At NomNom we help product people build better products, and learn from customers faster. As part of our mission, we love learning from the best people in the industry, UX professionals who drive change in their organisations and put their customers and users at the center of every decision. In this interview, Angela Pesta Senior Director of UX at eDreams ODIGEO talks about how you can turn any business into a customer-focussed one, and why the difficulty in defining UX is a good thing.

Angela Pesta UX Director ODIGEO

Angela, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in UX.

I started in Silicon Valley studying graphic design and I quickly found my way into UX design before there was really such a thing called UX design. From there I found my way into UX management working at Amazon in Seattle for about seven years. Most of my time there was with the Kindle group, I was the head of UX for the Kindle content team. I would think about all sorts of cool things related to the Kindle and how to deliver content and shopping experiences, thinking about the next generation of reading, and also researching how to expand all of that to new markets — it was a very innovative space to be in.

I then moved over to London and worked for Tesco for a short while where I headed up the UX team. I helped grow the digital group which was brand new when I joined and helped introduce UX into the company. That was a really interesting challenge because it’s a very mature company with established processes. It was really exciting to be able to build a UX lab and start to formally build out the function of UX research.

About a year ago I moved over to Barcelona where I joined eDreams ODIGEO. We are Europe’s largest online travel agency and have five different brands; we have eDreams itself, Opodo, GO Voyages, Liligo and we also have Travellink.

An online travel agency such as ours, provides the end-to-end experience of searching and comparing flights across hundreds of thousands of airlines. We handle all the purchases, all the account management, offering the complete booking experience. It’s not just flights that we offer, we also offer hotels, vacation packages, cruises, car hire — and the suite of products is continuing to grow. It’s really this one-stop-shop experience that we offer through our brands.

We’ve got a really large UX team here and we’re hiring like crazy, there are about 30 people on the team now, and in the next year, we’ll see probably 15 people added to the team. It’s a really good sign about how seriously the company is taking the importance of building customer focus and building the discipline of UX. We’ve really been able to do great things in the past year, including building a research lab, and opening up all sorts of new roles that didn’t exist previously. We’re having a lot more influence, a lot more impact as a UX team. We’re definitely making strides to push our vision of being a customer-focussed organization and we’re driving a lot of that through our research efforts.

How do you start the journey of becoming a multidisciplinary UX organization with a strong customer-focussed culture?

First and foremost, you need to get your executives to buy into the idea of the importance of being customer centered. That’s step number one.

I’ve been super fortunate. I joined eDreams ODIGEO because I saw that the leadership team was already bought into the idea of building a customer-focussed organisation before I was hired. They wanted to do this as part of their ongoing company transformation and they needed a UX leader to help them drive and execute that vision.

Your question can apply to both small and large companies, those trying to get started with a basic process, and those that may be older with the need to adapt new processes. For these older types of organizations, you need to explain what is UX, why it’s important, why you should change the way you’ve been doing things. There’s always that argument, something I was challenged with in a past role, _“Why would we change? We’ve been doing things the same way for so long and it’s been working so well, where’s the motivation to change?”._It’s important that you can show people successful case studies and research, really convincing stuff. For example, there have been studies of customer experience indices that compare companies in the stock market that have a strong customer focus to those who do not. When you look at the comparative performance of these companies over time you see that the companies that have the strong customer focus have a significant financial advantage. The evidence is there.

So one thing is to build up the evidence by pointing to industry examples, in a way that your leadership cares about, breaking it down into financial terms. But I think really where the rubber hits the road is when you can actually build the case studies in-house. Where people can actually see the evidence of, “Okay. What you guys did, worked, and it was really successful.” Then you build trust, so that the next time around when you propose something similar, they can see the results from last time. As you continue to build this trust, you’re able to ask for more, produce greater results, and thereby gain more in-house supporters and advocates.

When you’re out to prove to your company about the importance of UX, I think it’s really important that you’re doing so in a team-spirited manner. The last thing you want to do is ostracize people or make people feel like the UX thing is not their thing. Everybody in the company needs to understand that they all have accountability for driving a customer-focused culture, about making good experiences. Getting people to understand that it’s not just the UX team that’s responsible for the customer experience is imperative, there needs to be accountability at every level.

When you’re out to prove to your company about the importance of UX, I think it’s really important that you’re doing so in a team-spirited manner. The last thing you want to do is ostracize people or make people feel like the UX thing is not their thing — Angela Pesta

How have you balanced the need for qualitative and quantitive customer data to build good experiences?

I’ve been in companies where they believe in the hard numbers way more than they do the so called, “soft data”, making it a challenge to build the case for investing and believing in qualitative research. It’s not easy, and I think it’s just one of those things where you have to just do it in order to prove it, even if it’s just guerilla-style research to start.

When presenting qualitative data I’ve been challenged with responses like, “it’s all too fluffy”, or “how do you know that’s really statistically significant with such a small sample?” There are all sorts of ways that you can bolster your qualitative data with quantitative data.

For example, you can do remote usability studies using different tools that are out there. Userzoom.com is a good example that allows you to run usability tests with prototypes with very large samples of people from all around the world. You can get thousands of people interacting with your prototypes — and you’ll get qualitative data but in large statistical quantities.

I also recommend you generate hypotheses that you can work out from your hard analytics data, then do qualitative research to complement it. If you’re seeing a pattern somewhere, then why is that? What are users doing to cause this pattern, and why? Perform some qualitative studies to dig deeper into understanding what’s behind statistical numbers. I think coupling qualitative and quantitative data is a good way to convince people about the importance of having both. It shouldn’t be one or the other on its own.

How do you view the relationship between UX and CX (customer experience) teams in larger organizations?

I like a specific definition about what the difference is between a customer and a user from this book called “Service Design” by Andy Polaine and Lavrans Lovlie. They explain that users are those whom have a very superficial relationship with your products. They are people who use it once or twice and don’t really have any commitment or loyalty to you, they’re just “users”. Whereas customers are people with whom you develop an enduring relationship. They come back to you for certain reasons, because you have a good offering that appeals to them. This is why service design is critical, because you’re thinking about the customer’s cyclical journey and how to maintain the “customer” relationship.

Customers are people whom you develop a relationship with. They come back to you for certain reasons, because you have a good offering that appeals to them.

At Amazon we were Customer Experience designers or “CX” designers. We never used the word UX, you won’t hear UX there, it’s CX. We were building customer relationships. We didn’t want users, we wanted customers. I struggle when I hear people say that there’s a difference between UX and CX, in practice it should be the same — we should all be striving for a “customer experience”. So to that end, I really haven’t been in an organization where I’ve had people saying that they’re doing something else. It’s always been about the larger Customer Experience team.

How have you seen the discipline of UX change?

There’s been massive, massive growth and I can say that with confidence because I’ve been there since the very beginning. UX is becoming way more influential within organizations and way more critical. This has become evident to many successful companies, who have put Chief Experience Officers (CXO) in place who are on the executive team reporting to the CEO, responsible for the overall experience of the products. That sends a very strong message, and it really signifies that a company is taking the experience of their products and services seriously and they see it as critical to their success. Seeing the trend of the CXO proves that the function of UX is as vital as development, it’s as vital as finance. It is an arm of the business that without it, the business wouldn’t survive.

When you ask people to define the discipline of UX now, you can have 50 different answers, and I see that as a good thing. The fact that the lines are getting blurred suggests it’s not just the responsibility of one team, it’s the responsibility of a whole company to take ownership of the customer experience, to understand who our customers are, to understand their behaviors, their desires, their motivations, to make sure that the decisions that we’re making internally are based on those customer needs and wants.

The point is, I think that with the lines being blurred it means to say that the responsibility of UX Designers themselves are becoming much greater. We’re not just pixel pushers, we’re not just people who wait for the product owners to tell us what to do. No, we’re actually working hand-in-hand with everyone in the organization to create the end-to-end customer experience. We’re not just coming in when it’s time to create the mockups. We’re engaged from the initial point of discovery all the way through post-launch, with research at every step, helping us to understand who our customers are and what they want so that we can identify and improve product ideas to optimize the business.

“UXers” are often understood as those solely focused on design and research, but we have to stay really in touch with the business as well. We’re not just designers or researchers anymore. We have to have business acumen. We have to understand what drives the business, we have to think about the overall company strategy, the product strategy, and how that connects with the financial and user goals. It’s much more of a well-rounded role now, every department in the company is relevant to us and we have to stay connected with all of them. The UX team doesn’t just exist in one corner of the building anymore.

UX teams are seeding innovation much more these days. There’s a lot of work involved in laying a foundation to innovate. Often we must fix things internally before we can start fixing things externally. Be willing to take the time to build that strong internal foundation because without it, you’re not going to be able to execute on any of your innovative ideas. You have to be patient and bring the rest of the company with you on that journey to innovation, and you can’t move faster than the rest of the company. It just won’t work. That’s why, a collaborative approach of getting everybody on the same page, rowing together in the same boat, all realizing that everyone in the company affects the customer’s experience is super important. Have the willingness to wear different hats, to recognize that the lines of UX are blurred. That means, maybe you’re not doing typical UX activities every day. So many days of the week I’m doing activities where I think, “This is so not my job description”, but that’s okay because it’s part of building that critical foundation, of having a collaborative team spirit. That’s the attitude you have to have. You have to be open as to how you improve the customer’s experience.

About eDream ODIGEO: eDreams ODIGEO is a leading online travel group worldwide, one of Europe’s largest e-commerce and owner of eDreams, Opodo, GO Voyages, Travellink and Liligo

About Angela Pesta: Angela Pesta is the Senior Director of UX at eDreams ODIGEO, you can find more about her here.

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