December 21st, 2012
With so many teams and divisions within organizations, falling into a pattern of designing within your own silo is incredibly easy. Mobile teams are focused on the mobile products. Desktop teams are concerned with the desktop experience. But customers interact with your product or service from an increasing variety of touchpoints. They expect a seamless experience across channels and devices. This often is not the case.
Chris Risdon, Adaptive Path’s Lead Experience Designer, emphasizes that a customer’s journey is about their relationship with an organization, not these disparate experiences. Designing in silos creates an amnesiatic environment. Oftentimes, the different parts of an organization aren’t talking to each other, subjecting a user to redundant experiences. For example, when a customer repeats account or service information to a call center representative after having already entered it into an automated system.
Getting a diverse group involved to map the customer’s journey will lead to greater design collaboration. Chris says that the process of mapping the journey is ultimately more important than the artifact it creates. The process allows you to see how you fit into your customer’s life. You identify more about the context of use and how to effectively tell the story of the customer’s journey.
Chris is presenting one of the daylong workshops at the UX Immersion conference, April 22-24, 2013 in Seattle. This year’s conference features 6 experts covering various aspects of mobile design. For more information on Chris’ and the other 5 workshops, visit uxim.co.
As always, we love to hear what you’re thinking. Share your thoughts in our comments section.
Jared Spool: Welcome, everyone. You are listening to yet another episode of the SpoolCast, and we’re very happy that you have joined us. I am Jared Spool. I’m your cruise director for the day. I have with me the amazing Mr. Chris Risdon, who works with the good folks over at Adaptive Path as a lead experience designer in Austin, and he is also going to be giving a fabulous workshop at the upcoming UX Immersion Conference that’s going to be in Seattle, April 22nd through 24th. He’s doing a session on integrating mobile into your customer’s journey, and we’re really excited to have him.
Chris, thanks for joining me today.
Chris Risdon: Hello, sir. Thank you. I really appreciate you having me.
Jared: I really appreciate you doing this.
You and I were talking when we were putting the program together, and you were explaining to me the sorts of things that people are running into. You talked about something that just sort of nailed what I’ve been dealing with, and I know a lot of our clients have been dealing with, which is this whole problem that we design in silos, that if I’m working on a mobile app, I’m so focused on my mobile app, I’m not thinking about all the things that that customer does with my organization before they get to my app and all the things they’re going to do after the app. That leads to problems, right?
Chris: Right. Yeah, I mean, there’s two things that are happening there. One is the experiential side of things for the customer or the end user, and the other is the organizational thing that’s happening with companies and their silos.
What we realized, as we were working more and more with mobile, to exactly what you said, is we know that context is really important to understand how to design for a good user experience. Mobile really brought that to the forefront, where all of a sudden context became so important, instead of knowing that, by and large, they might be in a coffee shop or on their desk, but they’re going to be on their laptop and they’re going to have a certain type of browser. It became easy to fill in the context of use for a lot of things that were more desktop, web applications. Mobile sort of turned that on its head and really showed how important context was.
We were realizing we couldn’t necessarily design for mobile in a vacuum. We had to consider it.
Then that second part is, again, to the point that you said, organizations tend to get really siloed, and often by channel. They have their web channel. They have their mobile channel. They have the people that are dealing with the retail or they’re dealing with the phone center. Yet siloing those and creating very disparate experiences often isn’t really the way people experience their journey with that product or service over the course of a week, a month, or a lifetime.
Jared: I think that the silo thing, some of which comes from the fact that the organizations behind it are siloed. I was talking to someone yesterday who was telling me that the first thing their team did when they realized they needed something mobile was they created a mobile team, and the mobile team was in charge of the mobile part. But it turned out that there was this whole desktop component, and that was a different team, and they weren’t talking to each other, let alone what happens with customer support or what happens with sales or what happens with all these other parts of the business that aren’t even in the development side.
Chris: Again, you can slice it a number of ways. The first thing is, also, when you look at it that way and you start designing your products and services in that siloed way, you’re forgetting that a lot of people are now using channels, or platforms, or however you want to slice them, sequentially, in real tight sequence, or they’re often using them simultaneously. They might be in a retail space while using their mobile, or they might literally be on their mobile while they’re having a discussion on the phone with a call center.
All of a sudden, these worlds collide and converge to the end user, and they don’t see a distinction between that. Then, again, organizationally, you’re not communicating about what’s happening and you can’t create a more seamless experience if these silos aren’t talking to each other.
We’re seeing it a lot more. Probably in the last couple months, there have been at least three companies who’ve wanted to talk to us about helping to bridge those silos.
It’s not even just about helping them design their products and services. It’s more helping them how to think about how to arrange their organizations to be more enabled to design these more seamlessly. A lot of them have new groups, whether they’re service-design groups or customer-experience groups. But when they’re coming to talk to us, they’re saying, “Well, I’m now part of this new customer-experience group. We’re less than six months old and we’re growing, and our mandate is to bridge these silos or to help customers have an experience where those silos are seamless on their end.”
Jared: That mandate, is that an easy thing for folks to get their head around right away?
Chris: No, it’s really not. It’s easier, obviously, for a startup. On a startup standpoint, especially if they have something that is mobile-centric, the value proposition or whatever their new product or service is, what they often do is forget to realize that they’ll likely need to think about other channels. If you look at new mobile digital apps, like some exercise app, like a Nike Plus or a RunKeeper, those obviously are verily mobile-centric type of applications, but they work in concert with a web application, knowing that you do certain things with the mobile part and you do certain things with the web.
When you’re small and you’re thinking mobile-centric, often it’s a mistakable mission of not understanding that the journey that a customer uses your product in will often include another channel, and so you don’t necessarily give that channel the right attention.
But a lot of clients that we work with are larger enterprises, and that’s where it is really about that these silos already exist, and it really is the “steering a large ship” analogy, where it’s so hard to really ingrain a certain amount of buy-in to new ways of thinking about how you guys need to either organize yourselves or communicate with each other.
Jared: I could see, if you take this in its simplest form, right? A few weeks ago, I was at a conference. I’m always at a conference of some sort or other.
Jared: This particular conference, they were using, I think it was Eventbrite as their registration system. They were trying to check people in. They had the registration desk, like most conferences have, and they had their laptops open on the desk, and they were checking people in. Like often happens at many conferences, the first session starts at nine o’clock, so everybody shows up at quarter to nine.
At quarter to nine or 10 of nine, there was now this line with 20, 30, 40 people in it and they had two laptops in the front of the room. They were checking people off. But then, one of the guys who was running the conference looked and saw the long line.
He grabbed his iPad and he did something on his iPad, and suddenly now he’s able to walk down the line and get people’s names and check them in and say, “OK. You know what? Come back later and we’ll give you your books and stuff, but you can go get into your session so you can get a good seat, so we can start on time.”
He was able to make that happen on this iPad, which, if you go through the siloed approach, isn’t integrated with those laptops that are sitting there. But the way you’re approaching this stuff, all of this becomes a single type of experience.
Chris: Yeah. I think some of the problems is, we might be victims of our own success. We’ve talked about channels, and now the idea of cross-channel has become this thing. Yet we know that a customer’s or user experience really isn’t thought of. They don’t have a mental model that has them traversing different channels.
We now start to organize ourselves, as organizations, around channels. Yet channels are actually, if you think about them, very nebulous. I mean, you can sit there and think of mobile as a channel and you’re defining the platform as a channel.
But you have things that you can do on mobile that are often thought of as their own channels, such as chat, instant message, emails. Emails can live on desktops and different web stuff. Channels get blurry when you think of the fact that you can have live chat on websites. I know that, while sometimes they’re separate, many live-chat organizations are run by their call-center people, so the same people you would do with the phone channel are actually managing what you could think of as a digital channel through live chat.
We have this thing where we’re thinking about channels a lot, and therefore we think about them as these mutually exclusive things, and that all of a sudden hampers us. It creates a constraint around how we think about producing and designing our products and services that make it inherently less seamless for the end user.
It’s exactly to the point that you were making with your example at the conference and the Eventbrite thing. If you thought too rigidly about these siloed channels, you’re not going to be able to enable that type of experience.
Jared: Right. How did you find yourself in the middle of this? Because you’re turning out to be our go-to guy for thinking in these terms. You’ve obviously got a lot of thought behind it. You’ve got a lot of speaking. Did you just wake up one morning and say, “Oh my gosh, we’re working in silos. Let’s get out of that”?
Chris: [laughs] No. It was really about necessity. I think part of it was some of my own background before I came to Adaptive Path. I joined Adaptive Path in 2010. It was in 2010 where I saw a lot of what we were doing would be engagements around a particular area, like this is our web initiative, this is our mobile initiative, and we’d have these. We’d do the work and either one of two things would happen. One would be we would, say, as we’re helping you with, say, a mobile design strategy, we’re realizing that it involves all this other stuff. If we’re going to really look at this qualitatively and come up with a strategy for you to do it, we can’t work in a silo. We have to know more about these other parts.
Another thing that would happen, on the flip side, is they would say, “What you did for our digital strategy, design strategy”–and I’m kind of abstracting here a little bit–”what you did applies to the broader things we’re doing in the organization.” They would want to take what we were doing that, at the time, would maybe be very singular, channel-centric, like the web channel or the mobile channel, and start to apply that thinking and wanted to move it up in the organization so that it would affect other areas.
This is where we started to do a lot of stuff that is not digital. Even though Adaptive Path, up until two or three years ago, was fairly digital-centric, the past two or three years have really shown us working higher up in the organizations to hopefully embed a lot of that user-experience type thinking, or at least that empathic or user-centric type thinking, in other areas in the organization.
That’s where a lot of the journey mapping, whether it’s mobile or whether it’s for thinking about other touch points within the organization, started to come, because we, all of a sudden, had to start thinking about physical retail spaces. We had to start thinking about the phone channel. Or in some cases, we even had to start thinking about print touch points.
It’s kind of come organically, but it’s come through this evolution of moving something that was very tactical or mid-level strategic higher up into the organization and thinking how it can be applied to other parts of the organization.
Then that needed tools. That needed us thinking about tools. Experience maps or customer journey maps have been around for a while, but they’ve defined themselves in different ways, depending on whether they were used by a retail industry, whether they were being used by marketers, whether they were being used for service designers.
My personal interest in starting to think about a foundation for what experience maps should look like, especially when you’re mapping something that should be mobile-centric but looking at other touch points, came by the fact that we didn’t have a good foundational tool set. We think of other things as well. We use these ecosystem inventories or service blueprints, which I think is a very complementary methodology that comes after you look at the more experiential experience map.
I’ve had this thing where there wasn’t a real foundation so if somebody asked me should we do an experience map, there was lots of, “well, what should that be? What does that include?” I never wanted to be too prescriptive in how it should be but I figured the best way to start was to be prescriptive so that foundation is there, knowing that people will eventually kind of bastardize it and morph it into whatever they need down the line and, ideally, push the methodology of mapping customer journeys further.
Jared: I’m intrigued by some of this stuff. What’s an ecosystem inventory?
Chris: That’s actually a mash-up. What we do before we do experience maps is there’s different things you can do. I misspoke by calling it ecosystem inventory. There’s an ecosystem map which is a service design tool which allows you before you start thinking about the story you’re trying to tell and the customer journey, you’re trying to just do a bit of discovery and trying to identify everything that’s involved. What are the people that are involved?
If you’re doing a service like a health clinic you’re going to identify everything from the nurse to the receptionist to the doctors to the parking attendant or whoever it is, your devices that are involved, identifying a lot of the context that’s there before you even try to organize it into a map of some sort. What we also do separately depends on whether we’re dealing with something that’s a traditional sense of a service or something that’s more of a digital product service or something that’s a multichannel, across channel service.
We’ll do touch point inventories. When you do experience maps or you do customer journey maps, which technically there might be a difference but that’s just semantically two different ways to call the same thing, when you do those you can’t necessarily tell the story of every touch point. Your research will show what the critical touch points are or what the ones you want to highlight based on opportunities or pain points.
In the beginning, as part of discovery before you’ve necessarily done any qualitative or quantitative research with your end users or your customers, you want to identify all the touch points that exist. What are all the areas that your company comes in contact with customers or potential customers. It’s really not unlike, from an information architecture standpoint, doing a content inventory because you want to understand what this touch point is, where it happens.
It’s the metadata of it of what type of touch point is it, what are the characteristics about it, and where they occur. You have this giant inventory. You’re not really worried about it being time-based yet. You’re not really worried about it giving you any experiential insight into the customer yet. You’re just trying to that discovery of what this universe or this ecosystem of our company coming in contact with the end user is.
Jared: I’m wondering, have you guys at Adaptive Path, since you’ve been at Adaptive Path, have you guys found yourselves working with an industry or a business that you are like, “Wow, in a million years I never thought I’d be working on this type of stuff?” Something that’s just way out there from your perspective?
Chris: I can’t say that I really have. I think the point is that the wheels are already in motion that Adaptive Path was starting to do increasingly more non-digital work, or at least incorporating into something even if it started as a digital-centric initiative or engagement. Adaptive Path in 2010 saw this trend happening, but when I came aboard I didn’t really realize the extent to which I would be doing and thinking strategically about designing products and services incorporating company’s non-digital touch points or channels like retail spaces or phone channels or even print materials.
I used to really frame myself as a designer of digital products and services. I had to start really rethinking that self-identification because at least a third, if not closer to 50 percent, of my work is absolutely incorporating at the very least multiple channels and, more often than not, non-digital channels.
Jared: I think that that’s probably a trend that a lot of user experience folks are finding themselves in now is that they’re seeing that their work is growing outside of just the pixels and wireframes that they started in. I’m going to guess that that trend keeps happening.
You mentioned, when you were talking about doing the touch point inventory, that that’s part of this discovery phase. There are other steps after you do discovery that happen, right?
Chris: Yeah. Often you put discovery and research in one bucket, but I think there’s a bit of a distinction and I tend to highlight that a little bit when I’m talking about the process of creating experience maps or at least mapping this journey. Discovery is that sense of uncovering everything and understanding all the different ways your company interacts or communicates with customers, but then the research is going to be the part where you’re actually getting some insight into your customers’ or your users’ mental models, their behaviors.
We’re very user-centered so I think the qualitative research, the ethnographic type of research, is imperative, but I also sometimes think we then undervalue some of the quantitative research because that can help fill some of the gaps of limited qualitative research. If you interview six or eight people but then you’re able to get a survey with 200 people, they can compliment each other really well.
This is a fairly standard way of thinking or framework about research, but what people are thinking, feeling, and doing as a way of what we’re trying to uncover. I think some of the quantitative research you can do really illuminates some of that doing part. What are people doing? It can be as simple as web analytics or it can be a survey you send out to people.
That research goes part and parcel with the discovery process. First you have to understand that universe of that ecosystem, that universe of where your company exists in end users’ or customers’ lives and then you want to actually get insight from those customers.
The simple way we try to frame it when we’re thinking about experience maps is we’re trying to tell a story and we need to make sure that’s a true story, so we need to have real insight into a customer’s experience in order to inform us mapping what that looks like across time and place.
Jared: I go out there and I do the research. Is this with just a core team or am I bringing people from different parts of the organization in? How does that work?
Chris: The research part could work a number of different ways. I think it’s when you start to really do the mapping that it’s imperative that it’s a collaborative, cross-discipline effort, meaning if you are dealing with a journey that includes mobile, that includes web, includes retail, includes phone, whatever those are, representatives from the organization from those areas need to be involved in this activity.
The research often is dependent. The more that you can get involved, the more people can be firsthand in these insights the better. Sometimes there’s constraints where you just can’t do that. Obviously sometimes there’s research groups that help conduct the research.
We’re finding, this is kind of a newer idea, I was talking to somebody recently about how you could use the template of an experience map as a great focus group activity to actually give some structure to a focus group so it’s more of a participatory way to start to articulate what’s happening in the journey.
The research can happen in a number of different ways, but when you’re actually getting into the activity of doing the experience mapping, it definitely shouldn’t jump from discovery and research and getting these insights into somebody working in InDesign or Illustrator to create some visualization. It actually is a fairly collaborative activity when you’re doing the actual mapping.
Jared: That gets everybody involved. Then how do you, from that, pull it apart so that you know what you’re starting to think about for changing the designs that you’re producing?
Chris: Yeah. The mapping is the part that should be very collaborative. It should involve a pretty good cross-section of the organization, depending on the scale and scope of the organization and the products and services you’re designing for.
What you would do then, ideally, is when you do want to take it into artifact mode, is where you’re trying to tell the story. That’s where somebody is putting their designer hat on and thinking about the best way to communicate this journey and taking these building blocks. You have a little insight to that feeling, thinking, and doing. You’ve identified some of the context from the discovery. I know what people might be doing at this point. We hopefully have an idea of whether this is a pain point or this is an actual successful thing.
You know you want to tell a story of the journey, and that’s where you think about visualizations and you think about the ways that you can articulate it.
Then, when you’re talking about how to use the map and what you’re trying to do with it to help improve it, I think of it as there’s three ways you can apply it, and doing experience maps can be really effective for all three means, which is organizational, strategic, and tactical.
On the highest level, you can get something that you can have an organizational conversation around, because right now you have a story. The way you’re representing the story is breaking through those silos, and you can see where channels collide, where channels work in sequence, where they work in tandem, where they’re not working together, where there’s a big drop-off in expectations. At an organizational level, you can sit there and go, “How can we either know now where we should have an emphasis in where we marshal our resources or how we should organize ourselves to better support a future-state better journey that we have?”
At the strategic level, what you can do is you know you can’t necessarily fix everything, or address everything, even though it’s not about fixing it, all at once, when you have a journey that could literally cover a week or it could cover a year or it could cover multiple years, depending on what your service is and what you’re trying to do.
You can use this to create a road map of priorities. You can start to prioritize some of the things that are happening in that journey, whether they’re opportunities you’re not addressing or they’re drop-offs or some sort of pain points that are happening. You can use the journey map, again, as a conversation for actually planning your initiatives or planning that strategy of what you should do.
Then, at the tactical level, you can then start to pull the touch points out and understand, “Well, this touch point, we need to design to support this good experience at this particular point that we come in contact with them.” We can ideate around that.
Ideally at this point, you could do that normally, but at this point, you now have the DNA of the larger journey. You can sit there and understand what stage it’s in, what channels are actually involved in supporting this in a nice, seamless way, what are the things that are happening before and after it. Also, what’s the context that’s happening. We know what people’s insight are here, what they’re doing and they’re feeling and they’re thinking at this particular touch point.
Jared: If you go off and you take your journey map and you say, “OK, great. We now have this thing. Oh, look, there’s this real opportunity right at this point. I think we could fix this one thing,” is there a risk now of getting back into the silo and taking the map and working on my one thing without really getting involved with the things that come before, the things that come after it, in that journey?
Chris: There absolutely is. This, both as an activity, should hopefully improve that communication. But then, as the end artifact, it’s not a miracle worker. There has to be a commitment on the organization to want to address this. That’s why I go back to where we’re talking to companies that have new groups, often around customer experience, especially for the retailers, that have a mandate to create this more seamless experience by bridging or breaking down some of those silos.
I can tell already. Some of these are just talks, and some of them aren’t even about engagements with Adaptive Path. They’re the fact that I’m talking to other people out there about this.
The ones that have a mandate that enables them to look at that organizational level and affect change, possibly, in an organizational sense, like structure or hierarchies or things like that, are probably going to be most successful. The ones that are going to end up working strictly at a tactical level and are somehow meant to maybe facilitate a little bit of communication, throw things over those silo walls and be more of a traffic manager, won’t ideally be as successful.
That’s often why, if you hear me talk about it, I usually don’t talk about experience maps or customer journey maps. I’ll often talk about mapping the experience or experience mapping, because I really want to emphasize that it really is this process and this activity that ends up having the big payoff, and the artifact is a nice communication tool, but it’s sort of secondary to the overall process of bringing in different parts of the organization to participate in the activity.
But you need a commitment, and the activity in itself and the map and the artifact in itself can’t necessarily create a commitment within the organization to break down those silos.
Jared: This is really interesting. Is it the case that, when we’re making changes, when we do our maps and we discover, “Oh my gosh, we have a lot of opportunity here. There’s a lot of places we could do things,” is it usually the case where it’s a lot of little things that will pay off, or it’s like, “Well, if we just did this one thing. If we just put this RFID tag on this one object, then suddenly we can do all these different things that we couldn’t do before”?
Do you find that it’s more of that single point of innovation changes the world, or more of these, “Oh, no, there’s just lots of little baby steps, and when we bundle them together, suddenly we’ll see massive improvement across the organization and across the experience”?
Chris: Yeah. I would say that the first answer, I have to trudge this out at some point, is that it depends.
Chris: But I would say, more often than not, it’s the fact that there’s these little areas and that there’s all of a sudden this overriding sense that all these little parts aren’t connected to each other. There’s a little disjointedness going throughout.
I’ve had a couple things where it’s like “aha” moment, and all of a sudden you’ve change the paradigm or the framework with which you’re tackling something, and it’s usually one thing. I’ve had that happen a couple times, so I wouldn’t rule that out.
A lot of it is that scale and scope. When we’re working with larger companies that have a fairly complex set of products or service, or a singular service that has a lot of different touch points, you tend to find that it is all these little things. That’s why it tends to end up moving up the organization, because you realize it isn’t just about all these little design improvements.
I guess, in a way, I could say it’s a merger, because you’ll see all these little things, and the “aha” moment comes in, like, “At a higher level, we should be thinking about how we embed a good user experience or some type of user-centric or empathic paradigm within our organization.”
At a tactical level, it’s usually that there’s all these little disjointed bits and pieces that aren’t necessarily working together. But sometimes that kind of coalesces at a higher level about thinking about, really, if we make these one or two changes, either strategically or within our organization, we can have vastly improved results.
It’s not necessarily what you’re designing at an individual touch-point level. It’s probably pretty easy to look at what’s wrong at a particular touch-point level. It’s orchestrating how they all work together that is usually the more “aha” moment that you find.
Jared: This is just fascinating. I’m really excited about the workshop that you’re going to be doing at the UX Immersion Conference in Seattle, because I think really, it’s so often we get caught in the weeds and we are so looking at the details, and we’re trying to get the pixels right and we’re trying to get the buttons to be just the right size of our fingers and the flows to be so when we click here it goes there. But we don’t step back and say, “Wait a second. What is the user really trying to do here? What else has happened in their lives before they got here? Do we really have to ask this information? Have we asked it 10 times before?” All of those things.
Because of the way mobile is causing organizations to rethink, I think this topic is critically important, in a way that it’s never been before.
Chris: Yeah. The timing’s good. I’m really looking forward to giving the workshop, because I realize that a lot of our initiatives come from a mobile starting point. They’re looking at their mobile strategy and they talk to us, and it’s really when we realize that, except for the occasional startup that you’re looking at, but mobile rarely exists in a vacuum without touching other channels from the organization.
It really started to make sense to think about this activity from a mobile context, so that people who are in charge of mobile can realize and start to understand to design for that, knowing that it’s going to have an impact on other parts of the organization.
Jared: Very cool. Chris, thanks for taking the time today, and I’m looking forward to your workshop.
Chris: Thank you. I’m really looking forward to it. Thanks a lot.
Jared: Excellent. I want to thank everyone who’s been listening for participating and letting us know. If you listen to us through iTunes, it would be awesome if you went and gave us a rating on the iTunes, because it actually helps us get the word out to other folks and it’s useful. If you like it, go ahead, put in a rating and let the world know what you think about that.
Once again, thank you very much for encouraging our behavior, and we will talk to you next time. Take care.