6 ways to ensure your design workshops build credibility with clients

6 ways to ensure your design workshops build credibility with clients
Workshops are an essential part of the creative process. They're tools used by agencies and designers to create consensus, validate learning, challenge thinking and a host of other reasons that move the project forward. Run well they are powerful and rewarding, delivering a lot of value over a much shorter timescale than trying to pick off individuals all at once.

For clients, the potential rewards are balanced against their significant investment. Participants, unless the project is their day job, will have been taken out of their work environments and all the day-to-day work they have to do will be waiting for them when they get back. Contractors and consultants on high day rates may be in the room. All eyes will be focused on the event and judgements will be made about the sponsor on the basis of what happens.

When a design workshop goes well credibility has been gained and the praises of the design agency sung. When one's gone badly questions about the agency's suitability and competence have been asked, more than once to the point where contracts have not been renewed. Whilst much has been written on workshops in general, there are recurring themes that I have encountered when participating in creative workshops. Although they are not unique they do appear to resurface time after time and have repeatedly contributed to agencies having their work reduced.

1. Know what you're trying to achieve.

On a couple of instances I've walked into workshops with agencies where the objective has been less than clear to all concerned. An event like this should only happen if it is clear what value it is going to bring to the table and how everyone is going to walk away feeling positive. Forget terms like "ideation" or "loose agendas that are more frameworks", focus on what the client wants, what your team need and that both are aligned.

2. Have a structure.

Rigid agendas are not required, but a good understanding of what the day looks like, the time allocated to activities and the value each will bring is essential. Creativity is often perceived as intangible, and so clients will cling to what gives them comfort - the experience of the day. This is particularly so before the workshop takes place (where the agenda will be scrutinised by the client's team) and during the day for those who have been drawn in from their day jobs.

3. Be flexible.

Having a structure does not mean blindly following the agenda no matter what happens in the room. Activities can be extended, others dropped or new ones added in as the situation unfolds. The key here is that these decisions are exposed to the client as an adaptation of the agreed agenda, not as "winging it" as can come across where a structure isn't in place at the outset.

4. Know your slides.

I've had the pleasure of experiencing facilitators bluffing their way through slides more than once. Before the session begins make sure you are familiar with the content of any presentation materials so that you can speak to and around them with confidence. But that isn't where it ends. If you don't understand the workshop structure and objectives either then a disaster awaits you.

5. Prepare thoroughly.

Turning up to a workshop and "winging it" is the most common cause of dissatisfaction I've experienced. During the pre-sales phase this might be because the client doesn't want to pay for the preparation work (or even the workshop itself) and so costs are held down and time not dedicated to it. Sometimes it is an arrogance of the agency driven by a belief in their own creativity. Whatever the belief, the client will have expected you to have considered any materials they've sent, fed in discussions and structured something accordingly.

6. The small stuff.

The workshop experience starts before anyone arrives, so pay attention to the details. One client of mine canceled a workshop because the materials they were sent were so badly written they lost confidence in the ability of the agency to deliver. The staff of another complained on their way home about being sent away to get their own lunch instead of having it provided. I could go on, but the key message is the client should not have to call into doubt the agency's commitment because of small details and mistakes.

For a creative agency a design workshop is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to the client the value they are getting. Don't throw that opportunity away with poor planning, inadequate preparation and a lack of attention to detail. Remember that nine times out of ten the client will want you to succeed, so don't make silly mistakes that could undermine that.

Gamification in Financial Services: how to make long lasting changes to customer behaviour

Gamification in Financial Services: how to make long lasting changes to customer behaviour
Over the past couple of years "gamification" has started to emerge as a major topic amongst customer experience professionals. Whereas loyalty marketing and CRM seeks to reward or drive specific transactions; gamification applies behavioural psychology and practical business design to effect longer term changes in behaviour. These changes are achieved by nudging the customer forward through a variety of techniques to build knowledge, self-esteem and a sense of achievement.

Gamification is maturing and yet Financial Services seems to be a little left behind. Although some firms have taken steps into the space there is much more than can be done.

1. Improve education.

The dominant reason gamification is used in Financial Services is for education. This has been done by developing online games that inform and educate the user about how to use a specific product, understand investments or manage their general finances. By improving self-confidence customers should be more willing to engage with their products, protecting existing income and generating additional product sales.

BBVA is the most prominent user of gamification, generating 100,000 users within 6 months of launch and building a much stronger relationship between its customers and online banking offering.

2. Support the purchase.

Buying a Financial Services product is often a complex and painful process to put customers through. The primary application of gamification in sales is the "progress bar" which shows the customer where they are and how much more needs to be done. Additional techniques can be used to encourage the customer to complete or return to a purchase they have paused, such as using a countdown to the expiry of their quotation. By showing "what people like you" have selected as options, customers can also be made to feel more confident in selecting additional product features.

3. Increase spending.

Moving customers through the product suite is an area where there is significant opportunity for gamification to bring value. With this approach the objective is to encourage the customer to adopt behaviours that unlock additional features within their existing product or provide a gateway to another product. This could include behaviours designed to reduce their risk and make available previously excluded covers or providing information that can be used to position additional products.

A commercial insurance design looked at creating a "risk centre" where clients could actively manage their business risks. The design used "challenges" to encourage clients to adopt behaviours and practices that reduced risk, peer pressure to compare their performance with others and levels that unlocked proactive quotations for other products in a non-threatening way.

4. Engage

Engaging customers has long been a challenge for Financial Services. Many products are sold on the basis of an automated renewal so that the customer is not disturbed more than is necessary to retain their business. Using gamification, customers can be encouraged to adopt and embed positive behaviours that strengthen their relationship.

For example, “personal action plans” are sometimes used in health insurance, but lack any connection with the customer’s experience with the business. A gamified version may nudge them towards behaviours that reduce their risk of claiming, perhaps by offering a higher level of benefit, comparing them to peers on leader boards or awarding “badges” for positive behaviours.

5. Improve service.

Although there is a lot of focus on using gamification to improve the user experience, there is also considerable potential to use gamified techniques within the organisation. Leaderboards for customer satisfaction, gamified training programmes, badges for specific expertise are all tactics that could be employed to improve the knowledge and commitment of staff.

Numerous companies, from Deloitte to Ford, have used gamification in their employee development with positive results in terms of engagement, commitment to work and competence.

By improving knowledge, self-esteem and sense of achievement, customers are becoming more willing to commit to companies that have gamified their experiences. By augmenting transaction based rewards with deeper routed behavioural changes, those who are adopting gamification in their strategies are starting to see benefits in terms of reduced churn and increasing revenues. The challenge for Financial Services is whether thinking can extend beyond providing educational games and be willing to commit to achieving longer term, more engaged relationships with customers.

British Airways: does their welcome eMail pass muster?

British Airways: does their welcome eMail pass muster?
A recent trip booked through British Airways produced a nice touch. A few days after the booking I received an eMail that I thought ticked a lot of "best practice" boxes. It was personalised, it reminded me of things that I had to do and offered links to useful and relevant content.


One thing in their near perfect message broke the spell. It's the "View our destination guides" link.

British Airways knows where I'm going and implies in the wording it's about to use that information to my benefit. A reasonable person might expect to click that link and open up a page about their chosen destination. Only that isn't the case. When I clicked it I was taken to my account. Instead of being "wowed" with their personalisation, I was confused by the experience and confess I went back to the eMail just in case I'd clicked the wrong thing (I hadn't!)

In my opinion the lessons to take away from this experience include":
  • Don't tease the customer. Make sure what the link implies is what is delivered;

  • If you're using a personalised approach remember the customer may expect all aspects of the message to be personalised;

  • Test your links. I still find it difficult to believe BA intended to link to my account when it promises something else.

As far as I am concerned this attempt from "The World's Favourite Airline" goes in the "nice try, but the detail let you down" basket.

You can also see the full eMail

Are your text headers clearly differentiated?

Are your text headers clearly differentiated?
A Twitter post sent me what I thought was going to be an interesting blog post on Conversion XL. When I arrived, however, I was a little confused. Had I reached the article, or the home page for their blog?

The difficulty was with their header text. They were using similar sized and presented fonts to differentiate the blog post title and sub headings within the text (If you click the image above you'll see a screenshot that shows the top half of the page).

Make sure you have clearly differentiated styles for your page hierarchy so as to ensure your content is clearly structured and can be understood. It makes it easier for the reader to understand and avoids creating confusion.

Microsoft finds itself stuck in the 18th Century

Microsoft finds itself stuck in the 18th Century
As far as I'm concerned, Microsoft is the company that keeps on giving. I don't mean that in a nice way either.

My experience of dealing with the business and its products is not a good one. Ignoring debates about their Windows 8 interface the business is a pretty poor example of creating a customer experience. Internal divisions within the company are clearly exposed through the inconsistent way in which it delivers services to its customers, regardless of channel.

Yet every now and then they do manage to make me chuckle. Bravely I responded to a "customer satisfaction" survey when I searched their "knowledgebase" looking for an answer to something. I don't think I've ever been asked how much effort I've put forth before.

For a 21st Century technology company that's rather 18th Century language!

Using a contractor or design agency? Make sure their knowledge stays when they leave.

Using a contractor or design agency? Make sure their knowledge stays when they leave.
As the contract neared its end an increasing sense of unease began to develop. For the past handful of weeks they'd relied on me to pull together the first drafts of their Customer Experience Maps. They were good enough to get funding, and the digital agency they were working with were getting a sense of what was needed. Only with my departure on the horizon we were seeing a gaping cavern open up in their world.

My efforts to encourage the client to take ownership of the Customer Experience were falling on deaf ears. They saw it as something that was done by someone else, and with my impending departure that someone else was the digital agency. Rightly the agency was resisting and imploring the client to retain it within the core team. Without someone who understood the intricacies of the process flows, the legal frameworks and all the constraints around the different channels in play, they were concerned what would be created would be incomplete and ultimately fail to live up to its promise.

This is not an uncommon experience. A little too often I've encountered companies that have brought in specialist expertise to complete a specific project assignment, then watched that person, together with all their knowledge, walk out the door never to be seen again. Needless to say the business typically returns to whatever state they were in pre-engagement or sometimes even worse.

If you are going to hire outside help you should be focused on more than the work they will do for you during the project. Some element of knowledge transfer, where they impart onto you their thinking behind the recommendations or even some of the skills they will employ, should be a part of your project. At the very least you should try and address these four key areas:

Take ownership.

Someone in the core team should take ownership for what the outside consultant produces. If there isn't an owner to take the work that's been done and turn it into "business as usual" then there was no point in hiring a contractor.

Make sure you have an exit plan.

Don't just let the consultant walk away with all that newly acquired knowledge in their head. Have a plan in place to transfer it into your team. That could be having someone shadow them, making sure documentation is up to date or even locking them in a room for two days with their replacement. Whatever the approach is, your aim is to ensure that relevant knowledge is kept within the team after they've gone.

Don't leave it to the last minute.

I prefer to embed knowledge transfer into the engagement from the outset with coaching, shadowing and explaining my thinking. That's a proactive stance I take, not all clients appreciate it and none have proactively asked for it. Waiting until the week before the engagement ends is not a good idea. Discussing your needs for knowledge transfer at the outset and planning for it to happen is.

Accept there will be a cost to get the benefit.

However the outsider charges there will be a cost associated with transferring knowledge. It may be explicit in the form of a specific workshop activity. It could be implicit in the assumptions around how long a piece of work will take. Whatever that cost is, remember that the benefit back to the business of knowing what was in the mind of the outside contractor or consultant as they advised you is invaluable.

Hiring an outsider to deliver to a project is an expensive undertaking. Whether you've used a contractor for a tactical piece of work, a digital agency for something more strategy or taken the advice and guidance of a consultant, you should be in a position to transfer some of their know-how into your business, then embed and draw on it so you can maximise the value you get.

Building prototypes? Try using Apple Keynote or Microsoft Powerpoint to get client buy-in

One of the challenges I often face is bringing my initial designs to life. Seen as a flow chart on a sheet of paper, or as a series of sketches stuck to a wall might give a sense of what happens, but it doesn't convey the how. It doesn't allow the client to explore the potential, to understand the way things connect or where there might be practical problems the "theory" of design has yet to uncover. This is particularly true of digital solutions, but can apply equally to the operational processes that often support them.

A technique that I like to employ is to use a presentation package to give my client a chance to play. Within Apple's Keynote (and Microsoft's Powerpoint) is a feature that allows you to link an object to another slide. In effect this creates a means to mimic the buttons that a user might click on an internal application, or the links they might follow on a web page. It can also be used to give a sense of how paper or materials might be moved around.

This linkage gives the client a chance to experiment with the design with a number of real world scenarios. For example, during the redesign of a telesales application, one client had an agent use a Powerpoint prototype while they tried to sell a product to a friendly external volunteer. This simple experiment quickly identified a couple of areas where improvements to the call flow could be implemented.

Inserting "hidden" steps as slides can also give an indication of the customer's experience. During a process review where an end-customer was required to complete a paper application form and post it back to the business, I included slides that had to be clicked through that showed the customer's work. Rather than have "customer completes and returns form" as the process flows showed, I inserted additional slides that showed someone signing the form, folding it, finding an envelope and so on. This extra context encouraged the management team to rethink the way they contracted with clients and to look at alternatives to their risk-averse dependence on paper.

Using this approach can also short-cut design effort. Having sketched out some rough web pages for a website redesign, I scanned the images, placed them on separate slides and linked them together. In less than an hour we had a working prototype that we could use to explore the customer's experience and start capturing where we thought there were gaps. This immediacy meant we moved faster through the initial brainstorming sessions, settling on an outline customer journey much faster.

Whether it is a Customer Experience or a reengineered business process, bringing them to life using rapid, interactive prototyping will out issues and reinforce buy-in much faster than relying on flow charts and wall displays alone. Although there are dedicated apps for doing this, the ease of use and simplicity of PowerPoint and Keynote make them viable alternatives, particularly in the early days. The key, as always, is to keep things simple, move the design process along and know when it is time to move from a simple presentation to a more complex development platform.

Inboundux: a minimalist profile let down by poor image choice

Inboundux: a minimalist profile let down by poor image choice
InboundUX's "about us" information appears as part of a single page homepage design that is unremarkable in itself. The element that stood out for me, however, was their "about us" section.

Given the entire page is given over to explaining who they are, this small component setting out their history as a business grabbed my attention. I like the simplicity of it - a linear progression that describes how they started and grew, set around circular images that act like bullet points.

My main criticism of this design, however, is the images do not easily correlate to the words. How a mountain range relates to "humble beginnings" or a laptop to an "enterprise client" I"m not sure. The impression I'm left with is someone found some images and inserted them rather than considered whether they supported what was being said.
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I've 25 years of experience building new channels, markets and businesses for startups and growing companies in the UK and EU.

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