Change Sucks; ACSA 2017 insights.


Our Design Director David was invited to present at the 2017 ACSA Summit in Cairns on the theme “The Power of Change”. His response, entitled ‘Change Sucks’ focused on the opportunities presented by ageing and the pathways to support and care. Designing the defining moment of customer experience (CX) that embody brand identity, and create differentiation in a competitive market. The following is an edited transcript of that presentation.


As communicators and brand guardians, we are comfortable with the idea of identity. Identity is the lens through which we will look at concepts of customer experience design. Our fundamental challenge is knowing ourselves, and knowing our audience; connecting the two in ways that excite, entice and delight.

Strategic identities are those that assertively self-advocate, differentiate and meaningfully impact the lives of their customers and their families. We consider them to be communicated through concepts, language and imagery.

Gone are the days of a finite set of controlled expressions of visual and verbal identity. Today the assets of identity need to work harder than ever before. And brand identities need to be ever richer and considered in order to function in all these spaces.

Customer Experience is one frame to consider the interaction between brand identity and customers. It is the term of the moment, particularly as relates to the disciplines of service design and applied design thinking. I’d like to introduce you to several key points of intersection between brand identity and customer experience.

We’ll use the language of objects, behaviours and spaces, which essentially correlate to the key pillars of customer experience design (touchpoints, journeys and environments).

And so today’s theme – Change. Of course change can be a wonderful thing, however change can also be precipitated by, or equate to loss. Loss of identity, loss of security, loss of familiar surrounds. To engage with these risks and fears, in a way that is sensitive and authentic presents an enormous opportunity to turn values into gestures. To live out your brand.


Home – Designing spaces

Let’s look first at the concept of home, and pair that with the customer experience notion of spaces.  Environments have the capacity to make us feel welcomed, embraced, awe inspired. You only need to set foot in any of the world’s great sacred buildings, the pantheon in Rome, or Sacre Coeur in Paris to understand the power dynamic created by expansive, super scaled spaces. In a modern context, exit London Bridge station at the foot of the Shard building and look up. I’ll give you 5 seconds before being overcome by it’s vertiginous presence.

So what makes spaces feel institutional? The aesthetics of functionality? Certainly. Materiality of surfaces, the nature of objects, a lack of human proportion? Without doubt. Austere labelling and ‘brand’ graphics plastered with an unwavering focus on ‘protecting the brand’ above all else.

By comparison, what makes a space feel homely? Homes are biographical spaces. They hold our stories, embodied through furnishings, pictures, objects that may be diverse and maybe even a little naff. These objects are talismanic, and for many key to feeling comfortable in our own skin.

Why then do residential care facilities often feel like they have lurched to the baldly functional? It seems most often through pragmatism, perceived cost reduction, or lack of a complementary voice or champion. And yet, the cost to a brand is great if spaces fail to live out the promise and purpose of the organisational brand to customers and their families.

Of course there are functional requirements to a space. It would be impractical to build a facility for 120 people of varying care needs and levels like a 2 up, 2 down, family home. However, there are gestures that can be extended which improve the experience of the whole. We don’t need to shift our mindsets far, but the difference can be exponential.

How might this be applied to our businesses? Let’s imagine…

Picture a cabinet or bookcase, constructed of solid, natural materials. Modular in nature, it can expand or contract to house customers precious self ethnography of objects. It could be created though codesign with customers, insights from research and collaboration with leading Australian designers and makers. What a statement it would make about your brand’s investment in homely, welcoming spaces that hero the stories of residents.


Independence – Designing objects

On, to the concept of independence. Let’s think about affirming a brand narrative through an object. Objects have physical properties. Materiality and interactivity can express conceptual qualities in ways language never could. Softness, warmth, prestige, value. Wool or linen is comforting and tactile. Leather wears with use and age attaining a patina of quality. Brass. bronze or marble are solid and steadfast; elemental. Ceramic is earnest, raw and fragile.

How might we communicate the concept of independence in a circumstance where care or intervention is required? Through recognising the individual and expressing this in physical form. Celebrating the choices of that individual, acknowledging the imparting of trust that comes with the customer and/or their loved ones choosing us for care. Again, you may have these processes in place already, but the trick of difference is in considering the ‘what’ of the gifting and aligning it with the overall intent of the brand, creating an experience.

How might this be applied to our businesses? Let’s imagine…

Picture a handwoven merino blanket, initialled with the initials of the customer. Presented in a fashion box, wrapped in printed tissued. On opening, a notecard with a hand written note tells the recipient that they and their story is recognised and valued. Imagine the statement that would make, and the impact at a time of uncertainty and change.

Security – Designing behaviours

Finally, let’s look at the concept of security, safety, and ultimately, satisfaction. Let’s view it through the lens of behaviours.

There are specific points along a customer journey where the strategic, tangible activation of brand can provide a key competitive difference. Making sure that you address emotional needs along the customer journey, as well as practical, functional requirements for decision making.

And it is a balance. Those who have undertaken customer journey mapping before will know that what we are thinking and feeling throughout an engagement with a brand is constantly oscillating. Rarely do we commit to purchase without a little of both columns being engaged. Forrester has articulated a proposed new reality for the customer lifecycle (discover—compare—consider—commit—retain). For the purposes of this session, let’s simply focus on a couple of points for brand identity activation where there is maximum opportunity for differentiation and impact.

‘Discover’ and ‘compare’ phases are most likely already covered by existing above and below the line activities. The sales process of ‘commit’ is often well documented and communicated. For the purposes of brevity, let’s examine the ‘consider’ and ‘retain’ phases.

Customer lifecycle: the ‘consider’ phase

In the ‘consider’ phase, running either in a linear or parallel relationship to ‘compare’, the higher context, feeling part of the journey offers maximum potential. A purely functional comparison of facilities and fees will only go so far to assisting a decision. Assuming you have a compelling offer on the preceding, how might you live out brand identity through a behaviour or gesture?

What will say ‘they understand me / my families needs’, ‘they are offering a relationship’?

Imagine what that gesture might be for your business after the point of first contact. Some notecards, a cloth or pouch for glasses? In this instance the object is secondary to the behaviour. Design and emotional engagement at this point in the customer journey is far more important than the budget you have available. A genuine gesture need not be expensive, and the value is in holding a front-of-mind position with a prospective client, family member or referrer during this phase.

Imagine a small package containing botanical infused and scented hand lotion. You might even commission a particular fragrance to be used across your facilities and offices. Simply presented in a calico drawstring bag, it might cost little more than $10 per unit, and yet the tactile, nourishing nature of the product could cement a buying decision worth tens of thousands of dollars.


Customer lifecycle: the ‘retain’ phase

And so, considering the retain phase, (which admittedly would express differently for in-home providers as distinct from residential care). In home service provision is literally about being retained, and staying ahead of the competition. Residential commitment is definitely less easily reconsidered, but the continuing engagement of families and influencers, confirming their choices, expounding these to their networks, and hence, building brand equity is an asset in itself.

What form could this assurance take? A narrative, interview-led piece of collateral produced through out the year, sharing vitality and experience. A video, or a photo essay on the lives and relationships of residents.

Effort and budget is put toward stimulating and enriching programmes of activities for customers and residents, and often captured visually or verbally ad hoc for newsletters or social media. There is an abundance of untapped content that could be leveraged through better designing the communication of these experiences.

What about a bi-annual collection of content created by residents / customers? Curated and presented directly and authentically, rather than summarised or editorialised in a newsletter? What about an exhibition of photography in collaboration with an emerging artist, telling the rich and vital stories of your customers? A minor shift in thinking, but a huge impact.

The end.

Or the beginning? How might these concepts and frameworks be applied to your business? I have a few thoughts (you may have guessed), but then so to do my clever and passionate colleagues. We’re always happy to share the benefits of our experience with like minded people, so please drop me an email, or give us a call on +61 (03) 9416 0046.

If you’d like to receive more articles and thinking from Ellis Jones like this, please subscribe to People Talk here.