I recently introduced some of you to the new business metrics your customers will love. These metrics, and the process we’ve dubbed 3-pillar design, inform how we define, design, and optimize the experiences we collaboratively develop with our clients.
Having given you this introduction, I wanted to show you how my team at >X put this process and these new metrics to work. This article is about my morning coffee stop—something I assume many of you can relate to.
I’ll start by briefly guiding you through the activities we have to conduct prior to executing a 3-pillar design exercise. We need to make sure we know our customer pretty well before we get started. I’ll then give you some perspective on the 30 minutes or so I spent acquiring and enjoying my coffee. I’ll wrap up by showing you how we introduce new design variables and assess how they could or actually do impact the value, meaning, and engagement I associate with my morning coffee.
But first, a little context.
I’m an Aussie. For many of us down under, coffee is much more than a caffeine hit—it’s a way of life. It forms part of our culture. In certain suburbs like Collingwood and Fitzroy in Melbourne, one might even argue that coffee is core to identity!
But coffee is bigger than Melbourne’s inner-city suburbs. Coffee is the world’s second-most traded commodity. It has over 1,000 compounds. There’s research to support it improves cognitive function, slightly decreases risk of all-cause mortality, and even reduces the risk of certain cancers (opens PDF). Coffee is awesome!
Or is it?
Caffeinated coffee negatively impacts endothelial function (the ability for your arteries to dilate). Non-filtered coffee can raise your serum cholesterol. It causes acid reflux—and as we know all too well, over-consumption can result in a pretty serious dependency.
“The results aren’t what matters—it’s all about the process.”
Other than being Australian, I’m also a bit of a nutritional science nerd. I eat whole plant foods exclusively. I exercise alot. And I now spend my dollars as consciously and ethically as I can—particularly when it relates to the FMCG sector.
I’m telling you this because there are cultural, social, and personal consumption values at play. I do not represent a statistically significant sample population. This exercise is based on a sample of one. It’s illustrative only.
The results aren’t what matters—it’s all about the process. This is where I hope we can all direct our attention.
So let’s get started with the 3-pillar design process.
Step 1: Know your customer
There are varying degrees to which you could choose to do this. You could engage in a fairly robust process, or you could keep it simple. What matters most here is that you develop an understanding of the outcome your customers are trying to achieve, along with the situational context they find themselves in when trying to achieve it.
In a real-life client project, we’d focus our efforts on the robust process. We just make sure we do it quickly. In our morning coffee example, we chose to keep it really simple. We were pretty short on time in any case, so this was a forced decision.
“Develop an understanding of the outcome your customers are trying to achieve.”
Bianca—my wife and partner in crime—and I started by defining the outcome expectations I had. We wanted to understand the job I was hiring coffee to fulfil.
Right now there are competing ideas and approaches in the Jobs to be Done community. I won’t advocate a specific approach here. Try different methods and figure out what works for you.
From this exercise we ended up learning that I was really motivated by a sensory experience—something more than I could get at home, or in our case, our Airbnb. It turns out I associate this type of experience with really positive memories. I love starting some of my days this way.
We learned that my functional job was all about the coffee. I wanted appropriate crema, incredible aroma, and subtle complexity you could taste but found hard to describe.
When we started breaking down the emotional elements of the job, it became clear intrinsic and extrinsic motivations were also impacting my decision to buy coffee at the cafe rather than at home. My personal job was really about a feeling of invigoration. My social job was about how others perceived me. I want to go to “cool” places sometimes. I want to be perceived as sociable.
A good morning cafe experience is the type of solution that can fulfil my main job to be done, along with the functional and emotional aspects that come with it.
This is what we learned in a matter of minutes. Remember, time was not on our side—we had to act fast. So we chose to skip over job mapping and other useful approaches that really help you get close to your customer and the outcomes they care about.
“Know your customer.”
Remember that jobs are solution agnostic. The job I’m trying to fulfill might have many solutions. Thanks to habit, a bank of positive memories, and the slightly addictive impact of caffeine, coffee at a quality cafe just so happens to be the solution I often use to fulfill the job. Walking, meditation, and cooking up a storm are others that make the cut.
So as you can see, we kept Step 1 simple. We learned about some of the things that were motivating me to hire a solution. We further developed our understanding of the job and the situational context I find myself in when I’m looking to get this job done.
Now we need to define the metrics I care about.
Step 2: Define VME
In order to score the value, meaning, and engagement of an experience, people need a baseline. In this case, this meant Bianca had to extract a definition I could associate with each of the 3 measures.
If your memory is playing tricks on you, re-visit these measures here.
Here’s what we ended up with”
So it turns out value is all about the sensory experience. Remember, this was the outcome I wanted. This was really my main job to be done.
Meaning always relates to relative priority in a given situation. In this particular case, I found myself really feeling the need for this experience. It was the way I wanted to start my week. So the relative priority, and therefore the meaning of this experience, was high.
Given my definition of value and the outcome expectation I’d set, engagement is kind of inherent. If my senses aren’t invigorated, if I don’t feel the atmosphere, then my engagement will be low.
These basic definitions gave us a baseline from which to conduct our activity.
Step 3: Let the experience unfold
We now need to let the experience unfold. Depending on context, we’ll run anything from a research session based solely on observation, through to usability sessions with contextual inquiry and participatory design.
In the case of Monday morning coffee, this was mostly about observation. Although Bianca got to enjoy her latte, it was me who got to be in the moment and take in the entire experience. She put her observational skills to the test.
Which brings us to documentation. We use experience mapping at >X in a variety of different ways. In this case, we’re using our map to document and associate a VME score with each stage of the process, describe where we see gaps and why, and eventually start framing design solutions that we believe will positively impact the value, meaning, and engagement of the end-to-end experience.
Here’s how our experience unfolded.
It started with me making a hiring decision. It was Monday morning, I hadn’t been to a cafe in a week, the sun was out and it just felt right. I wanted to wake up my senses, get social, and start my week off the right way.
Then there was the anticipation. The time between making the hiring decision and actually getting the solution in my hands, or rather, my mouth. This spanned getting ready, a bout of mindfulness meditation, some calls to the family back in Australia and a little bit of “work.”
We then started our long and arduous journey to St. Oberholz. It lasted 2 gruelling minutes. We saw the entrance.
Although the sky was a beautiful blue, we immediately noticed a serious lack of sun. For some reason we’d set the expectation with ourselves we’d sit in the sun and enjoy our coffee.
We also noticed someone who we assumed was the barista standing at the front door, cigarette in hand, looking rather nonchalant. Berlin isn’t exactly a morning place, so this wasn’t overly surprising. But, that’s 2 little vibe-killers already. Let’s hope things improve.
We step inside. The smell is amazing. The music is perhaps a little too soft. But that’s the only sound.
This was our view.
The vibe I was hoping for just wasn’t there. The impact of this could have been mitigated if the barista was upbeat, loving life, and ready to make the best coffee we’d ever tasted. But she wasn’t. Again, it’s Monday morning, so we’ll forgive her.
Let’s move on to the coffee.
I order a double ristretto. Bianca orders a soy latte. As we’re waiting, we chat away to each other. Our banter is the only noticeable noise.
I often find the wait at a cafe is one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience. People are buzzing, the baristas are working hard, there’s steam flying all over the place—and like us, the rest of the crowd waits in anticipation for their order.
This wasn’t our experience today.
Bianca’s coffee came first. It looked good and smelled fantastic. Mine followed shortly thereafter.
I pay. We take our coffee and go sit outside on a lovely bench on the corner of a beautiful street. There’s a park that’s oh-so-Berlin across from us. Someone pulls up on a very cool, vintage BMW motorbike.
It’s a little chilly. The sun still isn’t anywhere near above the buildings. I hand Bianca my jacket.
But hey, the coffee looks great!
We sit back and enjoy it for a few minutes. My double ristretto has a bold aroma and an appropriate layer of crema. It’s smooth, silky, and slightly thick. It’s sweet, but the specific taste characteristics are hard to define.
Honestly, I kept trying to associate this double ristretto with flavours I’d tasted before. I just couldn’t do it. This was cool, though. I enjoyed every drop.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? The coffee was great. Yet the entire experience didn’t come close to fulfilling my expectations.
That’s because a cafe isn’t just selling coffee, they’re selling a sensory and social experience. Coffee is just 1 ingredient in the nuanced recipe that makes a cafe’s value proposition hit or miss.
Step 4: Assign scores
With my experience out of the way, and with Bianca observing and documenting as we went, it was time to put some numbers to paper. It’s time to assess my perception of value, meaning, and engagement.
To do this we broke the experience down into smaller component parts. Each section of the experience has its place.
I then assigned a score from 0–10 for each of the 3 measures (value, meaning, and engagement). I gave scores for 3 components of the experience: anticipation, atmosphere, and enjoy!
- Anticipation gave us our baseline measure for how I was feeling and what I was expecting
- Atmosphere set the context for one of the most important reasons I choose to go to cafes
- Enjoy! gave us insights into the most tangible part of this experience
Through contextual inquiry, Bianca was then able to learn more about why I gave these scores. This helped her define and document gaps in the experience—areas for improvement.
We looked specifically at the entry, ordering, and wait experience. These are the things the cafe can control. They cannot control when Berlin chooses to get out of bed.
We looked at the role of interpersonal skills and sensory experiences (guess the smell, have a taste, etc.) to help us choose what we would end up ordering, and a participatory experience (take a peek behind the counter) that the barista could enact that would engage us more deeply in the process of making the coffee we were about to drink.
After this, the only thing left to do is put these improvements to the test. When working with our clients, we conduct experiments to determine the impact these improvements have.
“What if cafes designed their customer experience around value, meaning, and engagement?”
In today’s case, we didn’t have that luxury. By verbally simulating different entry, ordering, and wait experiences, Bianca was able to extract new VME measures from me. These measures give us a view of how improvements to the cafe’s experience are likely to increase the perceived value, meaning, and engagement of my Monday morning cafe experience.
You might have already guessed, but some of the ideas Bianca threw at me made a massive difference. It was my view that would have fundamentally changed my experience for the better. My VME scores went way up as a result.
Today’s short, sharp experiment was based on a sample of one. It’s by no means conclusive evidence that the cafe experience is broken. The experience design improvements we came up with are speculative at best. We didn’t factor the cost of the sensory experience, the cost of training, or the time of day such barista-led sensory and participatory experiences might be feasible.
What we did learn is that the entire cafe experience is much greater than the sum of its parts. Each and every interaction, smell, and perception makes a difference. It really left us thinking, what if the cafe designed their customer experience around value, meaning, and engagement? How might our experience have differed?
It’s our belief that value, meaning, and engagement can eventually become metrics that matter to both customers and business stakeholders. We’re in the process of making this so. But we’re early in the effort.
To be utterly transparent, this is the piece of the puzzle we’re currently working through. We’re doing this project by project. We can consistently execute high-value research that produces unique insights at low scale (10–30 customers), or scale this up with sound surveying methods, but this isn’t the bigger picture. We’re motivated to embed value, meaning, and engagement into product ideation, design, and implementation.
And that’s where you and the other smart people around you come in. Our vision is for a world where business and customer metrics aren’t at odds. It’s a world in which organizations consciously design products and services that maximize value, meaning, and engagement in the lives of the people they serve as customers. In this world, these organizations are rewarded for this effort. The greater value, meaning, and engagement they deliver, the more successful they become. The greater gap between them and the competition.
Related: Getting started with data-driven design
This extract comes from a previous article here on the InVision Blog where I introduced these measures to readers. It’s true—this is where we are up to. We’ve got experience leading projects that utilize VME metrics to help us define, design, and optimize experiences.
But the big challenge is how we bring customer and business metrics into alignment—how we scale these efforts vertically and horizontally across organizations of all sizes.
So is VME really the answer? It’s hard to say. The only thing that’s for sure is that we’re motivated to find out.
We’d love you to give it a try. If you’ve got questions, ask us. We’re happy to talk nitty-gritty details.
Oh—how could I forget? Enjoy your morning coffee.
Read more from Nathan Kinch
by Nathan Kinch
I'm the founding partner of >X , a research, design and strategy agency at the forefront of the personal data economy.