat that I see too many companies falling into. In the organisation’s desire to implement these, they are damaging their customers' experience making it worse, not better. In their dash to automate everything to save cost, they are accidentally automating the one thing which drives the most value for them with the customer. Typically, this can be a human interaction."

"In the organisation’s desire to implement digital initiatives, they are damaging their customers' experience - making it worse, not better."

We know many organisations don't conduct rigorous customer research proportional to their multi-million dollar digital transformation. This can lead to ultimately building solutions to the wrong problem.In light of this, we've written some guidelines that can help you to check you’ve made the affordable and immediate improvements to your customers’ experience first, before you get stuck into the "shiny new iPad" solutions.

1. Help your people empathise 

People are the literal ‘face’ of your business, so if they aren’t communicating effectively or aren’t empathising with customers, the experience will be disappointing. One of the most powerful strategies we use is to share customer stories across organisations. This helps people at all levels understand what it is like to walk in their customers’ shoes. By building real understanding and insight, organisations can drive a change in attitude to daily tasks. When employees put the customer at the centre of what they do, the customer feels it.

2. Review out of date policies 

Another great place to start is by examining and refreshing policies. Even if your policies are at odds with delivering a good customer experience, employees will follow policy as they seek to meet their KPIs. You need to ask how you can re-work policy to align with your CX vision. You want to empower your people to deliver a better customer experience without having to break the rules and risk their job.

3. Connect your procedures across departments 

Quite often organisations make promises through their brand, but there is no structure in across the different functions within the business to deliver on those promises. By reviewing and streamlining your processes so that business functions are working towards a common goal of customer experience rather than team KPIs, you can eliminate all those tasks and obligations that don’t add value to the customer. You can then all focus on the things that do.

4. Refresh your collateral

Looking at your communications and collateral, you can delve deeper into customer communications and identify any shortcomings. This includes looking at things like website copy, emails and SMS to ensure communications are speaking to customers about the problems that are most important to them, rather than what you want to tell them about you. Customers want communications that are relevant and succinct; you need to understand how you’re coming across in the context of everything else they are hearing. Only they can tell you. And it continually changes as their whole communications ecosystem moves on.

5. Make your processes consistent 

Do you have checklists for people to go through to resolve customer problems? Are you helping your people by reducing the amount of effort they use to think through the next actions? Are you shoring up your CX by making resolutions quick, seamless and consistent on a repeatable basis? And for each step on the list, does it really help customers resolve their problems, or is it there to serve your internal needs?

Get in touch to find out how we can enable you to design outstanding experiences people love. Contact experience@protopartners.com.au or call us on (02) 8379 6600

Posted on December 13, 2018 .

Is adding a new channel the right answer?

Poor CX doesn’t just affect customers. The whole of a business suffers when promises made to customers aren’t fulfilled. This fact has recently been reinforced by a Forrester’s report but the resultant symptoms that are typically seen show up in a number of ways:

  • Complex processes which don’t help the customer solve their problem mean misalignment for front-line staff and their role

  • More channels that don’t resolve the most important customer problems mean cost added without Satisfaction

  • Siloed teams working towards their own KPIs and not sharing information mean loss of a valuable 360 view on customer and competitor needs

  • Expensive product launches with insufficient customer-led design mean a shortfall against expected business results – effectively a waste of time and effort

At the root of all these issues is a failure of commitment —the failure to invest in the kind of root and branch transformation that is required to deliver an outstanding simple experience for your customers. Without a steely focus on the customer, mere ‘decoration’ of your CX with, for example, more ways for customers to engage with you significantly weakens your business. The more bots, apps and different channels you add, the more you need to turn effort inwards to manage the experience across the channels. You’re increasingly looking in the wrong direction. 

In other words:

For every 4 ways you interact with your customers, that’s 6 lots of connected information you need to manage. Add 1 more channel (that iPad app) and you now have 10 lots of information to manage. Add just 1 more, and you are up to 15. Add 3 more and you have 45 different ways you need to connect customer information within and across your organisation to provide a seamless experience.


You may have heard or believed that customers are asking for more and more means to connect with your brand. That’s not quite correct and it has enormous implications for any business with that hold that belief. Customers more often than not just want a few channels that work. And we mean, really work. That means they are responsive, they are useful, they are quick and above all, they solve the problem the customer is trying to solve with the least amount of effort and time.

More recently, in the Age of the Customer, companies have attempted to respond to “customer-centricity drives” by adding more and more digital channels, thinking “the more ways to connect the better”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that customers are trying to solve are largely ignored.

The reason for this is simple: while launching a new website is highly visible, improving a back-end process is harder. And quantifying the benefits takes even more work.

To maximise customer value, organisations must first design processes that fulfil desired customer outcomes. Only then should they introduce new technology to scale the solution.

That’s where Proto comes in. Our experts in experience and service design have identified the key milestones that every company reaches as they seek to become customer-centric. We know the critical processes that companies must implement at each milestone.

We recently applied this methodology for one of our clients. They initially asked us to evaluate their on-boarding process to determine if they were providing their customers “the right things at the right times” with the goal of restructuring their Sales and Marketing journey. A quick analysis revealed that the organisation did not have a standard way of working. Processes varied not only between teams, but even between one agent and another within the same team!

We worked directly with the teams to design and iterate key processes that improved the customer experience along with encouraging collaboration and innovation between staff. In particular, we helped our client refine their digital journey to ensure it solved customers’ problems quickly and easily.

Want to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how to improve the experience of staff and customers? Check out our video on “The CX Equation"

Don’t see what you need here? Drop us a line anyway. If you have the need, we have the means. We can help you execute quickly and bring about change before 2019.

Contact experience@protopartners.com.au or call us on (02) 8379 6600

Posted on November 22, 2018 .

How much research is enough?

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Every three or four meetings we get asked some variation on the following question: “We absolutely love the comprehensive results you’ve delivered for other clients, but how much research do you think we really need to do for our project?”

We have been doing Service and Experience Design for over 10 years now, so we intuitively understand the question behind the question and it most often centres around this. We love and actually really want the outcomes you can deliver, but we just want to fast track to the solution rather than go through the process to get there.

What we have come to realise are two things:

1.    The mindset most of us used to adopt before the ‘Age of the Customer’ has become obsolete. The approach we all took back then was to analyse what we had in front of us, determine the best approach from the (maybe) three insights that we managed to uncover and then execute the plan. This all happened with little or no true understanding of what our customers really wanted. Therefore, in reality, customer problems were only partially addressed rather than being truly solved.

2.    The second thing we have come to realise is that there is still not a full understanding that great commercial and customer outcomes come from fresh insights that shed new light on a problem. And although sometimes you may chance upon a hypothesis that actually nails the true customer issue (or issues if lucky), for most of us the only way to develop compelling insights is to undertake a decent amount of design research.

Enacting service design without customer research is basically trusting luck to solve your problems. The only way to develop the compelling insights that drive outstanding service design is to undertake precisely enough targeted research to develop a deep understanding of your customers, charting their reactions and emotional states as they move along your customer journey.

The Questions Behind The Question

So back to the question at hand: How much research is enough? Someone wise once told me to answer a question with another question to elicit what is really being sought out. So here goes with some clarifying questions:

•    How important is it that you solve the challenge at hand correctly? Is it important enough that you answer it correctly or just get it sort of right? Depending on the scale of decision sometimes sort of right can be enough.
•    What $ investment will follow or be made on the back of this research? Is it a $200,000 or a $20 million investment of people, technology, opportunity cost and other resources?
•    How much do you know about the current problem at hand and how much research have you undertaken already? Even if the research was recently undertaken, was it the right type of research to provide you the understanding you need?
•    Do you need the research to prove or disprove your hunch or would you like to use the research to build alignment and understanding across the whole team?
•    Do you have the expertise to determine what type of research is appropriate for the challenge at hand and do you have the right skillsets to take the raw data and transform it into a compelling range of actionable insights?

These are some of the questions that organisations would benefit from asking themselves as they seek to answer the question of how much research is enough.

Understand The Problem, Solve The Problem

Service design research is explicitly done to improve customer experience and business outcomes. It’s undertaken to determine what the problems are and when they occur. It also helps discover how serious these issues are to customers and what type of solutions holds merit in their eyes. 

So how much research is enough is more than likely the wrong question to ask when it comes to customer research. Some more productive questions to ask would be:

•    Do I really understand the problem I am attempting to solve?
•    Have I proved what is the right starting point in understanding that problem?
•    How important is it that I get it right? 

Until these questions have been satisfactorily addressed, there is more work to be done.

In our experience it’s difficult to solve a problem unless we fully understand it and empathise with it. Great design is built on empathy. Without research, we can't connect with customers and build that empathy. Design executed without building empathy runs the risk of becoming disconnected from the customer and their needs, resulting in wasted time and misspent resources.

If organisations invest heavily in solutions before uncovering critical insights, they run the risk of investing in building a product that doesn’t answer customer needs. One example we came across was an organisation that wanted to create an entire self-service digital customer journey without conducting any research to find out if it was of value to their customer.  The significant investment they were about to make in terms of people and resources was at risk of being wasted if it was not solving the job customers wanted to get done. 

Research drives design. If the research hasn't answered the question, nearly everything that follows is time wasted. Every hour spent on conducting valuable research saves ten times that amount during the project phases that follow.

What do you really want as your outcome? Is your goal merely to build a functional service solution – indistinguishable from most other services developed over the last 20 years?

Wouldn't you prefer to design and create something that not only works, but seriously improves the experience of the people who use it, and those who deliver it too?

If the thought of seriously improving both your customers’ and your delivery team’s experience with a cleverly researched, carefully designed service excites you as much as it does us, contact Proto on (02) 8001 6119 and speak to one of our service design research experts. 

Posted on August 1, 2018 .

The mystery of the missing customer

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We’ve been noticing a disturbing trend with customer journey maps lately. The customers are disappearing from them.

Increasingly, we’re seeing customer journey maps, especially from the large consulting firms, which fail to reveal customers’ real needs. They don’t appear to map customers’ actual experience, or what they want that experience to be.  

What they do is a great job of is recommending a large digital transformation project. What is lacking is any deep research and understanding of what the customers themselves want. 

This deep customer understanding should be what is used to inform those digital transformation projects, not to be used as an incidental means to an end.

Why is this happening? Here’s our analysis

Firstly, Customer Journey Mapping is becoming more popular. This is a good thing. But as with most trends, the more popular something becomes, the more variations occur, often resulting in a product far removed from its original design or intention. The Customer Journey Maps we are seeing sprouting up all over the place are often mutant versions of what a Customer Journey Map started out as. They lack rigorous research, deep insights and they are most often lacking any real customer input.

Secondly, Customer Journey Maps are sometimes being created with a hidden agenda. Mapping the ideal experience of a customer should be about making the customer’s life better, with the confidence that when we do that, the business will drive stronger growth. It’s not about developing a shiny iPad app (how many apps do we all need?) or the implementation of a new digital stack. We know that digital solutions drive efficiency, reduce cost and sometimes these can be powerful solutions to delivering what customers want. But when a digital transformation is not an option that’s available to organisations, you can still achieve significant improvements in CX by leveraging changes to people, policy and processes and setting clearer customer expectations, at a fraction of the cost and time. The ideal Customer Journey Map is about designing ways to touch and deliver to customers what they want, where they want it, regardless of how it might be delivered.

Thirdly, the small but important factors that make a big difference to customers aren’t as sexy as large-scale digital transformations or new apps and websites, so they’re often left off the map. The small things are, in our experience, the most important to customers. Most organisations undervalue the importance of delivering the “brilliant basics” for their customers. If you missed our last article you can read more about that here.

Here are some real examples we’ve come across

The real value of a customer journey map is when they are created and dictated by deep and real customer understanding.

We have been to clients where they have had previous examples of work presented to them mapping the end-to-end ‘customer’ journey spanning an 18-month period that was created based on as little as eight customer interviews.

I don't know about you, but I reckon if you invested six figures in a CX project you might be expecting insight from more than just eight people.

Of course, you can learn a lot from eight customer conversations. However, to ensure a conclusive, useful result, you need a sample of customers that considers all variables; captures the emotions and behavioural drivers from all groups and personas, and connects, empathises and communicates what is and isn’t working for your customers. That’s what a useful Customer Journey Map should do.

When this so-called journey map was presented to the business, unsurprisingly, the staff and stakeholders responded with “that’s not our customer and it’s certainly not the journey they go on.”

The large consulting firm had created an “ideal” customer journey which incorporated large scale digital solutions and a change management plan which required a whole lot more consulting help to be executed.  The question you have to ask is, Who is this map really for? The consulting firm or the client and their customer? Too often it feels to us like they may be guided more by self interest rather than having the customer at the heart.

The danger of these "ideal" Customer Journey Maps is that they lead organisations down a path of investing heavily in problems that aren’t priorities for their customers. They also fail to inspire employees to get onboard the journey to increased customer focus because they don’t establish real customer empathy. What’s more, employees aren’t empowered to continue improving customer focus through capability transfer.

These “ideal” Customer Journey Map’s sometimes reveal little of what customers actually want, which is often just better human-to-human service, not yet another app. Customers often see more value in having help paying their bill, someone returning their phone call, or having a promise fulfilled. 

What a Customer Journey Map should really do and how to approach it

We believe the only way to truly understand your customers and give them what they value, is to undertake rigorous customer research. This research will deliver valuable, prioritised and actionable insights.

To do this you need to go beyond the metrics and understand human behaviour. You need to:

1. Focus on uncovering the underlying mindsets, emotions, motivations and desires your customers experience when interacting with your service.

2. Ensure your research methods are designed to elicit stories about experiences by responding to what participants say and allowing the conversation to go in unexpected directions. It becomes more like facilitated storytelling than surveying. 

3. Use these insights to build a detailed customer journey that gives your business an actionable plan to give your customers – and your business - more value.

Let me know if you want to check whether your current Customer Journey Maps are really telling your customers’ story. I’d be happy to meet, online or in person. You can reach me via phone: +61 0418 494 489 or email: damian.kernahan@protopartners.com.au

Posted on May 3, 2018 .

Earn the right to excite and delight

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Here’s the cold hard truth: Your customers don’t set out to become raving fans of your business.

They didn’t wake up this morning thinking they need a more personal and emotional connection with a brand. They just want to get on with their day, and ideally make it better than yesterday.

Businesses are told they should “excite and delight” their customers.

Too often, they interpret this to mean the equivalent of fireworks and a marching band, encased in fancy tech. Digital transformation! All-in-one apps! $20m ad campaign thanking customers!

They jump straight to the fun stuff without working on the boring basics first: the foundations of good solid operations, communication, collaboration, breaking down silos, culture change - the really valuable work.

Services that don’t serve anyone 

Largely, my job is explaining to business leaders that their processes, systems or services don’t work that well for customers and that this is where a lot of our improvements are focussed. It’s the boring bit for businesses, but actually the exciting part for customers when they receive a seamless omni-channel experience.

Repair before renovate

It’s similar to when you want to renovate your house to make it the best on the street. You have visions of the stunning entertaining deck; the gleaming kitchen, the swimming pool. When actually you need to first fix the dry rot, change the plumbing to get rid of the damp under the house, and spend much more of your budget than you hoped for on repairing your old roof first.

What you want vs what they want

Any successful business will tell you that their aim is to create and keep happy customers. But often the importance of the brilliant basics is overlooked.

Most businesses don’t want boring. They want to use their CX to stand out and create an extraordinary experience as part of their brand differentiation.

They want to feature as a success story in the annual conference or industry publication as having the most spectacular customer service, or the most cutting-edge technology. It’s cool, it’s visionary - it gets attention.

But that’s what the business wants, not necessarily what the customer wants.

So what does the customer want?

Well, we can’t answer that in one blog, because it’s hugely complex, and varies at each point in their customer journey and from one customer segment to another.

But, in general, customers want damn good service that makes their life easier. They want it to work. They want to get what they’ve bought in a timely and efficient way.

Their version of “delight” is a product or service that works, every time. It’s a warm smile from the rep who has all their details and can solve their problem on the spot. It’s being guided through setting up a new account in a way that’s easy and welcoming. It’s receiving a bill that is correct and easy to understand.

If they’re frustrated about your service levels, then no amount of advertising, experiential marketing or social media influencing will make them love you. This will only aggravate their pain – “Why are they telling me how important I am to them through aggressive marketing when they can’t get the basics right.”

You need to get back to basics. The brilliant basics. No fireworks: just damn good customer service. And then you’ve earned the right to excite. Get the must-haves right, then perform well, and then delight.

What do you think? Can a brand invest in excite and delight before they’ve embedded solid good service? Comment, email us on damian@protopartners.com.au or call us on 02 8001 6119.

Posted on March 14, 2018 .