Experiential Innovation: Design Your Customer Experience Future

by Jeannie Walters

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Is Your CX Program Looking Toward the Future?

Customer experience leaders spend a lot of time looking at what’s happened.

  • Customer experience reports are filled with discoveries.
  • Customer feedback provides insights and real-life quotes from customers.
  • Operational data shows leaders how customers behaved last week, last month, and last year.
  • And customer journey maps tell the story of how the customer interacted with the brand.

All of that is incredibly important. Yet looking to the future is a tool in the CX toolkit that is sometimes overlooked. Innovation can be driven by understanding the customer experience and by thinking completely differently about all that data collected.

And it can also mean looking way beyond the product of today and focusing on the experience of tomorrow.

I refer to this type of customer-focused innovation as Experiential Innovation. And it’s become even more relevant in the last several years.

If I ask you to think of the big disruptors of industry, you might think of AirBnB, Amazon, Uber, and Stripe just to name a few.

What do these brands have in common?

They’ve disrupted markets not because of product but because of experience. They created something that wasn’t just a little better than what’s happening. They blew up the paradigm. And yes, this happens in business to business (B2B) and B2C.

That’s what experiential innovation can lead to. It’s too easy to get caught in the “that’s how everyone else in our industry does it” and “we’ll just have to tweak it a little” mentality.

Innovation can certainly be about small improvements leading to a better overall experience. It can also be big, completely different, and focused squarely on the customer.

Ready to think big about the future? Here are a few ways you can approach experiential innovation with your company.

Three Ways to Approach Experiential Innovation

1. Future State Customer Journey Mapping

This technique leverages the best practices of journey mapping but aims the lens at the future rather than the current state.

When building a future state journey map, don’t be afraid to look far into the future. I’ve seen many “future state” journey maps that start with what’s already standard and known. Then they build a few different patterns around standard parts of the journey, like onboarding or payment.

If your organization has tried future state journey mapping and the above sound like you, I encourage you to look farther ahead.

Here’s an example: You could say that when taxicabs introduced credit card readers they were innovating. But the experience was ultimately the same and by the time those readers were introduced, it already felt too late.

Ridesharing brands stepped in and created an entirely different experience to solve the same customer issue – getting from Point A to Point B. They didn’t start with “let’s innovate around the current cab experience.” They shifted the question: “Is there a way to solve this issue differently?”

Too many CX and business leaders think innovation is something that has to happen outside of the company. And if you think that way, that’s what will happen! Right now, today, there are smart people working on the business issue your company solves and coming up with disruptive innovations. Why not tackle that inside your organization?

One way to do this is to focus on a “Disruption Day” a few times a year. Ask team members to come into that day with answers to questions like, “what annoys our customers the most about our whole industry?” and “what if we started over?”

For example, for a manufacturing brand, you could ask, “What would we ask smart robots to make for our clients if we had no limits?” Those discussions often lead to very interesting explorations of what customers really, truly need and want.

As you approach future state customer journey mapping and Disruption Days, be aware of how easy it is to fall into what you know. You’ll hear objections for why things can’t happen or why systems won’t support those goals. It’s important to suppress those objections and focus on what COULD be, even if it’s very wishful thinking.

Those wishes might feel far-fetched when you first hear them, but they often lead to real innovation.

2. Micromapping

If thinking of the entire customer journey is too much, focus on one area you want to innovate. Micromapping, a technique we use to dig into the details of one small part of the journey, can help you innovate around that phase.

For example, a bank identified a market shift and understood their branch experiences had to change. To proactively design more innovative experiences, they conducted several disruption days and then identified a specific part of the journey that was concerning – paycheck Fridays.

When customers received paychecks and lined up to cash them, it created bottlenecks and other issues. They looked at their industry and realized it was similar everywhere.

So instead of focusing on the big changes first, they focused on how to handle this specific challenge and innovate around that.

They did this with both in-person, customer-focused experiences where they invited the check cashers to learn about financial opportunities. They introduced new tools via their mobile app. And they worked with some of the top employers in the neighborhood to provide on-site services.

These types of customer-focused innovations led to increased loyalty, and more account openings.

Of course, the innovations for this specific group of customers led to innovations for other customers. That’s what tends to happen with innovation.

3. Service Blueprinting

It can be exciting to think outside of the box and come up with a magical customer journey. But then it has to be executed. That’s where Service Blueprinting comes in.

Service blueprinting is a great tool to determine what people, processes, systems and communications are required to actually deliver on the innovative customer experience.

It’s also critical in considering the employee experience.

One example of a brand that skipped this step? A big box store team developed a payment option for customers to pay with their app – no checkout needed. But they forgot to include the cashiers in this innovation.

This led to major confusion when the payment option was rolled out. Cashiers were stopping customers with full carts who said “I paid on the app.” The cashiers hadn’t received proper communication or education about how to handle these customers. How were they supposed to verify payment had happened?

Service blueprinting is a great way to include many different teams in real-world innovations. If those cashiers had participated in those workshops, they would have identified those challenges and addressed them from the beginning.

Want to learn more about service blueprinting? LinkedIn Learning and I partnered to create a course on the topic.

These are just the tip of the iceberg…

There are even more ways to leverage customer experience best practices when focusing on Experiential Innovation. Customer journey storyboarding, aspirational stories and images, and customer rooms are among additional techniques to use.

It can feel like it’s the right thing to do to keep looking at the past, because that’s what many CX leaders are asked to do. But the power of customer experience is really about the future. And you have all the right tools to be the next industry disruptor, even in your own industry!

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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