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How using customer episodes can drive innovation in CX

Organisations often find themselves overwhelmed at the myriad of possibilities to improve their digital customer experience. And while fixing specific issues can sometimes feel productive, scattered improvements may not actually be improving the overall experience. What’s needed is a structured approach that focuses on your customers’ needs, wants and feelings, and ‘customer episodes’ are a valuable design tool that can help you do this.

September 1, 2021
min read

Developing an innovative product or service – i.e. one that offers a new way to solve a problem, whether it’s a new product, or subsequent iterations of an existing one – is intrinsically tied to having a deep understanding of your customers’ practical and emotional wants and needs. After all, when customers interact with a product or service, it’s because they want something in return. They want to do something, know something, buy something. They have a specific goal in mind, and they expect your product or service to help them achieve that goal with minimal effort and little to no friction. 

Depending on the type of product or service, the number, frequency and order of these interactions can vary. For example, in low-touch industries such as insurance, months or even years can go by without any interactions, making it even more crucial to make a good impression. On the other hand, in industries where customers are regularly interacting with a brand, e.g. food delivery services, these repeated actions need to be smooth and efficient to avoid frustration and keep customers coming back for more.

Rather than thinking about the customer journey in linear terms, it helps to consider key ‘episodes’ your customers are likely to encounter at different moments throughout the customer lifecycle, and ensure that their needs are met in the most appropriate way.

What is a customer episode?

A customer episode represents one key goal a customer wants to achieve while using your product or service, e.g. ‘pay my bill’ or ‘process my insurance claim’. The episode starts when the customer expresses their need, and ends when that need has been fulfilled. 

Each episode consists of one or more underlying interactions that contribute to the overall goal – some episodes may involve just one interaction and be completed in a short space of time e.g. ‘book a flight to Rome’ or ‘order a pizza’, while others can involve a series of interactions over the course of days or even weeks, e.g. ‘transfer my internet subscription to a new address’ or ‘lease a new car’.

Episodes involving multiple interactions are often triggered by life events such as moving house, changing job, or health-related situations – and as these can be more emotive events, they can have a considerable lasting impact on how the customer feels about your company.

But whatever the goal, and irrespective of how often or in what order episodes occur, the key is to design an optimal experience for each episode you identify, keeping the customer’s specific goal in mind at all times.

The key stages of customer episode design

Customer episode design is a highly valuable tool for product innovation. It’s a cross-functional approach that shifts the focus from internal processes and helps you see your products and services through the eyes of your customers. With this outside-in perspective, you are not only better equipped to meet and even exceed customer expectations in the short term, but are also better positioned to identify gaps and anticipate future needs.


So what does customer episode design entail? Below are the key steps:

  • Define the key customer episodes for your brand by identifying standalone goals your customers are likely to have. Be careful not to be too specific. Micro-actions can be clustered into relevant, overall goals. For example, ‘update my payment method’ can be captured by the overall goal of ‘manage my subscription’.

    Also, to keep a holistic view on all episodes and ensure continuity, it’s a good idea to assign pragmatic labels to groups of related episodes, e.g. ‘purchase episodes’, ‘information episodes’ etc.

  • Cluster all the relevant customer interactions that contribute to each episode or goal. These interactions may be across different channels, and it’s important to have the most comprehensive view possible if you hope to create a seamless omnichannel episode.

  • Identify any potential areas for improvement in each episode and formulate them using a solution-oriented approach, e.g. ‘how might we simplify the process to do X?’. Here, customer feedback can provide valuable insights into pain points and issues that might be preventing customers from achieving their goals or disrupting their attempts.

  • Prioritise those episodes according to your business goals to ensure you are putting the focus where it is most needed – all improvement areas you identify are important to the overall customer experience, but some will have a higher potential impact than others depending on your business goals.

    For example, if your business goal is to reduce the burden on your call centre, then it makes sense to focus on optimising customer episodes that currently involve a lot of human contact. If, on the other hand, you are more concerned with client satisfaction and raising your Net Promoter Score, you might focus on aspects such as reward schemes or introducing more flexible subscription options.

  • Select one or more of the highest-priority episodes and brainstorm solutions together with all the relevant stakeholders in order to get a clear picture of possible courses of action for the improvement areas you’ve identified.

    Remember that episode design covers everything related to a particular end-to-end process, and this may include the processes, policies, capabilities and systems needed to deliver a great overall experience reliably and at scale.

Final thoughts on customer episode design

Using customer episodes is increasingly considered to be the most authentic and practical way to design user experiences, as it puts the customer right at the heart of the process. It’s an immersive approach that looks at every single aspect of a particular customer goal from start to finish. When you start out with customer episode design, it may result in far-reaching changes to your existing processes and systems, but in the long run, it’s an approach that brings value at many levels as it ultimately seeks to strip away complexity. 

Remember though that while episode design will introduce a first layer of focus in your design process, your business goals need to be added to the equation if this approach is to deliver the maximum benefit. By prioritising the customer episodes that are most relevant to the key business goals you have identified, you are more likely to achieve results that move the company in the right direction. 

Could customer episode design help you deliver outstanding customer experience? Get in touch to find out how November Five can support you.

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Written by

Jeroen Van Winckel


Product Strategy Designer