Keys to creating an experience-driven Fortune 500 enterprise

Lextant kicked off its Experience Design Leaders Series with a conversation between our founder Chris Rockwell and Heidi Munc, Vice President of User Experience & Human Centered Design at Nationwide Insurance.  Heidi and her team have led its transformation into an experience-centered organization driving the strategy, research,  UX design and content that deliver moments of truth for Nationwide’s customers.
You can download the broadcast here or read a summary of Chris and Heidi’s conversation below.  Heidi’s “5 Keys for Transforming into an Experience-Led Organization” are included at the end of this synopsis.


Chris Rockwell (CR):  Welcome, Heidi!  To get started, tell us a little bit about your role at Nationwide and maybe a little bit of how you got to this point in your career.

Heidi Munc (HM):   I think was looking for the role of being a user experience professional before that was a named thing.  I actually have a journalism degree, and started my career in advertising, and then worked for an internet company for about nine years.  I found I was looking for a role where I could be helping people get what they really want and need out of their interactions with organizations.  I joined Nationwide’s User Experience team, and fell in love with our mission here.  We really do protect what matters most for people.

CR:  How has the UX team and function evolved over your time at Nationwide?

HM:  When I joined the team, I think there were about 10 folks on the user experience team, several of them are still with us which is amazing, and we’ve been able to grow, the team over time and we’re getting close to 100.  One of the ways that we were able to grow the team was by making sure that we were always filling gaps that the organization needed.   Sometimes they didn’t even know that they needed it, but we could see the opportunity and we would add tools to our toolkit to help move the company along by solving problems that they maybe didn’t even know they had meeting customers’ expectations.

CR:  Buying and using insurance are highly emotional experience.  How does your team deal with understanding and translating the emotive aspects when you are talking about people’s money or talking about protecting them, and how do you translate that into the business of delivering great experiences?

HM:  The insurance experience is fraught with emotion.  When you have an insurance claim usually something bad has happened and now you really need that insurance company.  We’re involved with complex financial decisions and situations that can be intimidating for our customers and make them feel unsure that they making the right choices.  We have be very aware of this in everything we do.

One of many strategies we use to keep the customer’s voice at the center is literally use the power of recorded voice playing real customer claims calls back to executive leadership and teams so they can live and breathe the stories of people who have been through claims and see what the emotional parts were for them.  It’s been very powerful to keep the human center in our problem solving process.

CR:  The complex nature of insurance and financial products also makes it really difficult for consumers to navigate, too, doesn’t it?  How does that impact how you design experiences?

HM:  Yes, we actually did an extensive amount of research about our customers’ experiences in servicing as we were tackling self-service and digital experience opportunities trying to understand why people call in so that we could see what things they aren’t comfortable doing online and how we can we build features that would give them that confidence. We just got a treasure trove of information about how difficult and painful it is for people to walk through and understand what they need.

People were doing all sorts of things like watching YouTube videos before they would call because they wanted to  demonstrate that they had a certain level of knowledge, there was a lot of burden of education. To help our team an partners understand what this was like for customers, we collected 15 or  so good customer “aha moments”, where there was a big discrepancy between what the business thought about that experience and what the customer thought about that experience.

CR: There is power to having accountability for experience across the organization, and you have clearly come up with some innovative and creative ways to get organizational buy in.  With such a large business how do you continue to fuel this cultural shift, keep momentum going, and keep the focus on the customer? 

HM: You are right, it can be tough and you need to have a lot of stamina.  You need to be kind of like the Southwest flight attendant who can say the same thing over and over every day very carefully and with the same attention to detail and enthusiasm every time. Because we have to change a lot of hearts and minds, you have to reach such a lot of people and you’re going to have to make the case and tell the story over and over to get that momentum.

To demonstrate your progress and value as a UX team, it’s really important to pick areas where there’s momentum already and find some quick wins there. That can feel really dissatisfying sometimes because we are so aspirational but really knocking out some of that low hanging fruit and then demonstrating  the return on investment and what that did for the organization is a way to get buy in to operate at a higher level.

CR:  Another topic you and I have talked about is the distinction between user experience and customer experience and how those two functions in an organization have continued to change.  How are you looking at these at Nationwide?

HM:  We’re definitely at a point where I see that there is probably going to be a change in the labels we use in our profession.  Sometimes when talk about CX, we’re too narrowly focused on just trying to up survey scores.   This is where user experience teams can help because we have the tools and the methods to get out the why behind some of those things and as long as you can help identify ways to problem solve you can be indispensable to that team.

CR: Maybe the biggest challenge is getting alignment.  No one business function owns customer experience – we all own it right; we all have to be responsible for it.  So how do you equip teams, to truly understand what is happening from the customer experience?

HM:  The great thing is that we don’t have to convince anybody anymore so we don’t have to be a strict evangelists, but we do have to be a quick problem solvers.   One thing that we have is an amazing part of the organization called practitioner enablement, and what they do is go out and teach UX tools to other parts of the organization.  This is not because we are trying to make everyone at Nationwide into a UX professional, but we do want people to understand the process of design thinking and what that looks like and how that’s different than regular business problem solving.

It’s a small team, they do a tremendous work to help us have more tentacles into the organization working closely with our business leaders and acting as bridges between the language of design and the language of business introducing the design thinking tools that can help solve real business problems.

CR:  When you have a story of customer experience everybody can get on board and understand that and it can break down internal barriers and make teams more effective.  You’ve written recently about the importance of designers building and flexing business muscles.  Will you talk more about that?

HM: We’ve been talking about this for a couple of years.  UX folks have amazing powers of empathy but we don’t always use them enough within the organizations we serve, so we can have communication challenges with our partners in the business who may not get what we do.  One way around that is to really understand what the business cares about and what pressures it is under.   Speaking the language of business, understanding what motivates your organizations leaders, just makes it easier for you to have the conversations about how the business wins with the customer.

CR: Do you think that should be a core growth set for anybody going into user experience design or research to develop?  The business of design seems like it could be a really rich opportunity to prepare young designers for the industry.

HM: Yes, absolutely.   We’re all taught how to conduct requirements gathering interviews but we can very quickly default to the language we are taught and reflecting inputs back in that language.  There’s a subtle nuance there if you can learn from them and then reflect  back in their language.  It really is the business language that will get them to fund what you’re trying to do to help make things better.

CR:  I also like the way you’ve talked about identifying moments of truth in the journey, so that you can really understand where the investments need to be made.  How do you prioritize where to align, so that your team has the highest impact?

HM:  For the most part the business prioritizes the work and we’re there for the business to help make them successful by helping them understand how to  make our customers happy.  So whatever their priorities are, those are the areas that we focus on with a couple of exceptions where we have been able to proactively identify things that the organization needs but they don’t know they need it yet.

We have also just started an area though called applied insights in the past few months.   With all the research we do for the business we sometimes come up with findings that I like to call durable insights.  We might be focusing on a claims problem statement, but find that the human behavior involved can be applied to other areas of the business.  So we’re building a systems to capture and proactively attach these durable insights to parts of the organization that can use them right away so they can spend less time on up front research and get to problem solving faster.

CR: We’ve talked a little bit about how your teams are organized. How are you thinking about setting up your teams and bringing innovation into the mix?

HM:  Early on, we were organized by discipline: visual designers, interaction designers, content, research, etc. and we would add in different competencies as they were needed by the organization.  We are now organized by more straight ties into the businesses that we support.  We have a whole team that is focused on digital supporting the different lines of business within digital. It’s not all they do; they certainly do research in any channel but that’s their main focus.

The main goal for the reorganization, that I did was to talk less about how to get the work done and move more quickly to action of doing the work.  Having teams that are pointed and focused in a certain area that are a cross functional team reduces how many people need to be involved and makes us more efficient. .

CR:  How is your team  using service design principles beyond digital touch points?

HM: The first foray into that really is with journey mapping and being able to show the map at different levels, the process level, the people level, the experience level, and be able to look at the breakdowns across that journey.  And then we can obviously design experiences for any channel, and that helps the organization see that a UX team is not just digital.

We also have articulated customer experience principles, based on what we know our customers expect when dealing with an insurance or financial services company that can be activated in any channel.  We can certainly create all of our digital features, but we can also help other parts of the organization understand how to activate the principles in their work even if they aren’t customer.  That’s another way to bridge gaps between UX and CX and digital UX and service design.

CR:  You mentioned these periods of disruption, and the last 12 months have been really unprecedented for all of us.  What are some of the sort of moral and ethical issues that you’re running into when it comes to the how the experiences you’re building are affecting customers and how’s that affecting the organization?

HM: Nationwide is doing a lot to teach folks about unconscious bias.  We have to make sure we’re taking that into consideration while we’re doing research and creating more chat bots and artificial intelligence servicing situations.

We have to ask if we are unintentionally reinforcing biases and sometimes you are.  So then it’s this very challenging conversation about because we’re always the ones who you know, want to push go with the research go with the research.  Unless the research is just really reinforcing something that might not be great for society.  Those are very tricky conversations for us to have, and it’s incredibly important that we have them.

CR: Heidi, thank you, we could spend another several hours talking about all of this.  We really appreciate you taking time to join us today.

5 Keys to Creating An Experience-Led Organization

These are not magic because there really is no secret formula.  Success truly comes down to hard work, but this categorizes the things that should be focused on if you’re trying to really transform your organization into being experienced lead. Heidi Munc


1 Find A Spark

Find a spark of interest somewhere.  I think it’s really important to try it out on a high visibility project.  This may sound counter-intuitive. But if you’re in a large organization, you want a lot of people to know about what you’re doing.  So pick a safe bet in a high visibility area that has a lot of momentum behind it.

2 Focus

You can’t put your bets everywhere, so stay focused on a smaller, safer initiative that can scale quickly into other areas.

3 People

It’s really important to have the right people involved at all levels.  For us it meant having a champion at the very top level who we partnered with well.  Then you need people to evangelize at every level and to empower and engage the whole organization.

4 Process

You can’t do this all yourself, so what tools and techniques can you give people so they can fish for themselves? We all have our processes, but sometimes we have to fit into other people’s processes.  Figure out how your work fits into their work, and then, when you have some wins you can maybe get them to iterate their processes.

5 Storytelling

Last the storytelling we’re all so good at.  Make sure that you use customer stories so you are pulling on both the heartstrings and the purse strings.  It’s a much more effective approach in impacting change within the business.

Download Heidi’s 5 Keys to Transforming into an Experience-Led Organization here.

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