Integrating UX into Voice of the Customer Programs


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Centralis' Kathi Kaiser outlines the organizational challenges that limit the participation of user experience professionals in corporate "Voice of the Customer" initiatives.

Kaiser proposes a cross-functional model for UX, analogous to quality departments in hospitals or safety functions in manufacturing. An interdisciplinary UX Council integrates each department's unique perspective on customer needs, supported by a UX Strategy function to execute the priorities of the Council.

Kaiser urges UX professionals to adopt a cooperative, service-focused mentality when working with other departments to reduce in-fighting and focus organizational energy on the pursuit of success through meeting & exceeding customer needs.

Presented at the User Experience Professionals' Association annual conference, June, 2012.

Published in: Design, Technology, Business
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  • Hi, I’m Kathi Kaiser. I work at Centralis, a User Experience research and design firm based in Chicago. As UX professionals, it’s our job to give users a voice in the product development process. So why is it that so few “Voice of the Customer” initiatives involve UX people?
  • Turns out “Voice of the Customer” has a very specific meaning – it’s a Six Sigma management strategy typically led by Customer Service departments. These programs involve gathering customer feedback, using it to make changes and then monitoring the impact of those changes.
  • Sound familiar? It’s basically user-centered design. This is what UX professionals do – we watch and listen to users, design for them and test our work. Given that, we shouldn’t only be involved in VoC programs, we should be leading them, right?
  • Well, not so fast. For the most part, UX is about making things – we design interactions with products, websites, software, mobile... That’s a great place to start – we often have the most direct connection with customers of anyone in the organization.
  • However, VoC programs look at customers through a broader lens. They look at sales, customer service, loyalty – all of the touch points between a customer and a company. For most of us, our reach, skill set and bandwidth can’t cover it all.
  • UX professionals usually have a narrow view of the customer – the “user” view. And even that often isn’t complete. In fact, the breadth of our view on the customer varies depending on where we live in the organization.
  • In many companies, UX exists as a consolidated department. It may live within product development, marketing or IT, but it’s a group – several UX professionals work together as a unit to serve the needs of the vertical.
  • The advantages of this approach is that we get to work as a team to create standards and best practices to apply across multiple products. As a group, we form an identity. The downside is, it’s easy to get shut out of the process. We have no real stake or accountability for the end product, so no real power.
  • So here’s what this looks like in practice – senior leadership values UX enough to make it a group within marketing. But product development isn’t accountable for UX – it’s in a different silo. So when push comes to shove, UX becomes seen as a risk, and gets passed over.
  • In other companies, UX is distributed. Individual UX practitioners are “embedded with the troops” on the product team. Now there’s accountability, and to some extent, power to impact the final solution.
  • While the distributed model provides the potential for more direct impact, it’s not always a reality. It’s easier for UX people to be pulled into other roles because their teammates don’t understand what they do. Our visibility is limited to one product. It’s hard to be a lone wolf.
  • So in the distributed model, each product has its own UXer, with their own processes, ideas and approaches. In this approach, it’s easy for related products to look and function nothing like each other. And the worst case scenario – some UXers are co-opted into maximizing SEO on landing pages or other quasi-related tasks.
  • So what do we do about it? The solution is to stop thinking about UX as only a role or a department. We’ll never impact the full customer experience if we’re silo-ed in a group or marooned throughout the organization. UX should also be a cross-functional process.
  • UX could be like quality in a hospital. Most have a dedicated quality department that collects and analyzes data to provide safer patient care. Those results feed into a cross-functional Quality Committee – that’s the group that set priorities and writes policy.
  • Or maybe it’s like safety in a manufacturing environment. Those charged with monitoring worker safety convene joint worker-management committees from across the organization to make improvements.
  • When UX is a cross-functional process, representatives from each area convene to share their view on the customer as part of a UX Council. Alone, none of these groups has a comprehensive view of the customer – they see only the “user”, “prospect”, “customer” or “fan”. But together, their vision can span all these roles.
  • The pursuit of that vision is supported by a UX Strategy function. Like Quality or Safety department, this group doesn’t own the customer experience – they facilitate it by exploring the priorities set by the UX Council and making recommendations. The day-to-day practice of UX lives on the product team, but has the support of a UX strategy functional area.
  • When UX is treated as a cross-functional process, it can include the valuable perspectives brought from all corners of the organization. And voila! You can hear the 360 degree Voice of the Customer. UX is integrated into VoC programs not by leading the charge, but by helping to bring the voices together in harmony.
  • For this approach to work, of course it requires executive-level buy-in and support. But more importantly, it requires each team to value the contributions of the others. So often, we UX people feel like we’re at war with other groups. We need to put down our arms and recognize that we’re all pursuing the same goal – a better experience for customers. When we offer ourselves up in service to the organization, we’re more likely to help make that happen.
  • I’m Kathi Kaiser, my company is Centralis, and I thank you for your attention :)
  • Integrating UX into Voice of the Customer Programs

    1. 1. @kathikaiserIntegrating UX into 360o“Voice of the Customer” ProgramsKathi Kaiser, Centralis @kathikaiser
    2. 2. @kathikaiser“Voice of the Customer” Programs@kathikaiser
    3. 3. @kathikaiserSource: SAP= User Centered Design?“Voice of the Customer” Programs
    4. 4. @kathikaiserProduct Design, Useand EvaluationThe User Experience View
    5. 5. @kathikaiserCustomer ServiceSales & MarketingAnalyticsIn StoreExperienceSocial Media ListeningThe 360o View
    6. 6. @kathikaiserThe ProjectThe 360o ViewThe “User”The “Customer”The “Prospect”The “Fan”UX is usually here
    7. 7. @kathikaiserModel #1: UX is ConsolidatedProductDevelopmentSales &MarketingProduct 1Product 2Product 3MarketResearchUserExperienceSales &SupportCustomerServiceCall CenterOperationsTrainingInformationTechnologyITOperationsITApplicationsSupport/Help DeskSenior Leadership
    8. 8. @kathikaiserModel #1: UX is ConsolidatedPros:• Teammates!• Group identity• Potential for impact acrossproductsCons:• Marginalization• Lack of visibility• Potential for no impact
    9. 9. @kathikaiserModel #1: UX is Consolidated“We believe in UX.We have a UX group!”“That product needs help –let’s test it.”“We don’t havetime for testing –thanks anyway.”“We’re making thatlaunch date, right…?”
    10. 10. @kathikaiserModel #2: UX is DistributedSenior LeadershipProductDevelopmentSales &MarketingProduct 1Product 2Product 3MarketResearchSales &SupportUXUXUXCustomerServiceCall CenterOperationsTrainingInformationTechnologyITOperationsITApplicationsSupport/Help Desk
    11. 11. @kathikaiserModel #2: UX is DistributedPros:• We’re on the team!• Deeper product knowledge• Harder to marginalizeCons:• UX devolves into other roles• Lone wolves• Lack of consistency acrossproducts
    12. 12. @kathikaiserModel #2: UX is Distributed“I do UX this way.”“I do UX that way.”“I don’t really get todo UX at all.”
    13. 13. @kathikaiserUX is not only a role or a department.It should be across-functional process.@kathikaiser
    14. 14. @kathikaiserUX as a Cross-Functional ProcessUX could be like quality in hospital settings…
    15. 15. @kathikaiserUX as a Cross-Functional Process…or safety in manufacturing settings.
    16. 16. @kathikaiserUX as a Cross-Functional ProcessThe User Experience CouncilProductDevelopmentMarketingCustomer ServiceITUser Experience
    17. 17. @kathikaiserUX as a Cross-Functional ProcessA UX Strategy functional area serves the Council:
    18. 18. @kathikaiserUX as a Cross-Functional ProcessSenior LeadershipProduct 1Product 2Product 3UXUXUXITOperationsITApplicationsSupport/Help DeskAnalysis &MetricsCall CenterOperationsTrainingMarketResearchSales &SupportUX CouncilProductDevelopmentSales &MarketingCustomerServiceInformationTechnologyUser ExperienceStrategy360o Voice of theCustomer!
    19. 19. @kathikaiserKeys to Success:1. Executive–level authority for the UX CouncilThe UX Council needs teeth (and funding!)2. Mutual respect and cooperation across disciplinesA 360o view needs all perspectives – they all have something to offer.3. UX must serve the organization, not battle with itWe’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. Let’s do it together.
    20. 20. @kathikaiserKeys to Success:1. Executive–level authority for the UX CouncilThe UX Council needs teeth (and funding!)2. Mutual respect and cooperation across disciplinesA 360o view needs all perspectives – they all have something to offer.3. UX must serve the organization, not battle with itWe’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. Let’s do it together.Thanks!Kathi Kaiser@kathikaiser@Centralis_UX