User experience: Moving from website design to strategy


Thinking of user experience as how a webpage functions, or how customer support handles enquiries, means missing out on today’s largest competitive advantage.

This is the message from user experience expert Laura Vilsbæk, who is consulting companies on how to move on from user experience as a matter of digital design and forward to using it strategically at every level within the organization. We sat down with Laura for a conversation on how digital professionals can harness the full potential of user experience; a concept that might need a new name all together.

Today’s main issue with user experience
The main issue with the way many perceive user experience today, is the idea that you have succeeded once you’ve taken action to make a website or process easier. It’s not just about usability.

Laura points out that easier can mean a million different things depending on the customer. The willingness of organizations to adopt digital tools aimed at their users too often result in neglecting an in depth understanding of the needs of the customer. It provides the organization with an excuse to say hey, we made a new easy to use website… user experience over and out. Forgetting the very reason for having a website to begin with:

“First by understanding our customers - and really all of our stakeholders - can we begin to work with the experience on a strategic level; answering the question of what easier actually means for the user. “

Knowledge is key  
Simply having a website that is easily navigated is far from a unique selling point. To make the experience a differentiating market position, we need to understand our customers in depth. This requires thinking from our customers' point of view at every given turn - and well before we start communicating about the product.

Reaping the full potential of this entails not just tweaking our current products to better match our customers, but actually starting all of our processes with the customer in mind. One of Laura’s favorite examples of this is a Danish university, who did a large survey in which they asked young people what they were looking for in their education. The university then developed new educational programs based on this knowledge. Laura sums this up as:

We can’t design or communicate our way to a being customer centric. On the other hand, it is vital that knowledge of the customers’ behavior and needs is well communicated within the organization.

Moving on to stakeholder experience
However, the university also discovered that one of the young people’s main concerns were affordable housing in proximity of the university. Should the university then go into the housing market? Well, probably not.

This is where stakeholder experience proves to be a more rewarding concept; focusing not just on the experience of the customers, but that of all stakeholders. Having the university suddenly also being a housing company, would in all likeliness have far reaching consequences for the experience of the employees and other stakeholders.

To Laura this story exemplifies that it isn’t enough to understand your customers, when you are striving to work with the experience on a strategic level. You also have to understand your own organization and decide how (and if) you can address the needs of the customers. Laura stresses that not acting on certain information about your customers is actually also part of providing a better customer experience.

However, a way to acknowledge your own limitations as an organization and still meet the needs of one’s customers is to develop strategic partnerships. Something that Laura is certain we will be seeing even more of in the future:

“Organizations are becoming more fluid, perhaps not owning every bit of technology themselves, but lending, and forming partnerships with other organizations who poses relevant insights into their stakeholders.”

Making it happen in your organization  
No matter the size of one’s organization, it will be necessary to get top management on board. In Laura’s experience, the best way to do this, is to start small:

“Start by actually conducting just a handful of customer interviews. In most cases you will discover a need that isn’t being addressed. Point it out to seniors and really all around you in your organization. Fix it and show the results. Start with tiny tweaks and something you can easily point to the value off. Measurable results tend to capture everyone’s attention”.

Laura underlines that integrating stakeholder experience as a way of thinking strategically in an organization isn’t achieved with isolated initiatives, but rather by working methodically with it on a daily basis. As tools and methods as well as a mindset.  

If you are interested in learning more about how to work strategically with stakeholder experience, you can join the user experience track hosted by Laura Vilsbæk at the Boye 18 conference in November.

By Martin Paludan