Inclusion for Customer Experience

Christine Hemphill talked to me about her consultancy Open Inclusion and the tools and impact of their work with clients to create better, more inclusive products and services for every customer.

Christine Hemphill runs a consultancy firm called Open Inclusion, which focuses on creating inclusive customer experiences. In a change from focusing on workforce inclusion, my conversation with Christine was about the importance of the customer experience side of inclusivity. Christine started off by explaining what Open Inclusion does for its clients. ‘We established Open six years ago, with a simple mission to help diverse consumers inform design so that products and services work better for everyone. We do this in different ways. Essentially we show businesses where and how their current products and services may be difficult for some customers. We also look at how things in development could be designed to ensure that the greatest number of users can buy them and appreciate them. We do that by providing different research and insight capability to organisations. We cover the full spectrum of quality research, anything from surveys through to ethnographic research. We might literally watch people as they’re using a product or service, or in an environment. We work a lot with innovation and design teams. We support them to consider how new concepts, technologies, and service approaches might be particularly valuable to people with additional needs. Whether it’s a permanent disability, temporary, or just situational it’s how they can firstly design something fundamentally better because of that insight. Secondly, it ensures that the design doesn’t exclude any of the potential future users.’ 

Inclusive Customer Experience Design Canvas

I love the innovation side of Open Inclusion which means they get involved with cutting edge products. One of the cool things they’ve developed is the Inclusive Customer Experience Design Canvas. I asked Christine to tell me more about it. ‘The Canvas is a structured way of thinking about customer inclusion. A lot of people, especially in busy roles within particular organisational functions, see inclusion or accessibility through the lens of their role and the ways that they’re interacting with it. They might hear bits from another perspective, from people in different roles, or people with certain access needs, but they don’t know how it all fits together. What we have tried to do is put everything on a page. As different knowledge comes in, people can be aware of where that fits within the overall flow and can see any gaps. People are able to think about design across the whole organisation. 

Environments + Needs = Customer Experience 

Environments and needs combine to create customer experience. When we’re talking about environments, we mean digital environments so websites and apps. Physical environments are products, shops or transport hubs. Customer service is anything where a person is involved so staff providing service to the customer. There’s also brand and marketing. These are the communication elements which mean people have an expectation of your brand prior to stepping into the actual customer journey. Needs are how we differ as people. Accessibility is often seen as closely correlated with disability, but we all have different needs. Disability is an identity that some people own and some don’t, even with the same needs. So we look at this as different needs. Those needs might be vision or hearing, sensory or mobility or dexterity in physical movement. They might be the way we think and feel, so neurodiversity and mental health. They might be vulnerabilities that can make us think differently under stress or anxiety in certain circumstances or with certain product sets. That’s how our customers differ. Some may always be significantly different and require particular consideration. Some might just step in and out of different needs. Between them, there is this world of different environments that organisations provide for customers and their individual needs. The way they combine is through customer experience.  This is the point where you bring it all together and start to understand what I call the bowl of spaghetti. It’s customer experience that allows companies to start to pick up the different needs. That understanding, “Oh, yes, that’s with this bit, that’s with that bit.” It’s because customers have an experience with your brand that they can tell you about.’ 

Long Tail of Inclusion 

Christine made it clear that thinking about needs includes disability and accessibility but goes further too. ‘It’s 100% of your customers. People who permanently identify as being disabled or know that they have permanent access needs are the easy ones to find. They self-identify. You can get that perspective quickly. They represent the broad, long tail of inclusion behind them. This includes people who have temporary needs and people who are situationally impaired. All customers have differences. That’s the starting point. Categorise those differences into things that we can design for to make sure people aren’t excluded as a result of those differences. If you think about creating a product or service or an environment, you’re trying to create it for as many of your target audience as possible. People tend to want to create things that people will be delighted by. The more people you can delight, the better. This perspective of recognising differences makes a product or service more relevant. It attracts more people. It creates loyal customers who appreciate, rebuy and tell their friends.’ The Inclusive Customer Experience Design Canvas also covers a process of assessing, analysing and prioritising. I asked Christine what it involves. ‘An organisation might come to us and say, “We’re aware that we’ve got some challenges with some of our customers.” They might have complaints, or there might be differences in customer satisfaction or within different groups. We provide an insight campaign that’s relevant to the problem at hand, the scale of the organisation, the budget and timeline. From that, we’ll get a layer of insight and an assessment from people with different needs. We analyse the insights. An analysis point might ask “If there’s 20 people who have said this was difficult for them, and they’ve got these different characteristics, how many people does that represent? How deeply were they excluded? Was this part of the core journey for this business?” Whether it’s buying a basket of standard goods at a supermarket, or being able to move money between bank accounts, or being able to top up an amount on a mobile phone plan… each organisation knows their key journeys. Is that friction in that key journey a little bit for many people, or a break for a few people? We look at impact and severity. The analysis helps with prioritisation because these organisations are busy. There are always many things that they could be improving. We help a business understand how improving the current environment would fit with other priorities. Or how it would help to succeed with the widest customer base possible. We’re very cognizant of how we help turn data into insight and that insight into actionable planning. Then the organisation knows, for example, three things to do within the next quarter; nine things they want to do in the next year.’ 

Taking Different Tracks

Once Open Inclusion has completed the assessment, analysis and prioritisation process, the model’s pathway splits. It takes either an organisational or product track. I asked Christine to explain what those two tracks mean. ‘You can fix the current product – the product track. Or you can build capability in the organisation, so the next generation comes out more inclusive to start with – the organisational track. Each is the right answer, it’s simply what is the priority that the organisation chooses to focus on. Once you’ve found something doesn’t work for people, it’s the approach you take to improve that. That’s a standard human-centred design process where we say, “Ask and learn, understand where those breaks are. Go to the edges of experience. Include people with very severe mobility needs, people who are blind and screen reader users, people who are visually impaired, who adapt the visual products and services they’re using, people who think differently.” The more significantly different the people are, the more of a perspective you will get which generates more insight per person. You can co-design with people who have those needs. They’re usually incredibly creative at solving for those needs because they’ve got the lived experience of daily life that builds these fabulous skills and innovative, creative capability. Standard human-centred design is thinking about humans as more specifically varied and making sure that variance is included. So that’s improving a product or a service. It works for pretty well anything from creating a new environment such as a new branch experience, or creating a new product such as an app or a physical product, even a cereal box. Thinking about things could exclude people means you can think about how to re-include people.’ I love Christine’s approach. In my book ‘Inclusive Growth’ I talk about colleague experience and design and think about how we can take human-centred design to create inclusive employee journeys. Christine agrees. ‘Human-centred design is a fabulous tool, but it’s underwhelming at the moment in the way it’s often used. The tool isn’t broken, but the practice of using it needs attention. If you think of human-centred design as an engine and insight as the fuel, you’re putting a very low-quality fuel into it if you’re fueling up with the insight from people that are quite similar. The more diverse the group of people providing insight that you’re fuelling that system with, the higher quality human-centred design becomes a tool to effect change.’ I asked Christine what going down the alternative organisational track would involve. ‘It’s embedding capability in the organisation to ensure that any future products and services and customer-facing environments are by default more inclusive. The process itself is a journey. No organisation is 100% inclusive for 100% of people. We are all, including inclusion agencies like Open, always learning. We are always developing. The organisational route is an ongoing journey as opposed to a one-off product. There’s no finite point as with a product. 

Product Track Collaboration

I asked Christine for some examples of how Open Inclusion has brought all this to life for some of their clients and what results have been achieved. ‘One example that was very much in the product environment was working with a government app in the health sphere. We got involved two months prior to the launch of that product, working absolutely hand-in-hand. It was a lovely collaborative project with one digital tool in mind. We work well when we collaborate with others. For this example, we worked with the design agency that was building the thing. They were getting our input, making changes overnight and putting a new version out. We worked with a standard user research team. We were doing usability research with a very broad audience of people that didn’t identify as having any specific access needs. We were working with an audit partner that was doing the technical Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These are a great safety net of well-defined requirements to test against. We were also supporting the design team to consider ways that they could address various challenges and we were doing guerrilla testing with specific users. So if they had a challenge and said, “We’re not sure whether this would be difficult for this kind of user,” in 24 hours, we’d go away and we’d get two or three users with those access needs and say, “How do you feel about this?” That testing stops the round the table conversation between people who don’t have that information. It provides information to resolve the issue quickly. It was a very fast-moving product and project. With the standard user research organisation, we ran the same protocol across both usability tests, both ours and theirs. We integrated the findings, so the design team wasn’t confused by being told, “Here’s what users without access needs think. Here’s what users with access needs think.” We found a huge amount of consistency within those groups anyway, but we brought it together to one set of prioritised changes before release. 

Organisational Track Collaboration

An organisational track example is the work with a large innovative financial services organisation. We built a process to constantly fuel their design and their customer experience insights with diverse experiences. They were focusing on voice user interfaces. Think about an Amazon Alexa and being able to use that to do your financial service transactions. It was an innovation that needed insight from the diverse customer base fuelling development all the time. We worked with them on how they build that from the inside out, with their customer voice. Accessing financial services can be more difficult for people with different disabilities or other specific differences. We worked embedding capability within the organisation – within their own people, structures, processes and technology so they can connect with those customers more easily. Then those customers can tell them, “These are the things that I’d like from you, and I want to tell you once, not every time I come in, or every time I engage with someone different.” 


The key area we think supports inclusive product and service development is first and foremost leadership. It’s a critical enabler of everything else in the organisation. Or a dampener to it, depending on what the priorities are that are being set by leaders. There are some fabulous programmes such as The Valuable 500 to really highlight those leaders of large organisations today that have inclusion right at the heart of their business. Leadership provides space for all the capabilities sitting in the organisation to have room to do what they need to do, knowing that it’s in line with leadership intention. Measurement and metrics support that leadership because they enable the leaders to know that what they’re doing is changing the organisation in a positive direction. Inclusive


To conclude, I asked Christine what inclusive growth means for her and the work Open Inclusion does on inclusive customer experiences. ‘It’s almost like a trick question because inclusion by definition means bringing more people in and not excluding people. Hence, that would be growth because there are more people in. There’s so much to potentially unpack there because that’s not just a standard truth that everyone buys into and understands. It’s such an interesting thing for us to think about. Why is it that people don’t see the obvious truth that excluding customers is probably not a great thing for your growth? Including customers is fabulous for your growth. Don’t think about exclusion as, “These people are in and these are out,” even though plenty of products and services do fully exclude people. Think about that long gradient from “I’m completely excluded” to “You know what? I wouldn’t even be able to put my finger on it, but I don’t like that environment as much as I like this one. This one makes me feel a little bit more welcome.” Inclusion has so many grey scales within it. By taking that inclusive mindset there is the ability to engage and build real relationships with your customers and build value to them. Then they will share back with you. They’re happy to be buying your products and services and having that conversation because you’re supporting their needs well. That will generate great growth. I also think it’s really sustainable growth. The risk of poor design that doesn’t take a broad range of needs in mind, is that when circumstances change new people are excluded. The change can be in one customer’s life but also in technology or in the broader society. Just think about the lockdown this year, we have all become mobility-restricted in certain ways. For those organisations that were beautifully set up with fabulously inclusive products and services beforehand, they’ve just gone, “Oh, yeah, okay, we’ll just swap over and do more of this and less of this. It’s not a problem because we had it designed in.” Those organisations that had always been holding off on including different groups for whatever justification they had weren’t so robust this year when we had 100% of society suddenly restricted in different ways.’ To find out more about Open Inclusion visit or email [email protected]  Open Inclusion is also on Twitter @openforaccess and other social media platforms.

Inclusion for Customer Experience - Mildon