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The top 5 mistakes you’re making when it comes to customer loyalty

We operate in an increasingly fast, complex and interconnected world, where nimble new market entrants have been able to upend established sectors through a laser focus on unified experiences that win loyalty — and drive great businesses.

Many of these barnstorming startups — Airbnb, GitHub, Buzzfeed, AVAST Software, Pinterest, Snapchat — share a common feature: they have co-founders who have embraced human-centered design or come from a design background.

Yet when you look around at organisations that are embarking on digital transformations, so many put such little emphasis on the importance of design, customer centricity and actually living up to their brand promise. I’ve seen both large organisations, and smaller nimble companies struggle with this.

With all the clients I’ve worked with, somewhere in their brand promise there’s always mention of the customer and loyalty as an integral part of the business. Let’s face it, without paying customers there is no business. But if customer loyalty and satisfaction is so integral to organisations’ success, why are they so bad at it?

Let’s be honest: are you really delivering on your brand promise and being customer-centric?

Here are five mistakes I’ve seen brands make:

1: Not speaking to your customers

I’ve seen organisations of all sizes be so protective over their customers that they end up damaging their brand. They want to improve their products’ customer experience but won’t allow delivery teams to speak to customers. Typically, that’s borne from fears that customers will be uneasy with change, or that customers will assume that there must be something wrong with the product.

Governments are often the worst culprits when it comes to customer feedback and user testing. Here, there may be a lengthy process and paperwork to go through before a team can speak to a customer for feedback. And where digital teams need short feedback loops, the red tape hamstrings the team's ability to create great experiences.

I’ve only ever seen customers embrace being asked to give feedback. They love that their opinion counts; it also strengthens the brand loyalty, especially when they see the changes being implemented. If technology doesn’t include humans, it’s failed.

If you’re scared about embarking on this for the first time, select key customers that you trust to provide the feedback and ensure you have an experienced design researcher to help take you along on the journey. It helps to set regular times for customers to come in — say, once every two weeks, depending on your iteration cycles; and do away with long processes and approvals to speak to customers.

2. Delivery teams aren’t set up to incorporate customer feedback

I often see teams building digital products where no one person on the team has ever spoken to a customer, let alone conducted user testing. They just have no way to feed information back into the team on how to improve the product.

Items are prioritised by what the person at the top — who again has never spoken to a customer or their customer service team — wants. Any information about what customers want or need sits with random teams that never share. If you want to gather all the information and make sense of it, you’d need Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction.

If you’re missing the opportunity to gather vital customer data, then your digital products aren’t set up to succeed. Even if you can gather the data, you can’t adapt your product to market feedback if you don’t have a strategy for dealing with the information.

Delivery teams need to stop being so focused on the technology and start placing the customer at the center. This includes involving all team members (in whatever way they feel comfortable) with customer testing and research. This will enable your team to empathise with your customers, and understand how to prioritise the features to deliver customer value.

Talking with Customers

Just as some teams have adopted continuous delivery, they also need to adopt continuous design, which means designers working inside the teams and pairing with developers. Data analytics need to be baked in from day one and someone needs to own this and feed the results back to the team and wider organisation if required.

3: Customer promises fail to match reality

So often, we see advertising campaigns promise all kinds of benefits for the customer. Those customers are made to feel that the brand really understands them and knows their needs. Yet inside it’s a completely different story: they don’t really know their customers, they’ve never conducted even a simple empathy map or user journey, let alone use technology to gather rich customer data which then gets fed back into the organisation and product teams.

I’ve generally seen this happen with very large organisations where there are very definite silos across the organisations. It’s often the marketing teams’ job to sell the brand story and increase customers, for which they enlist the services of an advertising agency, whose job is to sell the brand story and customer dream. Yet, these teams never look at, or work with, the digital teams or other organisational teams to ensure the brand is aligned. The customer is not placed at the heart of the organisation and customer centricity is not driven from the top down. Instead, it usually lives inside the marketing teams and stays there.

Where such stark differences between customer expectations and reality exist, the organisation is going to struggle. One way to align the brand promise with products is to establish cross-functional brand workshops, that get the brand, marketing and products teams talking together.

4: Yeh, we do design?

Having one designer working across multiple digital teams to create some pretty pictures that get approved by someone in management or marketing is not doing design. Having one designer do research, user experience, visual design, and front-end dev is not doing design. Not allowing a designer to test ideas with customers or work on delivery teams where they pair with developers is not design. Jack of all trades, master of none comes to mind and will result in an unhappy designer and poor products.

A designer is a problem solver; they help organisations take their complex problems and simplify them. They use customer feedback to validate ideas. This means they actually need to speak to customers and gather customer data; designers work in delivery teams to ensure what they are designing can actually be built, they pair with developers, BAs and QAs.

First, they unpack the problem, then test the idea and then working with the team they make it look amazing and usable. They gather customer feedback on a continuous basis to incrementally improve the experience and deliver on the brand promise. All this cannot be done with a unicorn designer; it takes a diverse team with diverse perspectives to make better designs for everyone. Iteration and change are the building blocks of innovation. 

If you want your designers to thrive, ensure you have the right designers on the team, then pair your designers with other key team members, such as researchers with interactive/visual designers.

5: Rely on re-platforming legacy products

A common mistake I’ve seen in organisations is to think the solution to their problem is taking their product — which is built with 20+-year-old  legacy technology — and simply rebuild using new technology. This approach will certainly give you a shiny new tech stack, which might in some cases enable you to move faster. However, fixing what is under the covers will not result in brand loyalty nor save you from new competitors coming into the market.

The products not only have the old technology but they were built on old customer insights and for a brand that probably had a very different vision.

You need to take a step back and look at your organisation with a wider lens and then look deep inside your company. Ask yourself who are you today and who do you want to be tomorrow? What is your brand promise and how will your newly platformed product live up to this? Where does it fit within the ecosystem of other products? You need to join the dots between the different customer interactions and touchpoints.

Once you do this, it is time to conduct customer research to understand what customers like with what you currently offer them and what they want in the future. What problems are they facing on a daily basis that your newly platformed product could solve? Once you’ve gathered all of this, you can then start to define what you need to keep, add, remove and start to build the first component which you can test with your customers.

Start by conducting brand workshops to define your promise and ensure it hasn’t changed. Use customer feedback to define what the new version will look like, look at your brand architecture to determine where all your products fit and if anything needs to change to align with your new vision.

Every customer experience can be improved if we keep these things top of mind. Let’s all try and be better. 

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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