Subscribed Podcast Ep #9: Catherine Courage on Design Thinking and Customer Experience

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Guest: Catherine Courage

Catherine Courage is SVP of Customer Experience at DocuSign. She has co-authored the book “Understanding Your Users,” and is an active writer and speaker on creativity, innovation, and design. Catherine has been named one of Silicon Valley’s “40 Under 40” young tech leaders, and one of Silicon Valley’s 100 Most Influential Women by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

We talk to Catherine about the exciting world of design thinking, its business value and how it impacts every department within an organization.

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What is design thinking and how does that apply to customer experience?

When they hear the word “design”, a lot of people instinctively think of aesthetic qualities like colors, pixels, fonts, of making things beautiful. But design is much more than that. It’s really about creating objects, software, processes, with the intent of delivering a great experience for your customers. Design thinking is in fact, a method or an approach to problem-solving. It’s that simple. It’s an approach that anybody can use, you do not need to be a designer.

There’s indisputably a shift around companies focusing more on the customer. Do you think design thinking is something everyone should be aspiring to?

There are many companies who may not be using the term design thinking at all but I do believe that the companies that are really winning and excelling in this Subscription Economy are the ones that have a laser focus on their customer.

For companies that are smaller and younger, they tend to get that naturally. It’s in their DNA and they get that adoption and loyalty are critical to their success out of the gate. It’s what got them up and going and they realize they need to continue with it.

Design thinking is also a rallying cry for a lot of the bigger companies that are trying to make the shift. This wasn’t in their original DNA -maybe they were more sales focused or more engineering focused and they’ve realized they’ve got to become customer focused. The term “design thinking” can be a great approach to inspire everybody and create a movement but I think lots of companies are really doing this without naming it “design thinking”.

Can you describe the evolution from thinking around product experience to being centered around customer experience?

As someone who’s been in this field for over 17 years, it has been so exciting to be part of this evolution. When I got my first job in the area of product design and research, you were trying to push your foot in the door to get companies to understand this was something important. We’ve gone from design and experience meaning “something nice to have” to “something that’s absolutely critical”.

I think a large part of that journey is because today people are making decisions based on experience. It’s so easy to get your hands on something, touch it, feel it and thanks to social, you can easily find out authentically what people think of your brand and your products.

As a result, it’s not just about delivering a bunch of features and stuff through a product. People are going to stay with you based on the experience. Companies get it that it’s not just about price and features. They need to capture the hearts, the minds, the loyalty of these customers for the long term. And if you’re going to do that, you need to look at all angles of your business and figure out how to capture customers, how you excite them and how you keep them excited, and have them loyal to your brand. It’s been a really cool evolution over the past decade.

What would you say is the right order for a company to approach this shift? Is there a natural kind of department to start with? 

I’d say it’s never done, especially because things are always evolving and changing. It’s not a project with a start and an end date. It’s an ongoing evolution and something that needs continual investment. In terms of where to start, I think typically product and services groups are where people tend to start because it’s often the most salient touch point that your customers do have. It’s logical and it makes sense. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right one.

The advice that I always give is two fold – go where there’s suction, go where there’s a team that gets it and wants to get engaged. You don’t want to start an uphill battle. The second criteria is that it must have business value. You don’t want to pick something trivial that’s not going to move the needle. If you can get suction and there’s demonstrated business value, that’s where you want to start.

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