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Lesley Gulliver and Darren Evans, strategic brand consultants from The Engine Room (UK), draw on over 45 years' combined industry experience to advise how to enhance customer engagement with real design thinking…


Most marketers understand the importance of engagement and the CX, but many would define success, in this respect, very differently. For some, engagement means ‘stickier’, satisfied customers who buy more products/services. But others - quite rightly - look beyond a 'shareholder value' agenda. They seek evidence of brand interactions, advocacy and positive personal impact. It's less about the numbers and more about emotion.


The design thinking movement has been around for many many years but in recent times there has been a marked increase in interest surrounding design thinking principles. Even the public sector is turning to the technique to enhance service levels and reduce costs, at a time when the priority is to survive, let alone thrive. But what does it involve?

It's what designers have done for years - look at the world through a human-centred lens, with empathy. Design thinking takes this approach and applies it to strategic challenges, beyond product and brand development. Working with particular tools and methods, and creative processes, it is possible for non-designers to start to work like designers, and learn, adopt and adapt in an environment that they know lots about.


Design thinking is human-centred, therefore customers and stakeholders need to be at the centre of the process and at the forefront of every consideration and decision, for it to be truly effective.


Linked to the above points, too many brands focus on devising solutions before they understand what the problem truly is. Only when they have got to the heart of what needs resolving, can they begin to find the answers.

Take a healthcare app for example - UX could be blamed for a lack of engagement, but further investigation may uncover that the underlying obstacle is actually fear, embarrassment or pride.


Design thinking is successful when businesses embrace co-creation. There should be no such thing as too many ideas, and these should come from customers, employees and more. Of course, it helps when they are then themed, prioritised and they form part of a strategic plan. However, truly human-centred ideas are generated through collaboration and empathy.


Design sprints require people to be agile. Design thinking requires them to be imaginative. This technique therefore requires big, visionary thinking, but armed with a strategic plan it is important to prioritise, implement and iterate – in other words, 'make, test and learn'.


It’s one thing surveying customers to try to analyse their satisfaction levels or evolving requirements, but their engagement - or engagement gap - is better understood, truly, through observation.

Humans have an in-built tendency to answer questions – however seemingly impartial - in the way they feel they ought to. But by observing them in the appropriate environment, it is possible to obtain a huge amount of behavioural insight that is truly authentic.


Employees should be rightfully acknowledged as the internal customers of a business. If they are on board with an organisation's design thinking - and better still have a role in shaping it - they are far more likely to embrace a brand's purpose and vision moving forward. This will contribute to a stronger CX by default. The same principles apply as in tip 7 however - efforts need to be made to understand employees' true feelings, thoughts and ideas. Otherwise assumptions will be made that could be to the detriment of their engagement too.


In an era of innovation, it is easy to overcomplicate the solution to a problem, even when that problem has been articulately and accurately defined. But it is important to keep things simple, especially to avoid unnecessary spend on something that could fall flat.

For example, the consideration to set up a pop-up coffee shop on a tube platform could be easily tested with a cardboard mock-up, before spending thousands on a costly concept that may not work.


The customer experience needs to be unequivocally tied into a brand's values. It needs to form a key part of an organisation's purpose, be reflected in the principles that guide how they do things, and resonate in their personality from the senior management team to the shop floor. When brand values align with a customer's needs and wants, engagement happens by default. It doesn't need to be forced.


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