As recently as 2019, a column in Forbes decried the 84% failure rate for digital transformation projects. It pointed out that the failure is caused by a lack of customer-centricity, which is a popular focus for online commerce. As a solution, the article from Forbes recommends customer experience as a remedy for the lack of customer-centricity. Yet as early as 2012, Forrester Research reported that 97% of organizations had customer experience as a strategic imperative. If there’s been a focus on CX for about a decade, why is customer experience still failing so often?
What’s missing from CX?
Customer Experience is good at measurement. CX focuses on Net Promotor Score, conversion rates, bounce rates, and other similar metrics. Those CX metrics seem valuable to commerce , so what’s missing? The answer is: User Experience (UX).
In contrast to CX’s focus on measurement, UX is good at understanding customers and designing in a way that’s driven by that understanding. Where CX is based in marketing, UX is based in psychology. Because UX is based in psychology, UX research is uniquely effective at understanding the story behind the measurements that CX makes. UX research enables merchants to understand customers’ thinking and feeling, both in terms of their expectations and in terms of their interaction with a design.
Too often, CX will skip UX research entirely, and instead rely on good intentions from staff. For instance, Forbes recommended that companies “Be Empathetic Toward Your Customers.” Did you think that your staff was previously evil and insensitive? Surely not.
Rich Warnaka, a Certified Usability Analyst who has led design teams for two decades, says, “I have been in countless organizations where people claimed to ‘know the customer.’” But they don’t. He continues, “A skilled team that understands proper research methods and how to apply them is critical for developing a true understanding of the customer and their needs.”
No amount of sitting and thinking about customers is going to give merchants the insight that UX will. As good as CX is at measuring such metrics as conversion rates o, UX is needed to understand the story behind the measurements. And UX uses that understanding to drive design to be usable, emotionally resonant, and persuasive—not just pleasing to the eye.
Bring in the UX pros
Who should do UX research and design? Simply stated: UX Professionals. Empathy for the user is not enough to create a good user-centered design for commerce. Creating a good user-centered design requires a complex web of skills, tasks, and tools; it requires a UX professional. The UX field dates back generations. There are billions of dollars of research, models, methods, and tools that support UX work. UX is not the domain of the amateur.
As industry leaders have begun to pour money into UX, there has been a surge of people claiming they are experts. Often, they are visual designers, marketers, or front-end coders. And often they have no real background in UX. There are even videos on YouTube showing how to pretend to be a UX expert in a job interview! Hiring UX professionals for retail can feel like Russian roulette.
Luckily, there are better ways to select qualified staff. Some educational degrees are a solid indicator of capability. About 15 years ago, a new Certified Usability Analyst™ certification exam was developed. There are now over 8,000 CUAs worldwide, so there’s a way for merchants to identify UX staff.
Retail companies need a staff of well-qualified UX and CX practitioners. The recommended staffing ratio is about one UX/CX professional for every eight software engineers. Merchants who have met that ratio, are on the right path.
Is UX/CX staff enough for digital transformation?
In a word, “No.” UX maturity goes beyond adequate staffing. Consider this analogy, for example. Having a staff of surgeons does not mean you have a functional hospital. Similarly, having UX/CX staff is good, but the UX/CX team needs to be supported and leveraged in order to be successful in retail. That means establishing:
- Connection to a champion in the C-suite
- A detailed, written methodology for all your different kinds of UX/CX projects
- Templates for design (AKA a design system or interface standards)
- Recruiting and training for UX/CX staff
- An appropriate organizational structure
- UX/CX knowledge management
- Metrics for both UX and CX
The goal is to develop a mature UX/CX team and to validate that team with an evaluation of their maturity. Mature UX/CX teams drive tremendous success in commerce. However, even when companies succeed in building mature teams, the length of time to build them will usually be more than two years. That’s too long to wait for the digital transformation that merchants need today. If merchants can instantly source mature teams as managed services, at least they have a seed team to make upcoming digital transformation programs successful.
What are the biggest pitfalls in the success of a UX/CX team?
There are three major stumbling blocks for UX/CX team success. They include a lack of integration, governance, and championship.
Integration: UX/CX capabilities may not be enough. Change management work is also needed. When merchants put an instant mature UX/CX team in place, they can start to work on change management on the first day. This change management requires an operating model to show how work flows through the UX/CX team. While most companies won’t need a full RACI analysis, they must define the workflow and swim lanes.
Governance: The operating model for merchants also needs a variety of organizational connections in place, including a steering committee and a design authority. There is an ongoing process of education and proving the value of the UX/CX effort. In essence, a lot of change management is about minting advocates in the organization. Merchants need people who understand the value of UX/CX engineering and have witnessed the team making a difference during the digital transformation program.
Championship: There is a need to protect the UX/CX capability going forward. There are 24 common ways for a team to unravel. Leadership and sponsorship are key. Success in UX/CX can cause a fight for ownership, which often leads to breaking UX/CX into ineffective fragments. To be effective, the UX/CX effort needs to be championed by one executive who owns the initiative. At the same time, the endeavor also needs support from executives throughout the organization, all of whom understand the value of CX/UX.
How does it look when UX/CX drives digital transformations?
The key takeaway is the UX/CX stack needs to precede the technology stack.
That’s how Aditya Birla Financial Services Group, an India-based investing company, realized a successful digital transformation. First, CX identified the key measurements and established baseline numbers. Then the company used UX research to inspire a strategy across channels. Working as a team, UX professionals created designs to fit within that strategy. The technology stack didn’t start until the designs had been established by the UX team.
The result was that their KPIs went up dramatically:
|Life Insurance||Mutual Funds|
|Leads per Visitor||+179%||+89%|
|Time Spent on Site||+145%||+180%|
|Likelihood to Recommend||72% are Likely or Extremely Likely to Recommend||81% are Likely or Extremely Likely to Recommend|
That’s what a mature UX/CX team looks like. First, they get the UX/CX stack in place. The technology stack comes afterwards. The success at Aditya Birla Financial Services Group was due to the integration of UX with CX. These KPI numbers were measured by CX and they were moved by UX. Both are critical, and they must be integrated.
The lesson for merchants: Digital transformations will succeed when they integrate UX and CX.
Eric Schaffer, Ph.D. is the founder and head of the HFI Laboratories at Human Factors International, a global provider of UX and CX research and design services. Noah Schaffer, Ph.D., is an executive UX strategist for HFI Laboratories.