Design thinking can transform leadership, remake innovation and produce more creative and engaged employees. It is, according to an informal poll of chief strategy officers last year, one of the most important new tools for strategy.
That sounds great, but pretty is as pretty does. The benefits of design thinking -- which we agree are enormous -- come about only if you use it to change the work your people do. We learned about this at a recent gathering sponsored by the Cincinnati chapter of the American Marketing Association -- a conference aptly named "Ignite!" because its purpose was to get marketers fired up about customer experience.
As we thought about it, we realized that the road to customer experience should be paved from start to finish with design thinking -- and service design in particular. Indeed, a new, design-driven marketing agenda is more ambitious and likely to be much more powerful than the old one.
Here are six ways to use service design to ignite your marketing agenda:
1. Bring the brand from the top of the funnel deep into the organization.
Traditional marketing plays at top of the "marketing funnel," addressing issues like brand and lead generation, before handing off to the sales team. That's okay for manufacturing, but in services -- 80 percent of the economy -- your brand is being expressed and created all the time.
A financial technology startup's reputation is determined more by the impression employees make than by the impressions its tweets get. Old-school places like Disney get it; think Best Buy's bright blue shirts. If everyone's a marketer, then marketing must be everywhere. Marketing needs to be working wherever the brand is made.
2. Guard the archetype.
Companies go to market in one of nine archetypal ways, which we describe in our book Woo, Wow, and Win. There are Trendsetters (like Warby Parker), Bargains (think Walmart), Safe Choices (Olive Garden), etc.
Business-unit leaders, sales reps, and frontline employees all tend to push against the boundaries of an archetype. Maybe they want to copy a rival's success, or please a special customer -- or just try something new.
Marketers (who are not immune to the charm of the new themselves) must patrol the boundaries -- and in service businesses, these transgressions are likely to happen on the front lines, away from headquarters where marketing is usually based.
3. Provide "tangible evidence."
Traditional marketing includes a Logo Cop -- the irksome person who won't let you change fonts or colors. Design-driven marketing is about much more. It develops proof points for what you're selling. You need them because services are intangible -- customers can't kick their tires or rub their fabric with their fingers. The design of a service must therefore incorporate evidence that the customer uses to verify that you deliver what she expects.
Ads, lobbies, websites, letterhead, color schemes -- even the cleanliness of the bathroom -- all are clues to customers. The white shirts that IBMers used to wear were a positioning statement; and when Silicon Valley donned denim, it was for branding as much as comfort.
4. Define and own critical customer interactions.
Every business has a few interactions that matter so much to you and your clients that they define the relationship. A policy-holder calls from the side of the road after an accident; a consulting firm leads the kick-off meeting for a project; the waiters bring out the main course--these moments of truth can win or lose a customer's loyalty.
You don't want marketers actually manning the claims-processing line, but you absolutely want them developing use cases, designing the workflow, and training the people who are in the hot seat.
5. Coordinate touchpoints.
If your customer has a different experience on the phone than in the store; if he has to repeat information over and over; if any employee ever says, "That's not my department," you're causing pain, making a mess of your message, and leaving money on the table.
Because omnichannel customers are so valuable, the customers you already have are your most valuable pool of leads. Are your channels feeding it or draining it? That's not a technology problem; it's a marketing opportunity -- but in midsized companies, digitizing the customer experience is twice as likely to be handled by the CIO as by the CMO.
Marketing needs to be in charge.
6. Be the trustee of your customer "assets."
The most valuable assets service companies have never appear on a balance sheet: employee knowledge and customer relationships. Marketers may track New Promoter Scores or Lifetime Customer Value, but truly maximizing customer capital requires designing pathways to upsell and cross-sell, encourage referrals, customize, and engage customers in product and service innovation.