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The north star vision: How Pearson VUE is putting customers at the forefront of experience design

The north star vision: How Pearson VUE is putting customers at the forefront of experience design

By Tamika Hughes, Customer Experience Strategy Manager, Pearson VUE.

When candidates come to Pearson VUE, they expect testing and learning experiences that offer convenience and tangible benefits. They expect more from the experience than a positive outcome on their test. They expect an end-to-end journey that aligns with the last best experience they’ve had interacting with any product or service regardless of the industry. It only takes one bad experience for customers to want to avoid using a product or service if they can.

Based on research conducted by PwC on why experience is everything to customers, one in three consumers (32%) indicated they would walk away from a brand — even one they love — after just one poor user experience. Research also suggests that customers seek to feel understood throughout their experience with products in various markets. In a survey of 6k+ consumers across the globe, 76% of respondents indicated a desire for greater personalisation of experiences. Yet about 60% of respondents felt the brands they interact with fell short of offering experiences relevant to their individual needs.

So how might we envision and build an experience that meets these candidate expectations and allows for near frictionless achievement of their career and learning goals? And how might we keep candidates at the forefront of our decision making as we work to deliver consumer-grade experiences that are viable and feasible for our business?

Pearson VUE’s customer experience team is seeking to answer these questions using a design thinking process that begins with the discovery of unmet candidate needs and expectations. Then, based on a deep understanding of our candidates and where they are experiencing friction in the journey, we envision a transformed journey free of this friction by ideating on solutions to current challenges and prioritising which ideas to further explore. We then prototype that reimagined experience and validate it in testing with actual customers, iterating through this process until we have a prototype that tells the story of the reimagined future we want to create for our candidates — one that has also been validated by those candidates. Using this prototype as a blueprint for the north star vision of candidate experience, we then define the roadmap of value drivers and initiatives that will help us realise this vision.

But this process is not just about leveraging customer research to inform experience design decisions. It’s about experience co-creation and stakeholder alignment using a series of design thinking activities that keep the voice of the customer at the forefront of our collaborative engagement focus and decision making. It’s about leveraging a process that enables quick yet meaningful synthesis, validation, and prioritisation of feedback across dozens of internal stakeholders and millions of users.

We’ve taken the design thinking process we’ve leveraged for executing large enhancements and scaled it to inform overall customer experience strategy for Pearson VUE. We do this by gathering representatives from teams across our business and embarking on a series of collaborative workshops and other activities we collectively call north star vision engagements to define customer personas, review and synthesise customer insights, map the highs and lows of the customer journey, and brainstorm opportunities for improving customer experience.

Each north star vision engagement is focused on a high-level customer persona, business model, or delivery channel and is intended to ensure cross-team alignment around existing customer experience strengths and challenges, and the opportunities that will improve the experience of our customers. With that shared understanding of customer friction and improvement opportunities as inspiration, we then continue to engage cross-functional stakeholders in a series of design sprints to ideate and define the north star experience vision. This shared vision lays the groundwork to address the next set of challenges: How might we work with cross-functional teams to build that shared experience? How might we measure our progress toward achieving that vision? How might we stay agile in refining and evolving that experience vision?

So, to build an experience that meets the real-world expectations of candidates, we start by ensuring a deep, collective understanding of evolving candidate needs and expectations, and then use that understanding to co-create a future experience vision that can act as our north star for decision making. Pearson VUE’s customer experience team has used this north star vision approach to define the future of our candidate experience and is now working with teams across the business to begin delivering that vision. Based on insights synthesised through our candidate north star vision engagement, we’re looking at ways to reduce friction throughout an experience that is by its very nature stressful for candidates. To improve and personalise the experience for candidates as they book and prepare for exams that may be essential to their livelihood, we’ve identified a set of critical needs and related solutions that include increasing the harmony between the systems and websites that make up our candidate onboarding experience, providing self-help and streamlined support, and offering enhanced, personalised access to preparation and learning options.

While pivotal to ensuring the best experience possible for our customers, this work is not without its challenges. And we know we are not alone in working to overcome these challenges. In a pre-pandemic survey of customers, PwC identified that 73% of all surveyed people stated that customer experience was an important factor in their purchasing decisions, and, further, that 43% of consumers would pay more for greater convenience, while 42% would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience. The pandemic and its aftermath have now increased the experience expectations and the assessment stakes for candidates. With these stakes and expectations in mind, we intend to stay this critical course, applying lessons learned as we evolve our process and take steps toward delivering our co-created experience vision. And as part of our continuous journey to define our roadmap and strategy for transforming the experience of all our customers, we are working to keep customer needs and expectations at the forefront of our thinking by planning additional north star vision engagements.

Below are some questions to consider in your work toward improving the customer experience within your business:

  • How is your programme or business working to define, build, and sustain the experience your customers expect?
  • How are you working to align stakeholders with this customer experience vision?
  • How will you measure your progress toward achieving that vision?
  • What lessons have you learned along the way?


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