Putting customers at the center of design

4 min read
Tara Malone
  •  Aug 10, 2018
Link copied to clipboard

One of the challenges facing many companies today is promoting a customer-centered design culture. Design teams are increasingly working to put the needs of their customers first, and are advocating a user-centered approach.

InVision’s Eli Woolery sat down for a fireside chat with designers Ruth Frank of Pitney Bowes and Lawrence Lipkin of Fidelity on how companies can adopt a more customer-centric approach to design.

The design team at Fidelity

What does putting customers at the center of design mean to your company?

A key part of customer-centered design is understanding the needs of your clients. Ruth, a VP of Client and User Experience, explained that at Pitney Bowes the clients’ needs come first. The designers try to empathize with their customers so they can better understand their wants, user’s journey, and the solutions they are seeking.

Related: Capital One—Cashing in on human-centered design to improve financial interactions

Fidelity has a similar view of customer centric design. According to Lawrence, the company’s VP of Design Strategy, “it’s thinking of people and their definition of value, not necessarily just our own. Being customer centric means really understanding their point of view far beyond the current touchpoints we have today.” He believes that the shift toward customer centric design is a major part of the digital transformation that is taking place in Fidelity today.

“A key part of customer-centered design is understanding the needs of your clients.”

Twitter Logo

Why is it important to be customer centric?

Being customer centric helps a company to better serve its clients, which can benefit the company’s long-term success. Since Pitney Bowes is a B2B company, Ruth says they “are really about driving meaningful business results for our clients so they can then meet their customers’ needs.” This helps their clients to be more successful in the long run, which increases the chances that they will continue to work with Pitney Bowes in the future.

According to Lawrence, being customer centric helps Fidelity to be more aware of client needs that are not being met and to address them. He finds that startups tend to be very focused on meeting a particular demand, and observing these startups helps Fidelity designers to identify their own customers’ needs. The company has evolved over the years, moving from a “transaction-based company to a relationship-based company” that aspires to help people “secure better financial futures.” By understanding how customers want to use their money, Fidelity is able to help them increase their financial security.

Related: Designing for the financial space

How to inspire your company to be customer-centric

There are many different ways design teams can inspire their companies to adopt a customer-centric approach. Lawrence and Ruth agree that a culture of learning is essentialTwitter Logo. It’s important to educate your colleagues on the design strategy of highly successful digital companies. Focus on the customer-centered strategies these companies use to achieve their results, such as journey mapping. Teaching your design team about these methods can promote alignment and a greater ability to empathize with your customers. This can take considerable time and effort. As Lawrence says, “it’s a tall order. We need to continually teach each other different skills and support each other.”

The design team at Fidelity

How to lead a team to focus on the customer

Pitney Bowes and Fidelity use different methods to promote a customer-centered approach in their design teams. Ruth’s team often gets inspiration from what other design teams are doing. They identify which practices are the best ones and share their thoughts with each other. Ruth’s team emphasizes listening to the customer’s concerns and desires and work together to identify the best way to address them.

“It is important to educate your colleagues on the design strategy of highly successful digital companies.”

Twitter Logo

Lawrence’s team has “made a conscious shift into a new organizational model” to better serve their customers. They implemented the Spotify model by reorganizing the team into squads and getting members focused on customer experience. Lawrence believes that “you can apply technology with design and business skill to get a very different result than we’ve seen.” This approach is currently a work-in-progress, though it seems very promising so far.

Preventing company goals from conflicting with customer needs

Both design teams have implemented practices to prevent company goals from clashing with customer needs. At Pitney Bowes, the design and development teams set goals “like delivering by a certain date, budget needs, and financial goals. At the same time, we’ve got a healthy give and take around what is the minimally viable experience we need to deliver to our clients.” The team works together to use data and analytics to define what that minimally viable experience looks like. It is essential for the team to keep their clients in mindTwitter Logo as they develop a product or service. Ruth finds “gaining that alignment as a team is super helpful—it helped helped us work through conflicting goals and make sure we keep the customers’ needs front and center.”

Lawrence draws on a factory metaphor to explain that Fidelity has “kind of a manufacturing mindset. We always try to churn things out with certain features and the design team might be tasked with a single point experience.” It is crucial for the design team’s goals to align with the customers’ needs at that touchpoint to identify the best solutions.

Research processes and sharing results

When it comes to customer research, Pitney Bowes and Fidelity both regularly share recent findings with their employees. Fidelity sends out a weekly newsletter detailing the previous week’s research, key insights, and describing studies that are currently in process. Lawrence finds the newsletters to be “great way of marketing our insights.”

Similarly, Pitney Bowes shares regular reports and updates from their research team. They cover research initiatives, recent findings, and upcoming studies. They also develop personas and journey maps based on the data that anyone in the company can access.

Related: Your team needs to make user research a habit

Design maturity

Ruth explains that design thinking is really about how a team works together. Pitney Bowes has developed a design thinking maturity model to facilitate the process. This model consists of five levels ranging from emerging to mastery of design thinking. Design teams assess their level of design thinking and set target goals for the following year. Ruth describes how “teams can talk about this to discover where they want to be, results they’re seeing. Product managers, designers, engineering leaders are coming to a common understanding of design thinking.” Ultimately, this practice has helped to promote design thinking as part of Pitney Bowes’ company culture.

The design transformation taking place in many organizations today places customers at the center of design. While the making the shift is challenging and takes a considerable amount of time, in the long run, it greatly helps companies to better meet their customers needs.

Listen to the full recording to learn more about how companies can adapt a more customer-centric mindset.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard