Builder ethos: Customer-centric digital teams build fast, compose and launch faster - Digital Platforms and MACH Architecture with Andrew Kumar

Illustrated graphic of a PC with the Launch and Compose app icons next to it
Published
September 2, 2021
Category

Strategy

Builders thrive on understanding customers and solving customer problems. This desire drives builders to create the best digital experiences. This post talks about the importance of ensuring the digital operations process brings teams closer to the customer. To do so, marketing and content teams need a new digital playbook that transforms workflows to maximize what they deliver. Here’s how to unlock results for your customer and your business.

This post is part of a Builder Ethos Series, see them all:

The old ways of working hinder digital teams, creating mediocre outcomes and increasing risk

Many digital operations look eerily like their print counterparts. Work begins with internal drivers, flows sequentially through teams in a waterfall approach, marked by a lot of baton passing. This system puts people-building experiences several steps away from the customer. Q&A occurs through internal approvals rather than customer data and insights. Testing, learning and optimizing are afterthoughts and often lack feedback loops that help builders gain customer insights.

Legacy platforms built to support this old way of working impose constraints that keep teams locked in this prolonged and rigid way of operating. The long delay between a project kickoff and real customer insights prevents builders from having those aha moments, putting projects at risk of completely missing what the customer wants. 

Let’s take a look at the typical process many companies still follow.

  • Brief: The brief purports to outline key pain points and messaging that will engage end-users, but they are often based on a specific audience or persona. The challenge is that these personas and key messages are typically developed with little or no end-user input. No one is talking to the customers.

  • Design: The project moves into the design stage without verifying the hypotheses in the brief against real customer data, only internal feedback. Without customer inputs, this phase can drag on as internal stakeholders debate what the customers want.

  • Approvals: A final version of the project moves into the approval phase, where internal stakeholders sign off rather than seeking customer feedback.

  • Build: Build might as well be “send to print.” The approved design goes to development, where it passes internal QA before launching.

  • Cycle time: Look how long it takes to get something in front of a customer. The old way of working is too slow in a digital-first, digital-fast world.

All of these processes take place before any end-user testing. Any false assumptions baked into the brief carry through until the launch. Lack of customer input or feedback loops within the workflow compound the risk that the final deliverable will fail and the whole process will start over. That can mean months of work wasted.

Screenshot of a presenation slide Design & Content: the consequences of UX theater

This internal-driven process made sense in a print world, where user testing was time-consuming and expensive. With digital, your customers are only a few clicks away. Opportunities abound in moving from guessing personas to customer segments built from customer data and then to frequently test and update these segments.

For example, Atlassian uses data on product configuration settings to enhance in-product support. Instead of a standard “contact your administrator” message, users get content tailored to their specific product and permission settings. Learn more about how Atlassian uses Contentful to make digital content scalable.

It’s time to modernize the digital process and bring your platform and experience teams closer to the customer. The better they understand the end-user, the faster they can discard ideas that miss the mark, learn and deliver something amazing. Frequent course-correcting along the way reduces risk. Testing is one of the principles of agile approaches, like Scrum: a company that learns at each step will win faster than one that puts all its eggs in the wrong basket.

Customer-driven DigitalOps means talking to users (not just about users) to unlock winning results

The typical digital design process and many platforms that support it are based on the processes used to produce static, printed experiences — booklets, posters, cards or billboards. Even newer platforms, including some headless platforms, perpetuate these old ways of working.

These legacy processes and systems ignore the advantages of the digital world we’re in. Most notably, the wealth of customer data digital experiences capture. Customers are interacting with brands in real-time across a myriad of channels and devices. All those clicks, likes and shares help generate a whopping 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day

Despite this unprecedented access to customers and real data, many “customer-driven” experiences are still based on personas and briefs. What’s worse, behind buzz words like customer-centric, customer-driven and UX often hide the problem. These initiatives start with good intentions, but they fall back on old habits without new processes designed to bring the customer in. 

“Instead of challenging teams to stretch their thinking to address deeper and subtler user needs, product design practices have become increasingly less insight-driven. UX processes in many organizations these days amount to little more than “UX Theatre” (an idea developed by Tanya Snook in 2018): creating the appearance of due diligence and a patina of legitimacy that’s just enough to look like a robust design process to uninformed business leaders and hopeful UX recruits alike,” explains Jesse James Garrett in Fast Company’s “I helped pioneer UX design. What I see today disturbs me.”

Learn more about the consequences of UX Theatre and the importance of user-centered design

A title card for the video "the consequences of UX theatre"

It’s time to break the mold. Do what’s best for your customers. Put customers at the center of your digital operations.

The new digital playbook accelerates innovation with customers at the center — deploying a rapid test, learn and iterate approach

Leaning into the digital world, we can rewrite workflows to put the customer at the center. Using customer insights to drive the process forward or quickly course-correct enables platform teams to build a foundation of templates and features ready for reuse and scale. Internal stakeholders shift from approvers to advocates for the customer, ensuring that customer insights are driving the processes. Teams are closer to the customer and able to quickly get feedback from the end-user to improve product and process. 

This new way of working features faster turnaround times. Templates and features are built in weeks, and built to scale from the start. Approvals and governance are simplified, placing the emphasis on a test-and-learn approach that uses real data and customer insights. Experience teams use and reuse components, supported by modern platforms that empower them to compose and launch new experiences in days.

Let’s take a look at what digital operations can look like when we put customers at the center:

  • Data and strategy: Drawing directly from analytics, research and user insights this process can quickly surface and prioritize user needs, eliminating guesswork and expediting the kickoff.

  • Design and content: The platform team builds to directly address the user needs prioritized for that sprint. They have the freedom to experiment, prototype, test and iterate based on end-user feedback so that they can rapidly understand what works and what doesn’t.

  • Develop, Quality Assurance: Once a solid solution has been identified and verified with end-users, the platform team builds it to be scalable from the start.

  • Deploy and enable: Reusable features and components are handed to experience teams in a gallery or library. These teams use them to compose and launch multiple digital experiences more quickly.

  • Compose + Launch: Reusable components from the platform team can scale from one to hundreds of marketing and digital operations teams. These teams create a vast array of experiences full of content and creativity that is localized to markets and regions, translated to customers’ preferred languages, and personalized based on the customer segments that a specific user belongs to — all without developer effort needed. 

Chart showing what design and content processes could be

In the new way of working, the processes on the left are performed by platform teams to build reusable components. These components are passed to experience teams who can compose and launch many digital experiences. Customer feedback loops create a cycle of continuous improvements

User input drives the process. Customers take center stage with built-in feedback loops that inform both the experience and platform teams ensuring that core components and end-user experiences are continually improving. 

This is the power of digital. Small, fast iterations replace periodic updates. There is no longer a need to lock content into a bulky format that will eventually become outdated and need to be painstakingly reworked and replaced. Or worse, that will miss the mark completely. 

Companies that embrace the builder ethos, use technology to bring themselves closer to the customer and continually delight end-users with experiences that keep getting better. This mindset of continuous improvement applies to the process as well as the deliverable. See how Contentful supports the new digital processes companies need to build their own digital factory.

This post is part of a Builder Ethos Series, see them all:

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