Imtiyaz Khatib, Sr. Director, Customer Experience at Avalara India

CX|UX is all about showing empathy, building trust and memorable human connections. In today’s digital economy, more than prices or features, experiences that spark powerful positive emotions will have customers who are more engaged, more satisfied, and more loyal” Imtiyaz Khatib says.

Why is an experience so crucial these days in the tech space?

A consistent, trust-building omnichannel experience throughout the customer journey, be it in-store, on a mobile device, or within the web or desktop app, is the key to delighting customers. When customers feel appreciated, companies gain measurable benefits—including the chance of winning more of their customers’ spending dollars. The payoffs for a valued, great experience are tangible: up to a 16% price premium on products and services, plus increased loyalty. Among all, 73% of customers point to experience as one of the important factors in their purchasing decisions, behind the price and product quality. In fact, customers are willing to pay more for a better experience; that matters most to them: 43% of consumers would pay more for greater convenience, 42% would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience, and 65% of U.S. customers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising (source PWC report – ‘21). Technology can’t solve experience problems. It’s only an enabler! The top three reasons why is CX/UX important:

  • To improve customer retention
  • To improve customer satisfaction
  • To increase cross-selling and upselling

What’s the relationship between User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX)?

To know the relationship between these two tenets, we’ll first need to understand their function in an organizational context. 
Customer Experience (CX) is the total of customers' perceptions and feelings resulting from interactions with a brand's products and services.

  • CX management is the practice that an organization employs to meet (or exceed) customers’ expectations.
  • CX professional is a catalyst who enhances an organization's results by understanding, designing, and improving experiences across the entire customer relationship.

User Experience(UX) is an individual's perception and response resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service.

  • UX management is managing user experience design-related activities inside an organisation by working strategic and tactical dimensions to boost growth and imbibe good management practices. 
  • UX practitioner is a catalyst that incorporates user-centric design processes to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users.

CX encompasses overall experience related to brand or business, while UX focuses on its product usage, desirability, and ease of use.
In my view, the two cannot be siloed but have to work hand-in-hand because UX is a mere reflection of CX manifestation that shows an organisation’s commitment to its brand value. CX is pivotal for any business as it determines whether the customers would be interested in purchasing from your brand again or not while UX is the secret sauce to make customers' experience delightful.

What are some roles in this organisation?

CX|UX is a multidisciplinary team that carves great products by making sure that the makers hear the voice of the customer in every stage of product design and development till its delivery. The need is to build “T” shaped leaders who bring in the necessary depth for a particular discipline and have enough width to cover the versatility of other parallel disciplines. The essential functions in this field are communication, the ability to express concepts and ideas, think clearly and appreciate feedback, facilitate the feedback process, and collaborate with other functions.

I’ll talk about the disciplines rather than roles, as each stream may have various roles/levels depending upon how large the organisation is.

  • UX Research: Systematically studies target users to collect and analyse data that will help inform the product design process.
  • UX Design: The process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product, which typically includes workstreams related to product design, information architecture, user interface designers, visual designer and service design.
  • Content Writers: Role of researching, strategizing, and writing content and comprises content strategists, UX writers and help writers, etc.
  • UI Development: Front end development is about translating the designed experiences into workable code.

Apart from the above core, there are adjacent roles that may include multimedia experts, operations managers, usability lab operators, etc.

Most organisations that have invested in CX|UX have either purely centralised or purely decentralised teams. The trend now is to employ a hybrid team structure that has a very strong centralised component that acts as a hub for the larger UX/CX team, and designers are embedded in decentralised product teams.

What's the process you adopt for designing the 'right products' to enhance customer experience?

We typically use the 'Design Thinking' technique to solve customer problems and adopt User Centred Design(UCD) process to achieve the same. While both are similar in their essence of putting yourself in the user's shoes, they do have some differences in their implementation so let's understand them better.

Design Thinking utilises an iterative five-step process that can be applied to all industries and organisations to reinforce innovation, solve problems, strengthen leadership and boost creativity while helping better understand end clients' needs and provide the best possible services and solutions for the end clients.

  • Empathise phase – personifying end-users to understand their challenges and needs
  • Define phase – pinpointing the end-user challenges that need to be solved
  • Ideate phase – selecting solutions to prototype with end-users
  • Prototype phase – prototyping solutions; initially low fidelity, but increasing fidelity through iterations
  • Test phase – testing solution prototypes with end-users\

User-Centred Design is a term developed by the software industry as a practice for developers who care about the user of their digital tool. The process centres around enhancing user satisfaction of a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product. UCD is a part of the ISO92400 regulation.

  • Research phase – typically contextual enquiry or interviews
  • Concept phase – ideating concept prototypes to design and test
  • Design phase – initially medium-fidelity, but increasing fidelity through iterations
  • Develop phase – building the de-risked design
  • Test phase – utilizing the developed product

How does this function fuel innovation?

The focus of innovation is becoming more radical as CEOs look for whole new sources of revenue rather than just better products. The ultimate goal is to define, craft, and deliver empowering and stunning products that people love. This can happen only if there is a relentless pursuit towards simplicity and for which there is no other option than to ‘innovate’. UX heavily embraces Design Thinking and UCD as its DNA and user-centered approach to solving complex problems. Tim Brown, President & CEO of IDEO, said, “Design Thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s tool kit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success”.

As experts in product design, UX can collaborate with other departments to assess the expected business value and level of effort in order to better prioritise ideas. CX folks have deep insight about how to delight customers and hence have a better grasp on ROI for fueling innovation.

How do you integrate UX design with the Agile methodology to deliver the go-to-market?

I am a big fan of Agile, but not compromising on usability, so how do we marry these two in a way that makes sense and provides impactful results? I advocate the use of Lean UX; it is a user-centred design process that embraces Lean and Agile development methodology to reduce waste and build products centred around the users. It relies on a collaborative approach and rapid experimentation/prototyping to get user feedback by exposing a minimum viable product (MVP) to users as early as possible.

We ideally work a couple of sprints ahead of development sprints to ensure that we are always ahead of the curve when it comes to creating foundational work related to formative product research, conceptualization, value proposition, sketching and lo-fi wireframing. In addition, this helps us to iterate quickly during the actual sprints and refine as the development progresses.

What is the future of design in enterprise space?

The field of UX experts has recently experienced a surge in popularity. More and more companies are recognizing the importance of not just creating high-quality, usable products but also lovable products. This brings designers' jobs to the strategic forefront of the organisations that are investing in customer-centricity. In the future, CX and UX will encompass designing for both systems and humans simultaneously. Users will be able to provide feedback on the systems so they can continue to improve.

The top trends that I see for the future as hyper-digitalism evolves are:

  • Humane Automations
  • Customer Loyalty with Data Transparency
  • Ubiquitous design

Here are some of the customer experience statistics provided by companies after deep research (PwC surveyed a representative sample of 15,000 people from 12 countries. 4,000 of the respondents were from the United States, while the remaining 11,000 were from a sampling of countries around the world.

Advice to new bees starting their career in UX/CX

The key components to keep in mind when considering how to start a career in UX|CX are to stay educated about the fundamental concepts and emerging ideas, follow UX|CX trends, connect with like-minded professionals in the field, and keep your eyes open for opportunities to gain experience. Always be hungry to solve customer problems!

Be open-minded and receptive to ideas, take constructive feedback, accept design critiques and do not be obsessively defensive about your work. If you’ve done your homework and taken a principled approach to your design, then trust yourself.

Remember, tools can be learned at any time, but the fundamentals of understanding users and solving their core problems are the biggest challenge in this field. Final mantra – be endlessly curious and obsessed with user behavior and psychology. My mentor coached me that design is 10% innovation and 90% managing constraints; I often quote this to all aspiring juniors.

Author: Imtiyaz Khatib, Sr. Director Customer Experience, Avalara India.

Publication: India Infoline

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