How to Design Human Centred Experiences  Before you spend a ton of money on a new CRM system, software, machine or process to enhance your customer experience, you should always make sure that you consider that your customers are humans in your design. Imperfect, irrational, and instinctive humans.

I was reminded of this important tenet of customer experience design when I read a story about Marriot’s “destination elevator”. What they learned is a lesson every designer should know about…

The Marriot Marquis in New York’s Times Square (44 stories tall if I recall correctly from my visit) had terrible waits in the lobby for their elevators. So they invested $11m on a new smart elevator system. The system requires people to key in the floor they want to go to and then the system will calculate which elevator (A, B, C and so on) to send them to for better efficiency. Once in the elevator though there are no buttons (at least that deals with the problem of an annoying kid pressing all 44 buttons).

This type of elevators is becoming increasingly popular for tall buildings as it’s proven that they reduce wait time. However, as was the case with the Marriot Marquis, it can leave many people frustrated and feeling like idiots.

The thing is, what do people instinctively do when they see an open elevator – jump right into it. But then these elevators have no buttons inside… so all people can do is wait … get out and do the procedure properly.

We do this out of habits. Our brain spots a clue i.e. open elevator that looks exactly like any other and sends a signal “get on it” in a nanosecond. That’s how we are “programed” to save energy and think about all the important things like “how am I going to solve this problem at work”, “what am I going to say to my wife/ husband for being late” etc…

Only that this was not an elevator like any other. It’s a good system but what Marriott failed to consider is how to change a lifelong customer habit. At the very least it would have required a big yellow sign in a large font (oh but that would make it “off brand”). Eventually, Marriott solved the problem by having a bellman occasionally stand there and direct the guests in the new process.

GE had a similar experience in the installation of a brand new state of the art MRI machine. In a recent blog, Design and ROI of Patient Experience, I described the story about Doug Dietz, an industrial designer at GE, who witnessed the tears of a 7-year-old girl about to get a scan on his fantastic new machine. He describes how that moment made him realize that he had failed in his design because he hadn’t thought of how a child would react to his magnificently designed — and apparently terrifying — machine. He found that some 80% of the kids had to be sedated, requiring the need for physicians in the room, decreasing the utilization time of the MRI machine and bringing parents and staff to tears from the look of the crying children.

So Doug and the GE team spent time with kids to understand how they think, what do they like and what are they afraid of. They then redesigned the MRI experience for kids by creating the “adventure series” and redecorating the MRI scanner rooms as if the kids were about to step and lie down in a canoe to “ride along the river”. As a result this new experience brought joy in the eyes of children, their parents and employees whilst hospital realised efficiencies from less need for physicians to sedate kids and higher utilization rate of the scanner.

What is particularly important about this story, however, is that none of the human-centered part of the design would have ever happened if Dietz hadn’t gone in the field to visit his new machine.

So what can these two stories teach us about injecting the human into the design of your products, services and ultimately experiences?

  • Take Journey Mapping to the next level. Journey Mapping has been around for a while but you need to map not just the process but also what customers feel and think at the different stages; what are the subconscious signals that the brain picks and how are we “programmed to act” from an experience psychology view.
  • Take an Outside-In view. We would call the 1st initial journey map the “hypothesis” of the experience as you need to walk it through / observe it in customers shoes to see what actually happens. Just like Doug went out of his office to visit the nearest hospital – which happened to be a children’s hospital. This is what the folks at, for which we have deep respect, would call “Empathize”. We at Beyond Philosophy have developed a method – Customer mirrors where we look at the experience from customer’s perspective using an experience psychology checklist that makes you pay attention to the 5 human senses and psychological principles that makes us feel and act the way we do.
  • Revisit the Journey Map adding detail of the actual customers’ feelings and subconscious stimuli. In the cases above, we would have marked under feelings that the child felt “fear” and the subconscious stimuli for that were a dark room with flickering fluorescent lights, a warning sign of the wall with an exclamation mark, yellow and black tape as an accident scene etc (see Design and ROI of Patient Experience). In the case with the elevator we would note people’s “habits” and the fact that no instructions stand up.
  • Frame the problem correctly and ideate potential solutions. Next thing you need to do is to frame the problem but be careful here. You may have heard the famous story of how NASA spent $800 000+ creating a pen that can write upside down in zero-gravity, only to find out that Russians simply used a pencil. The point of this tale is that you need to frame the problem correctly. The problem was not that “ink in normal pens doesn’t flow in space” but “we need something to write in space i.e. a simple pencil would do.
  • Write a customer story for each new initiative (i.e. experience prototyping) for each product, service, launch etc.) The customer story is like the mock-up that architects do. They could just rely on the plans with the exact sizes but they also do mock-up. Why? Because it allows them to think and plan the little things and allows other people to get a sense of the look and feel of the new building. Same way writing a customer story would make you think what would really make a customer do what you want him/ her to do or literally say what you want them to say. If that was used, Marriott would have realised that people will not necessarily start using the keyboard instead of jumping right at the elevator unless something really attracts their attention or someone guides them through the process (as was the case when elevators first came in and kiosks came at airports).
  • Create a Two-Door Entry Process. If you are part of the customer experience team in your organization you should aim to get to what some people call “two gate entry process”. First you could provide input or initiate the design of a solution (new product / new process etc.) What happens then, as we all know, is that the “new product / solution” passes through various departments in your organization for their sign off – a stage that can sometimes render the product unrecognizable and depict it from its original intent. That’s why you need the second door to intervene so you can review and test the prototype and add the final touches to make it a great customer experience.
  • Test it if you can. It’s always a good idea to build a Prototype, and then test it in the field. Here is where you will get invaluable input from real customers on what your experience is. Testing may actually allow you to reduce the time from raw idea to market. That’s because you could get through all the sign-offs a lot easier and faster if you’ve already proven the concept with a smaller audience. For example in Facebook a newcomer can get from a code to infield implementation in less than two days.

Creating a human-centered design is critical to designing a superior customer experience. Use these steps to help check all the boxes along the way and your next product or service may start to engage customers in a whole new emotional level.

Zhecho Dobrev is a consultant and project manager for Beyond Philosophy. He has worked with a wide array of large corporate companies. Zhecho’s expertise includes customer behaviour analytics, customer loyalty, complaints management and journey mapping. He holds an MBA and Master’s degree in International Relations.

Zhecho Dobrev on Twitter @Zhecho_BeyondP