Design Thinking for CRM: A Step-by-Step Guide


  • Customer Relationship Management software projects are most successful when objectives are designed to satisfy user, customer and company goals. Design Thinking is an ideal technique to links these goals with technology and clearly identify what's most important to the most important constituents.
  • This process is an iterative, people-focused design method that applies deep empathy for users and collaboration among cross-functional teams — in order to firmly identify the highest impact and most important success criteria.
  • What makes this technique different and better is that it shifts objectives from being measured in technology features and functions (which most users and managers don't really care much about) to being measured in user and customer business outcomes (which users and managers care deeply about.)
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

A Design Challenge

The traditional approach of interviewing users and creating an exhaustive list of software features, functions, capabilities or requirements is extraordinarily inefficient, fails to capitalize on what's most important and is indicative of a tools-based approach.

Creating a laundry list of application requirements tends to replace business objectives with IT or software goals. More so, it completely misses the namesake purpose of "Customer Relationship Management" and instead reverts to an IT exercise focused on Customer Data Management.

Managing customer data is important but falls woefully short of improving customer relationships and all the downstream business benefits such as increased customer acquisitions, customer share and customer retention.

A Better Way

Companies seeking to apply CRM software for more strategic objectives – such as improving customer affinity and company revenues – start with the user, customer and business goals that are most important.

That's why Design Thinking has become the go-to method for linking technology to business priorities.

A Design Thinking workshop with cross functional participants determines the highest impact and most important success criteria; measured in user, customer and business outcomes; and according to the people that will most use or benefit from the business software.

It's not about defining software features and functions, it's about designing user experiences and business processes that deliver the most valuable outcomes.

This method is particularly effective at cutting through technology complexity and clutter – to simplify, humanize and focus on what's most important in implementing business systems and driving business transformation.

This process shifts application goals from being measured in software utility, and expressed as a volume of features and functions, to user satisfaction goals such as delivering a rewarding application that makes users lives easier, more productive and more enjoyable, or engaging customers in ways they want to engage back.

And it's not just effective, it's fast. With a trained facilitator, most companies will complete the workshop in one day. And at the end of that day, the company will have defined a prioritized list of specific and measurable objectives that will be used to maximize user adoption, software utilization and ROI.

Here's How it Works

Design Thinking Personas

We start by making the user our North Star and identifying different types of users with personas. Common personas include the CMO, Salesperson and Customer Service Representative. We also include a persona for the customer.

For each persona, we identify their traits, characteristics and what makes them unique. We can only design meaningful user outcomes with a solid understanding of our users, their real problems and how they achieve satisfaction.

Design Thinking Empathy Maps

Design isn't just about utility, usability or the streamlining of a user interface. Good design solves a problem with a result that achieves an emotional reaction. This is powerful as we all know that people are emotional and make decisions based on emotions.

This next workshop activity uses empathy maps to capture what users say, think, feel and do, in the context of their daily job activities. We can better understand their concerns, frustrations, problems and know what is important to them. This exercise also identifies why customers purchase or choose not to purchase products or services.

Design Thinking As Is Process

As-Is process reviews follow each persona through a day in the life of their current As Is experiences. Expert designers do not begin offering solutions before they have thoroughly defined the real problems.

This activity maps the persona-based As-Is processes into the 4 swim lanes of Steps, Doing, Thinking and Feeling. It then reveals user feedback and sentiment that creates the basis for downstream process improvement actions, including the next workshop activity of ideation.

Design Thinking Ideation

The Ideation activity brainstorms new ideas based on what was learned in the prior steps, groups the ideas into clusters, and plots them on a two-dimensional curve positioned according to Impact and Feasibility. This displays the ideas into categories of unwise ideas that should be avoided, utility ideas that are table stakes, no-brainer ideas that should be adopted, and big bet ideas that can be considered now or in the future.

A benefit of this approach is that it encourages nonconformist thinking, defers judgment and is more likely to uncover an a-ha moment that delivers a powerful advantage or benefit that would otherwise not have surfaced.

Design Thinking Hills

Hills clarify ideas into clear and measurable goals and are written in a format that includes a Who, What and Wow. Hills are statements of intent that the entire team can rally around so that we are all pulling in the same direction. A Hill should deliver an order of magnitude change; not just an incremental improvement.

Hills are statements which excite. Users sometimes respond to Hills by saying, "If you do that, I'm on board." Executives sometimes brag about Hills. Some Hills are so powerful you could put them in advertisements.

Design Thinking To Be Process

To-Be processes build upon the Hills. They refine processes and user experiences to make them better. They show how to remove friction from processes, eliminate non-value-added steps and deliver Wow moments.

When this step is complete, you have prioritized the most important objectives and defined improved processes to achieve specific and measurable outcomes. So far, everything has been software agnostic. But now that we know what's most important, we design the application to deliver it.

Design Thinking Playback

Playbacks are stories told with visual illustrations such as sketches and storyboards. They are presented to stakeholders and staff to show how the new user experiences will be delivered with technology.

They bring experiences to life by making them visual or tangible. They start a dialogue that solicits feedback, collaboration and alignment to refine and improve the proposed experiences. Playbacks are reviewed periodically in order to show progress.

Design Thinking Prototype

Application prototypes then show how the Playback stories will work in the software. They often start with low fidelity designs or wire frames and then migrate to screen mock-ups in the CRM software. They must demonstrate how ideas and experiences become actionable in the technology.

The MIT Media Lab describes this step of the process with its motto, "Demo or die," which reinforces that only the act of production prototyping can transform an idea into something truly valuable, because on their own, ideas are a dime a dozen.

Each of the steps and activities in the framework consist of relatively short workshops, often about an hour, and are performed by multi-disciplinary groups that include users, managers, subject matter experts (SMEs), IT professionals and executive stakeholders. The steps are not always sequential and we sometimes combine two steps into a single workshop activity.

At the end of the day the team has determined the most significant user, customer and company outcomes and is on a much straighter and shorter path to configure CRM software to aid that journey.