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How to successfully run a customer experience design project online

Planning, organizing, and running an innovation project is an elaborate affair where many things can go wrong. However, in times of a global pandemic, matters are further complicated because we need to think, act, communicate, and collaborate in new ways.

Over the past months, I have been running a customer experience design (“CXD”) project focusing on the Ph.D. in Knowledge & Innovation Management (“PHD-KIM”) program of Bangkok University. (As most of you may know, apart from being the founder and Chief Ideator of Thinkergy, I’ve also been an academic for the past 16 years and joined the Institute for Knowledge and Innovation, South-East Asia (IKI-SEA) at Bangkok University as a faculty in 2016). Using the example of my recent PhD-KIM CXD project, please allow me to share with you how you can approach a customer experience design in a lean and speedy way with the help of various tech platforms as well as Thinkergy’s award-winning X-IDEA innovation method and related thinking tools.

1. Xploration: Start with mapping out the stages of the customer journey

At the beginning of a CXD project, it’s crucial to accurately capture and map out the stages of the journey that a customer experiences. Typically, the customer journey starts earlier and lasts longer than most people think, so talk to both customers and experience stagers and ask them lots of probing questions (such as “What’s your first encounter with this? What did you do then? What happened next?”). 

To correctly capture all stages of the customer journey of a candidate studying for a Ph.D. in Bangkok University’s PhD-KIM program, I interviewed a group of Ph.D. students and program alumni and the program chair (my colleague Dr. Vincent Ribiere, Director of the IKI-SEA). By the end of this step, I had identified 17 distinct journey stages that I grouped into five main phases (discovery and onboarding; Ph.D. induction and foundational course work; theoretical thesis stage; empirical thesis stage; final defense and transition to alumni). 

2. Seek quantitative and qualitative feedback on the journey from your customers

Next, it’s time to find out how customers experience each stage of the journey. Ideally, you collect quantitative and qualitative data to capture how satisfied your customers are with what they experience along their journey. 

How did this pan out in the CXD project I ran for Bangkok University in times of a pandemic? I sent a mixed-method survey (via to all current students and alumni: 

  • On the one hand, the questionnaire invited current students and program alumni to rate on a 6-point Likert-scale (a) the perceived value and (b) the relative level of enjoyment of key activities at each stage of the PhD-KIM journey (quantitative data collection).
  • On the other hand, the survey also asked specific questions related to each stage of the journey to allow the Ph.D. candidates and graduates to comment on what they’ve experienced qualitatively. Thereby, the 11 alumni who graduated from the program could share their overviews on the entire journey. In contrast, most respondents who still study in the program only commented on those parts of the journey they’ve completed so far. The survey also allowed the students and alumni to share in one word how they felt about each stage and inquired what they liked and disliked about it. Finally, the respondents also had the chance to share any initial ideas on enhancing the study experience.

3. Visualize the quantitative survey results in a Customer Experience EEG

The next step of the process is to transform the quantitative feedback on each journey stage’s perceived value and enjoyment levels into “Customer Experience EEG”-charts showing the statistical mean for both variables. Then, you can analyze how the “heartbeat curves” change as the average customer moves through the journey. How might you read these charts?

When you spot activities or journey stage that customers rate as:

  • both valuable and enjoyable, then keep it and look for ways to improve it further if possible
  • valuable but not enjoyable, then look for ways to add more enjoyment while preserving the value differential.
  • not deemed useful but are satisfying, then find ways to add more value to these activities to keep them.
  • neither valuable nor enjoyable, then eliminate them from the journey if possible (sometimes, that’s not possible due to legal or other reasons).

4. Apply memory theory while analyzing the CX EEG-curves

CXD is all about designing meaningful, memorable experiences that positively stick in the customer’s mind. So while looking at the CX EEGs in a CXD project, it’s vital to recall key memory theory findings: We tend to remember things that either happen at the beginning or the end, that occur repeatedly, and that are so extraordinary that they “stand out.”

So, reviewing a CX EEG with memory theory in the back of your mind gives you lots of novel insights into customer’s views on each stage (e.g., we learned that while the PhD-KIM students didn’t overly enjoy their “Mini-Research Project” at the conclusion of their foundational studies, they almost all rated the exercise as being valuable) and initial ideas. Of course, the same holds by reviewing the customers’ qualitative comments on their experiences at different stages of the journey, which inevitably leads to more insights and ideas.

At the end of the thorough Xploration of students’ and alumni’s views on the customer journey, I framed the final challenge for the subsequent IDEA phases of X-IDEA as follows: “How to improve the customer journey of a Ph.D. candidate studying in Bangkok University’s PhD-KIM program?”

5. Ideation: Generate ideas for valuable new experiences and activities

The objective of the second stage of X-IDEA, Ideation, is to create many, many raw ideas catering to the focus challenge. Due to the current pandemic, and because some of the participants live in Europe, I used the online collaboration platform to run the Ideation-activities for the PhD-KIM CXD project online. 

After splitting them into two teams, the participants moved through the PhD-KIM journey stage by stage to generate ideas. I debriefed the ideators on the main findings of the CXD-survey. Then, I asked them to add specific ideas on what to add anew, what to improve, what to reduce, and what to eliminate at each stage to arrive at more valuable and enjoyable experiences (using a simple Ideation technique that we call Four Forces). The ideators jotted down their ideas on digital Post-it notes in Then, they added these to the already pre-existing Post-it notes that I had created beforehand using the initial ideas from the qualitative survey phase. 

Due to time limitations and because delegates joined in from different time zones, I only had a chance to introduce a few additional Ideation Tools (such as asking What If-questions) to broaden the idea pool. 

6. Development: Discover promising ideas and design these into full-fledged new concepts

At the beginning of the Development-stage, the two teams first had to identify the most intriguing ideas and position these in a special work-board reflecting the key stages of the PhD-KIM journey that I had created in

Then, the delegates individually designed those interesting ideas that most appealed to them into fully-fledged idea concepts using the principles of elaboration, combination and transmutation. Each of the resulting idea concepts elaborated in detail what the idea is all about, who specifically it targets and most benefits, and why this adds value. 

Moreover, many of the top idea concepts we earmarked for activation related to insights gained in the Xploration-stage of X-IDEA and reflected a memory-theory-based design of sticky customer experiences:

  • For example, one insight revealed that while working on writing the theoretical part of their thesis, many Ph.D. students experience feelings of loneliness and disconnection. One of our Ph.D. students from Germany suggested holding regular, bi-monthly “PHD-KIM Stammtisch”-events. A Stammtisch is an informal group meeting held regularly and also the name for a usually large table around which the group meets. Students and faculty can join the informal get-together at the same restaurant table if they have time and discuss over a few drinks and snacks their successes and sorrows related to their Ph.D. projects. (As this experience is repetitive in nature, it is also sticky according to memory theory.)
  • Another insight gained from studying the EEG-charts was that we need to do more for our alumni (given that ten years after its start, Bangkok University’s PHD-KIM program now has a sufficient number of graduates to begin focusing on keeping them connected). One idea that I designed in this connection was “The PHD-KIM Hall of Fame,” a special page on the program’s website that we’re going to set-up to showcase our graduates with their thesis, related publications, as well as current academic or professional activities (which we will keep current through the integration of their LinkedIn- and Researchgate-profiles). One benefit of this top concept is that it also allows current students to connect to and reach out to program graduates working in the same niche domain and possibly win them over as mentors or cheerleaders while working on a related topic.

7. Evaluation & Action: Evaluate the portfolio, pitch and Implement the top concepts, then restart the journey with fresh, meaningful experiences

At the beginning of 2021, Dr. Vincent and I met to jointly evaluate all designed concepts and select seven concepts to pitch for executive approval and funding. Bangkok University’s Vice President in charge of the PHD-KIM program was excited about the high customer satisfaction survey results and our proposed top ideas and promised to secure the necessary funding for those concepts that require a budget. We plan to implement all the winning concepts in the customer journey of our new PhD-KIM intake starting in August 2021.

Conclusion: Animate your innovative thinking tools with the right digital tools in times of COVID-19

A well-designed CXD project can help you determine what you already do well and where you need to improve your value offering to enhance the customer journey. And don’t allow the current pandemic to stop you in your drive to innovate: As my case example illustrates, you can do CXD (and other innovation types) as a lean, entirely virtual innovation project in a tight period with the right innovation method and tech tools.

  • Are you interested in getting a Ph.D. in Knowledge and Innovation Management? Check out the PhD-KIM program website, and contact Dr. Vincent Ribiere for more information.
  • Would you like to learn more about X-IDEA, Thinkergy’s innovation method & toolbox? Our “know-how of wow” works for customer experience design and all other modern innovation types — from process over product to service innovation; from campaign to brand to image design; and from social over business model to strategy innovation. Check out examples of our related work here.
  • Or would you like us to help you enhance your clients’ customer experience in a focused, virtual X-IDEA CXD project? Contact us to tell us more about how we might help you.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2021. This article is co-published in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.