OPINION: Success of Scandinavia’s customer-centred design approach

9 May 2015

Oslo Harbour in Norway

“Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana! Maggie Thatcher – can you hear me, Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!” These famous words, uttered by Norwegian TV commentator Bjorge Lillelien on the occasion of Norway beating England 2-1 in Oslo in a World Cup qualifier in September 1981, could apply to experience design just as aptly as they do to football.

Unsurprisingly for a region of the world famed for its modern socialist democracies, the Scandinavians have always had a customer-service focused approach to marketing. We see this expressed in the marriage of creativity and function in IKEA furniture, the simplicity and accessibility of H&M clothing and the safety and quality of Volvo cars. They are globally recognised for their talent at combining function with aesthetics.

In short, they have understood and practised experience design long before it became cool.

This has put them at a tremendous advantage when it comes to digitally communicating with the in-control user, because, philosophically and culturally, many of their most successful organisations are hard-wired to heed customers and respond sensitively to market demands. They understand the importance of listening before they speak.

The Norwegian Cancer Society contributes to targeted efforts in cancer information, prevention, advocacy, research, care and international cooperation. According to its own website, its main priority is to fund research. However, by spending time with its users, understanding their needs and reviewing website analytics, it came to understand that the top four user needs on its website were treatment, symptoms, prevention and research. Donation, a key objective for the organisation, was in the bottom four needs, along with gifts, reading the annual report and reading press releases.

The website information was reoriented around treatment, symptoms, prevention and research, with much less prominence given to donation on the home page. The results are staggering; 70pc increase in one-time donations each month; 73pc increase in total donation sum each month; 88pc increase in monthly donors registered each month and 164pc increase in members registered each month.

Sparebanken Sogn og Fjordane in Norway had a yet greater challenge. Like many banks they rely on a range of products across savings, investments, deposit, credit cards, mortgages and current account categories to drive revenue and commercial performance. And like many banks, each individual product owner believes that his or her product is the most important in the bank. For many banks in western Europe, this would result in an internal clamour amongst product owners for space on the homepage, with the classic carousel offering the ‘get out of jail free’ card that everyone is looking for, except, of course, the lowly user.

Whatever about the specifics of product owners wanting their product to be promoted ahead of the others, the key desire for the bank was to increase awareness of and warm enquiries for their products. Again, this was at variance with customers, whose top desire was to log into their online personal banking.

Perhaps influenced by Norway’s cultural and philosophical background in design thinking, the bank decided to build an online experience around the user’s top needs and built a home page with logging-in to online personal banking as the dominant content item. Individual product pages in turn were optimised specifically for search engines to send users directly to them, bypassing the home page, for specific product searches.

The result of this spectacularly simple customer-centred design decision?

A 520pc increase in traffic to product pages.

For too long marketers have spoken in terms of customer touch-points. But the informed, information-hungry online user is hungry for outcomes. Our starting point for communication needs to be giving them what they need.

Givers get.

It is only when we have given our customers what they want that we have earned the right to tell them about what we want.

Carlsberg don’t do user-experience design, but if they did…

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user-testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Independent News and Media.Visit Fathom online.

Oslo Harbour in Norway image, via Shutterstock