Creating Excellent Experiences: In Theory and Reality

It seems as though every discussion of consequence this year — whether inside my company, with our clients, with our partners or vendors — begins and ends with how we will, for one solution or another, create an excellent experience.

Not surprising, I suppose, given our increasingly virtualized lives over the past 12 months and the many long-term trends have led us to this moment: the rise of design thinking in the business world, an acknowledgement of the importance of a user interface in setting the tone of a digital experience, and the significance of a superior support experience in both digital and physical, real-life situations.

And again, not surprising, but very much thought provoking, is the recognition of the need for management of the growing ecosystem of players delivering the solutions.

A real highlight of my work week happens when I assemble a group of various stakeholders and discuss what we want a new experience to look and feel like for our clients and their customers. One of the most interesting aspects of these discussions (for me personally) is theorizing about what an excellent experience looks like on its best days (the fun part) and contrasting that best day with what this same experience may potentially look like on the days when nothing is going right (the not so fun part).

I’ve found it can be much easier to visualize and even energize a group in a discussion of what could go right, and it can be difficult, at best, to imagine what can, might, or will go wrong.

It so happens that we in Texas recently lived through a great example of a day (or days) when a client experience went horribly wrong.

You, no doubt, have at least heard of “The Texas Winter Storm of 2021.” Millions of Texans were impacted by the impending failure of the electrical grid and immediate need for rolling blackouts. The blackouts caused problems with systems restarting. The blackouts were repeated, in some cases, hourly or more frequently, impacting the same customers time and again. The blackouts caused disruption in the delivery of water: water main breaks, mechanical failures, frozen or broken water lines. The toll was devasting on the Texas population and economy.

In theory, the independence of the Texas electrical grid operator (ERCOT) was to have led to a heightened ability to create a common experience for all stakeholders. In reality, when faced with conditions that were not normal (but nevertheless could have been modeled for), we Texans were mere minutes away from a total state-wide blackout.

While many factors contributed and many decisions made both recently and historically by different stakeholders led to this failure, it’s clear that no one was really thinking about the Texas electrical grid on the extreme opposite of a perfect day.

Many lessons will be drawn from this experience, hopefully, and positive change will result for all of us who rely on this grid every day and others elsewhere who might find themselves en route to a similar situation in the future. I’m certainly no expert in grids nor in energy public policy or regulation, yet I do know what it felt like to feel cold, sit in the dark for days on end, and worry about the impact on my family and our broader community.

From these moments, I also know I will be able to think more broadly when it comes to experiential design and not just focus on the excellent, but also what the other side can look like and what we can put in place to minimize the chance that other side becomes reality.

Charles Sutherland, chief strategy officer, defi SOLUTIONS, has more than 25 years in technology management and strategy with companies such as Sagent Lending Technologies, Fiserv, and Accenture. At defi, Charles leads strategy, product management, and marketing with a focus on improving the experience of lenders and consumers.