By Lavrans Lovlie. Designers bring ideas to life and are able to convince organisations to build services that their customers will love, but fail to communicate how these will bring value to business. At the same time, businesses spend millions to communicate their ideas through business cases that fail to convince customers.
Neither beautiful designs nor detailed spread sheets give (senior) management enough certainty to invest ambitiously in new services – but pilots will.
Livework is working with clients in different industries to conduct ‘real life’ pilots with actual clients in real business scenarios and settings. The outcomes challenge often long-held beliefs about customers and the organisation and guide the design and implementation of services that work in the real world .
Pilots that combine the creativity of design with the analytical rigour of business consulting provide a powerful approach for launching services that can perform in the market. Before we look at why, we need to understand how both design practice and business cases are risky propositions on their own.
Tangible visions or ‘corporate entertainment’
Organisations thirst for exciting visions and smart strategies that are wonderfully presented. Great service visualisations bring designers praise and design buyers acclaim from their peers, but often fail in the challenging process of going all the way to market. When the applause for a brilliantly envisioned customer experience fades and enthusiasm meets with business realities, the need for reassurance slowly kills the persuasive vision.
A thrilling vision of the future ends up serving as a moment of engaging corporate entertainment. For an organisation this has value in itself – and there is certainly a market for it – but ultimately it does not carry enough weight to make an impact in the real world.
User insights vs. customer behaviour
Qualitative design research is great at bringing a customer experiences to life inside an organisation. It is also a quick and cost-efficient way to pinpoint the most important needs and opportunities for innovation.
However, most design researchers have had to answer the question ‘So, how can I trust a conclusion based on what a handful of people say?’ This uncertainty is not caused by businesses trusting numbers over people. It is caused by an approach that does not tell them much about how customers behave en masse. Understanding how different people behave differently at large scales is needed to judge commercial value and to make crucial priorities and decisions in practice.
Qualitative research produces convincing stories, but needs to be backed up by evidence that acting on them will make an impact on large groups of customers.
Marrying insights with quantitative data only gets you so far
Quantitative research and data analysis might reveal useful patterns and trends but are not necessarily a good predictor of customer behaviour. Validating these with customers can still throw up false positives that point in the wrong directions.
As an example, a bank invested heavily in enabling account holders to manage their household finances via an online tool, expecting to strengthen their relationship with their customers, as well as attract new ones. Research clearly showed the interest and need of the customers to better manage their finances, customer clinics confirmed this and user testing made the tool easy to use. Two years after its launch, the uptake is disappointingly low, despite the strong push to promote and redesign the service.
Solving the right problems
Visual and tangible ideas have incredibly high value. Designers have a wealth of techniques to help communicate a customer experience. When managers need to make decisions that involve effort and risk, it is invaluable to see what a service will look and feel like for customers.
At the same time, the designer’s strength in seeing the service from a customer perspective is a weakness in terms of overlooking the factors that really will make the idea sink or swim. A service concept that may make perfect sense for customers may simply be unachievable by the organisation. The reasons will often be found a long distance away from the design brief. It can be in a detail of an IT system, in an organisational structure that is too costly to change or a corporate culture that will demand a high political price for being challenged.
Designers are great at making services simple for customers, but often underestimate how complex they are for organisations to realise. Design can make a convincing argument that customers will appreciate and value the service, but also need to prove that the idea is achievable for the business.
As a case in point, a regional council dealing with children with disabilities wanted to simplify the service and make it more transparent to families and caregivers. While everyone involved in the project bought into the proposed elegant solutions and designs, it did not address the fundamental question: how to do more with less. In addition to this, senior management and stakeholders could only see the massive reorganisation and redistribution of power required, and stopped the project.
 The examples in this article include cases from the telecoms industry, insurance, banking, health services and transport, and are anonymised to respect client confidentiality.