Martin Zwilling

By Martin Zwilling

Through the Internet today, it’s easy to find and compare the technical specifications for every solution in the world that claims to solve your problem, and there will be many. Most often the differentiators go beyond the product, into the ease of ordering, delivery, customer reviews, and finding your options. Your overall customer experience will trump product features every time.

For example, Zappos has been winning customers for years with their ease of product selection, shipping speeds, and personalized customer service. People post reviews talking about their delightful experiences, more than the perfect product. Zappos is recognized as a winner in the design of the whole customer experience, more so than the design of their shoes and clothing.

Thus every entrepreneur and inventor needs to understand and focus as much on the principles of customer-centered business design as applying technology to create a customer solution. These principles are well documented by thought leaders and key standards organizations on the Internet, but are too often ignored by the aspiring entrepreneurs I advise:

Total design begins with an understanding of the customer view. This must cross the boundaries between product, demographics, marketing, culture, and other disciplines. In a non-technical sense, it requires multi-disciplinary skills and perspectives, and always supplements technology-driven design and environmentally sustainable design.

Tesla and Elon Musk hit this point well when they eliminated the auto-dealer negotiation stage from their car-buying experience—to make it actually pleasurable, by placing Tesla stores in malls and letting people order their cars online.

Factor in all customer tasks, employee tasks, and the environment. The objective is to build a win-win relationship between all people involved in selling and supporting the solution, as well as a positive impact on sustainability and the environment. This requires people on your team who have real-world experience, as well as design training.

Engage real customers for requirements and ongoing feedback. With interactive social media, as well as high-bandwidth video tools, there is no excuse for not involving real customers, and prospects who fit the desired demographic. In addition to these, you apply common tools, such as field research, user groups, questionnaires and interviews.

Check out Starbucks Reserve, launched by coffee company Starbucks in an effort to engage more meaningfully with customers looking for unique experiences. Customers on social media asked for a more multi-sensory coffee experience, to watch freshly roasted beans arrive, chat with coffee specialists, and experience coffee brewed multiple ways.

Evaluate results in multiple localized customer environments. No matter how thorough your research, it is highly likely that some localization will be required for different environments and cultures. Your challenge is to design and deliver global solutions that have total relevance to every local market in which you operate.

Make sure customer-facing employees are trained and motivated. Even the best process designs won’t succeed unless your team has the training, empowerment, and motivation to make them work. Define metrics which properly reflect the total customer experience, rather than one aspect, such as sales volume, or support issues closed.

Zappos, for example, places such a premium on employees with the right training and attitude that they put new hires through an immersive four-week training program. They also offer a $1,000 “bonus” to quit at the end of the first week if a new employee does not feel committed.

Use innovation and iteration to continually improve the total design. Customer needs and expectations change over time, driven by economic conditions and competitive alternatives, so customer-centered design must be a continuous process, rather than a one-time event. Define full customer experience use cases for continuity.

Most new customers now are mobile or digital first as a result of the devices and apps that shape their lives. These products with their instant access anywhere have reshaped their expectations and decision making, and should reshape your experience design considerations. You must build on these customer changes, rather than ignoring them.

If you are looking for a competitive advantage, creating a memorable total user experience is the only place to start. Too many existing companies have evolved into silos of expertise, which make customer-centered design difficult, if not impossible. As a new business, you have the opportunity to take the lead, and become the world’s next super-brand. Now is the time to start.

The Writer is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and Angel investor, published on Forbes.