CX without design only gets you halfway

| Article

Key Takeaways

  • Companies are putting renewed focus on delivering exceptional customer experience (CX), and many are attempting to do so with siloed CX and design teams.
  • When transforming their business to prioritize CX, companies will have the most success by marrying CX insights with user-centered design methods of researching, defining opportunities, generating ideas, and prototyping before launching and scaling.
  • A combined CX-design approach to discovering customer needs, designing solutions and journeys, and delivering customer impact will help companies create a seamless end-to-end experience that truly meets customers’ ever-evolving needs.

In a world where consumer expectations are boundless and in flux, the stakes are high for delivering an exceptional customer experience (CX). Consequently, more and more organizations are becoming customer obsessed, prioritizing CX but often haphazardly innovating to meet their CX goals.

Most companies are attempting to prioritize and innovate CX in legacy organizations in which a CX team measures, synthesizes, and responds to customer data while a separate design team crafts solutions for specific parts of the business. Few people would contest that design thinking on its own can spur lasting business value; yet an integrated approach to CX that combines traditional practices with user-centered design processes is largely overlooked. Marrying elements of both can bring tremendous value—and is, in fact, imperative to meeting customers’ needs today.

A combined CX-design approach that harnesses design methods of researching, defining opportunities, generating ideas, and prototyping before launching and scaling provides more and deeper customer insights and helps brands connect with customers across all their journeys in a seamless, end-to-end experience (see sidebar, “How CX design is distinct from service design and UX design”). Indeed, how companies deliver to customers is as important as what they deliver: a great individual product will fall short if teams don’t design and measure the entire experience to meet customer expectations.

In our experience, companies looking to improve and prioritize CX should take action in three areas: build aspirations anchored in purpose, transform the business, and establish critical enablers to support and speed the transformation. When transforming the business, which includes discovering customer needs, designing solutions and journeys, and delivering impact, companies will derive the most value from design (exhibit).

Design thinking is infused in each step of the business transformation.

Transforming the business with CX design

Empowering CX design with human-centered insights to prototype and test new service solutions is crucial. Here’s how design informs each step in transforming the business while prioritizing CX.

1. Discovering customer needs and opportunities

In a traditional CX process, the discovery phase involves mapping out the customer journey and identifying its pain points. This phase typically relies heavily on capturing and analyzing customer data and customer sentiment through customer-satisfaction surveys and online listening, such as monitoring reviews and social media. The CX team then develops ways to remedy problems and improve the experience. Design amplifies this process with intricate yet critical layers of customer insight and helps companies move quickly and precisely to create value in the following three ways:

  • Uncovering underlying motivations: Design approaches use ethnography, psychology, and human factors to understand consumer behavior and uncover underlying motivations that influence choices. Insights generated provide the North Star for what to do next to create new value for consumers.
  • Leading with empathy: Design research dives deep into people’s needs and wants through observational research, in-depth interviews, and immersive journey re-creation. By putting empathy and understanding at the heart of design research, companies reduce risk in the idea-generating phase and ensure the customer is at the center of the process. Understanding how people experience the world allows companies to identify unmet needs so that they can bring genuine value to consumers and generate commercial success.
  • Driving innovation: Putting the “voice of the customer” at the center of new product and service developments can help companies keep up with the rapidly changing market landscape. This focus helps them further understand unmet needs and pain points, which they can use to design and deliver innovative products and experiences.

An industrial-services company with a fragmented business unit used qualitative and quantitative research to quickly identify the breakdowns in their customers’ journeys, including confusing paperwork and forms, geography-based siloed experiences, and poor communication. With this solid foundation of research and understanding of customer needs, they could then design and deliver a holistic solution to create a best-in-class experience.


  • Determining how and where the company meets the needs of the customers of tomorrow.
  • Defining the target-state experience toward which the company should be working.
Six customer experience pitfalls to avoid

Six customer experience pitfalls to avoid

2. Designing and prototyping solutions

Traditional CX prototyping takes the journey map and redesigns it, fixing pain points and streamlining the process. Design-empowered CX teams explore many alternative and innovative solutions that lead to sweeping rather than incremental improvements.

This approach starts with defining an optimal CX vision to gain alignment on the end-to-end experience across the customer journey, then reintroduces barriers such as technical viability to help prioritize elements of the experience that need to be improved. Doing so allows teams to focus on quick wins that address underlying customer needs and also to identify the capabilities needed to deliver the CX vision at scale.

Prototyping can start with a series of workshops or design sprints—intensive, collaborative working sessions with stakeholders and various subject-matter experts (SMEs) across the organization—in which customer insights are considered to uncover innovation opportunities that align with overall CX ambitions or long-term goals. Teams can further establish the overall link to value across the customer journey through rapid user experience (UX) prototyping of specific touchpoints. It is crucial to make ideas tangible as early as possible. Whether a team is developing an interface or a comprehensive solution for broader user experience, it should always think about the entire system, calibrating across all touchpoints and at the same time designing recognizable and delightful signature moments.

A series of core solutions can then be established across the customer journey. Companies will need to rapidly prototype these solutions—for example, as wireframes or service models—to assess users’ desire for them. When customer desirability, business viability, and tech feasibility converge, the team has identified an idea worthy of a minimum viable product (MVP).


  • Determining what a set of breakthrough ideas and solutions would look and feel like to customers.
  • Establishing how the team can bring an idea to life to build momentum and gain buy-in from the rest of the business.

3. Launch and scale

Rather than launching a product, feature, or service at full scale, as traditional CX teams often do, design brings a test-and-learn approach that de-risks the solution and the impact to the business. An agile design-and-development approach that culminates with an MVP allows teams to better—and more quickly—understand what customers want and deliver it to them.

Indeed, the MVP provides proof of both concept and scalability, allowing teams to test a solution under real-life conditions with limited risk. In addition to capturing initial value, it gives early validation that a given change in operations will have the desired impact and shows whether the change is practically and financially achievable given the organization’s resources and capabilities. Once it has launched the MVP in key markets, the CX design team can monitor and report performance using a unified measurement framework and continue testing the solution with users to determine how to improve the design or rollout. Based on customer experience, they will determine whether to stop, retest, or proceed prior to scaling up.

When the team has decided the solution is ready to scale, they’ll need to align on a relevant approach—for example, running a pilot or lighthouse transformation—that acknowledges both customer considerations and business structure. They’ll then develop a timeline for scaling, establish a team structure for the rollout into each market, perhaps through local ambassadors or pilot teams, and ensure they have the capacity and resources required to see it through.


  • De-risking the overall solution and getting to market faster.
  • Ensuring metrics are clearly mapping to customer satisfaction in a way the UX team can iterate.

Best practices for a CX design strategy

A fitness company was experiencing massive growth that exposed and magnified several previously existing pain points across the customer experience. Specifically, it recognized its customer service was a barrier to growth rather than a positive differentiator. Leveraging quantitative insights, it was able to create a link to value and a holistic view of where customers faced issues across their journey, such as purchasing, order tracking, and onboarding. Journey owners across the business used those insights to dive deep qualitatively in a few areas and then ideate different digital experience solutions to pilot along with the UX teams to close the gap in meeting customer expectations.

As a result of these efforts, the company increased revenue opportunity by 15 to 50 percent, created and prioritized more than 50 distinctive initiatives to capture value, and now anticipates nearly $40 million in revenue within the first year of five pilot initiatives.

To find such success through a CX-design approach, companies can keep the following best practices in mind that ensures design has the necessary influence to make an impact on customer experience and business value:

  • Break down functional silos, and ensure design is connected to the business objectives the customer experience is trying to meet.
  • Adopt human-centered thinking into an overall CX strategy to then apply against initiatives at a portfolio level.
  • Establish customer-centricity as a core capability for everyone across the organization, from the C-suite to front-line employees. Make meeting customer needs everyone’s responsibility.
  • Adopt a unified measurement framework to track designed solutions and initiatives in the market. The voice of the customer should be captured across journeys along with operational metrics to establish CX performance indicators.
  • Establish an agile approach to keep up with always-evolving customer expectations and deliver more than distinctive experiences; rapidly measure and adjust the experience faster than the competition.

The convergence of CX and design may very well define the next world of customer experience. Through CX design, companies can transition from measuring and analyzing consumer insights to proactively shaping the customer experience from start to finish, bringing both significant business value and innovative and improved experiences.

Explore a career with us