How to Deliver an Exceptional Guest Experience by Design

It is relatively easy to provide a great Guest Experience occasionally. You know, those big holiday events or other special occasions.

But in order to create an exceptional Guest Experience, it is vital that you do this every time.

The only way to achieve a consistently exceptional Guest Experience is if the experiences are designed.

To design something means that it is deliberate, not an accident or luck. Deliberate is a strong, proactive word. Stop and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is our Guest Experience process deliberate?
  • Did my team deliberately set out to create and deliver an exceptional Guest Experience?
  • Is the outcome of the Guest Experience one that we have proactively designed?

By observation, research, and onsite studies in organizations of all sizes and types across the country, in many cases the Guest Experience is not deliberate – it is something that just happens.

Guest Experience leaders care about their guests. Many leaders understand guests and have some insight into their experiences and needs. Often, though, these same leaders struggle to turn insight into action.

Design isn’t just choosing the right images and fonts for your next website revision. It’s a problem-solving process that incorporates the needs of guests, team members, and partners in your mission. It’s a way of working that creates and refines real-world situations.

Design is the secret weapon of organizations that gives them a strategic advantage in figuring out what services their guests need and in defining the exact characteristics of every guest interaction. Design helps you understand how a guest accesses your website, what a guest is likely to do as they approach your campus, and gives you clues about creating a welcoming environment.

Design is the most important discipline that you’ve probably never heard of.

The right Guest Experience changes, implemented the right way, won’t just fall into your lap. You must actively design them. This requires learning – and then sticking to – the steps in a human-centered design process.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Outside In, by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine

Customer experience is, quite simply, how your customers perceive their every interaction with your company. It’s a fundamental business driver. Here’s proof: over a recent five-year period during which the S&P 500 was flat, a stock portfolio of customer experience leaders grew twenty-two percent. 

In an age when customers have access to vast amounts of data about your company and its competitors, customer experience is the only sustainable source of competitive advantage. But how to excel at it? 

Based on fourteen years of research by the customer experience leaders at Forrester Research, Outside In offers a complete roadmap to attaining the experience advantage. It starts with the concept of the Customer Experience Ecosystem—proof that the roots of customer experience problems lie not just with customer-facing employees like your sales staff, but with behind-the-scenes employees like accountants, lawyers, and programmers, as well as the policies, processes, and technologies that all your employees use every day. Identifying and solving these problems has the potential to dramatically increase sales and decrease costs.


Organizations that want to produce a high-quality guest experience need to perform a set of sound, standard practices. Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, in their book Outside In, have developed six high-level disciplines which can be translated into guest experiences: strategy, guest understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture.

These disciplines represent the areas where organizations that are consistently exceptional at Guest Experiences excel.

Restating a comment from above, the only way to achieve a consistently exceptional Guest Experience is if the experiences are designed.

If you want to deliver an exceptional Guest Experience, you need to begin with the discipline of design.

The discipline of design is key because it lets organizations understand the current customer experience they provide, uncover opportunities for improvement, and track progress over time. It connects the dots starting with what needs to be done to improve customer experience, all the way to the benefits of what has been done.

The human-centered design process starts with research to understand guest needs and motivations. It’s all those activities in the discipline of understanding guests. Analysis is next – synthesizing the data into useful forms. The next phase is ideation, which is just what it sounds like – coming up with ideas. After that, it’s time to prototype – ranging from a simple redesigned guest survey to a full-scale mock-up of your typical guest experience on the weekend. Next, these prototypes are put into action with real people while you observe the results. Finally, you must document the features of the resulting product or service that has evolved.

The practices in the design discipline help organizations envision and then implement customer interactions that meet or exceed customer needs. It spans the complex systems of people, products, interfaces, services, and spaces that your customers encounter in physical locations, over the phone, or through digital spaces like websites and mobile apps.

Design spells the difference between a symphony orchestra performance and a garage band jam session. The orchestra performance is carefully arranged, rehearsed, and executed – just like the customer experience at top organizations. The jam session just sort of happens, with varying levels of quality – like what we’ve all encountered at companies we’ve stopped doing business with over time.

Design Practices

Follow a defined Guest Experience design process any time a new experience is introduced or an existing experience is changed in some way

Use guest understanding deliverables and insights to focus and define requirements for projects that affect Guest Experiences

Engage guests, team members, and partners as part of the experience design process

Use iterative ideation, prototyping, and evaluation as part of the experience design process

Identify the set of complex interdependencies among people, processes, and technologies that shape interactions with guests (the Guest Experience Ecosystem)

Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business


At your next Guest Experience team leader’s meeting, make the discipline of design the primary topic.

First, write the six words in bold from the first paragraph above (research, analysis, ideation, prototype, action and document) down the left side of a chart tablet.

Next, come up with a single Guest Experience action you are not currently doing but would like to implement in the next six months, writing the action on the top of another chart tablet.

Now, walk through each of the six steps, writing down ideas or actions needed for each step. At this stage, you don’t have to fully develop the proposed action – you are just creating a “design criteria list” for follow up.

After you have exhausted all ideas, go back and circle no more than three items under each step, representing the most important ones to do.

Identify one leader and two additional members from your team to take the proposed action and run with it. Using both the six steps and the five “Design Practices” noted above, they will recruit additional team members as needed to follow the actions as outlined, and bring a ready-to-proceed recommendation back to the larger team for a decision.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 125, released August 2019.

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<


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