What if every business could see their services through the eyes of their customer? Can you imagine the impact it would make on customer satisfaction, operational excellence, and even financial gain? Coming from a Service Design background, I find it natural to view a business’s products and spaces (physical or digital) from a service perspective, rather than as standalone parts of the business. I had the opportunity to put this idea to work in a recent engagement with the Scrap Exchange in Durham, North Carolina.
The Scrap Exchange is an industrial and residential creative reuse facility. Common items up for grab at unbelievably low prices include fabric by-the-yard, quilting swatches, packing materials, craft paper, shelving, stuffed animals, hardware, picture frames, vintage sewing machines, and an endless amount more of unique merchandise.
As our team started our work with the Scrap Exchange, I wanted to make sure our initial efforts to discover visitor goals were clear and could be easily shared even after the project had ended. Beyond the kaleidoscope of merchandise that the Scrap Exchange collects and sells we quickly uncovered that they also deliver quite a bit of other services and value to their visitors. For this reason, we planned to conduct a Customer Experience Audit.
A Customer Experience Audit is a design capability that allows a service provider and designers get a deep understanding of service offerings from the most important perspective, the customer’s. The components of the Customer Experience Audit are co-creation, contextual research, and illustration.
Co-creation drives this entire design capability. This time it was all about designing with the client rather than for them. For this project, we held weekly co-creation sessions with our client, Ann Woodward, Executive Director at the Scrap Exchange as well as, other managers of the organization. They were our greatest resource to extract a quick, transparent, understanding of the services that the Scrap Exchange delivers. Whichever design method we were doing, they did it along with us. For example, we worked together using sticky notes, markers, and large sheets of paper spread across the craft tables of the Scrap Exchange to create personas and journey maps.
The greatest role of a designer is to facilitate the design process in any setting with any type of person, including business stakeholders, actual users, and other internal team members. Designers should not hesitate to introduce clients to their hands-on, creative, tools. These tools help us get a deep understanding of users, and chances are client will find it rewarding to achieve the same level of understanding of the people who use their services.
The second part of a Customer Experience Audit is to capture the experience. Although an experience cannot be delivered through a single tangible form, its contributors can certainly be captured. Interactions among people, products, cues, processes, and spaces, are all evidence of an experience. The service is how the business orchestrates these interactions for the customer. Capturing such interactions is key to getting stakeholders on the same page as to what their customers are actually experiencing.
The Scrap Exchange is tremendously loved by its visitors because of the many ways that it enriches the community. During each of our visits, we would overhear first-hand accounts of customers who have been coming to the Scrap Exchange for many years, following them on various location moves across the city.
We conducted passive, active, and participatory research at the Scrap Exchange facility to gather findings. One method that we used is a framework called AEIOU (Activities, Environments, Interactions, Observations, and Users) to quickly document what we observed while on-site.
This field research helped us move on the next step of the design process, persona development. Reflecting on the findings gathered during field research and co-creation sessions so far, we formed them into insights to create personas to ensure that all of our design decisions and documentation would be user-centered. We created a persona for a first-time visitor to the Scrap Exchange and another for a frequent visitor of the Scrap Exchange.
The key deliverable of the Customer Experience Audit is a journey map. At its core, journey maps sequentially plot customer actions, service touchpoints, and value exchanges across the different service periods. Its purpose is to create a snapshot of a visitor’s experience from their own perspective. For the Scrap Exchange, we created an extended journey map that also included customer highlights, pain points, thoughts, physical evidence, opportunities, and ideas. We mapped out service periods from preparing for the visit to the Scrap Exchange, to engaging in service delivery spaces, to reflecting on the visit after leaving. We chose to create the first journey map based on the first-time visitor persona.
Once the journey map was complete, our team, including Scrap Exchange members, gathered around the four foot document to plot opportunities and ideas along corresponding customer actions. For example, while persona “Grier” continues to walk through the rest of the facility after cutting fabric, she becomes excited by the wide open facility with lots to explore and at the same time she is gets a bit frustrated by the inability to clearly recognize other service delivery spaces. She thinks to herself “it seems like this room is where they have the workshops I read about online.” This moment on the customer journey led us to identify an opportunity to improve physical cues followed by the idea to make signs uniform based on each type, such as a separate look for directional signs, room signs, and merchandise signs.
Realizing that a pain point and highlight occurred for Grier at the same moment helped us understand a unique quality of the Scrap Exchange. This place fosters a sense of discovery, and any efforts to improve way-finding should not be overly defined or constrained. You can see the entire journey map for the Grier persona here.
A Customer Experience Audit provides three actionable outcomes. It allows the client to see how their service fits into their customers’ lives, including the highlights and pain points involved. It helps identify opportunities for improving service quality. And it is packaged in a way that it can be used as a centerpiece of discussion for other stakeholders in the client’s ecosystem to review or plan for future projects.
From the many opportunities uncovered through performing the Customer Experience Audit, our next step is to prototype new service concepts. Concepts will mainly address the opportunity to improve way-finding and to bring awareness to visitors of all Scrap Exchange service offerings, which, as we discovered, are almost as plentiful as the store’s inventory of goods.
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