Getting to what matters with design thinking

Stephen S. Y. Wong, CEO, Asia Miles Limited

CMOs take notice: CEOs are already making design thinking a key part of their companies’ mantra. They should too.

Just ask Stephen S.Y. Wong, CEO and design thinking evangelist at Asia Miles Limited. He is making this new process to help his loyalty program company to add more value to their members, improve loyalty and zero in on the real customer pain points.

At the recent CIO Leaders Summit Hong Kong held in March 2017, Wong noted that his company embarked on design thinking that was stakeholder-centric.

“We are not just customer-centric,” Wong said, noting that being solely customer focused may not always be great for the organization.

“At the end of the day, if you are purely customer-centric, what will happen? You will make decisions in the interest of the customer and not the shareholder,” he added.

Understanding CMO benefits

A key advantage of design thinking for today’s CMOs is its ability to cut through the reams of customer data and identify the problem or opportunity. It goes beyond agile development where the user story tends to be defined right at the beginning and as a single line.

For many CMOs, this is a big advantage. Getting data is no longer a problem in today’s data-centric environment. Getting the right insights is.

As more Internet of Things (IoT) devices come online, the data deluge will only worsen. And the voluminous data may cloud or even hide the actual problems or customer pain points. Developing the right campaign that address these can often feel like a gigantic leap of faith.

Design thinking aims to reframe the discussion around the customer and identify the actual pain points that really matter to your customers. It essentially extends the promise of customer centricity right down to the marketing program design.

Creating marketing initiatives

At Asia Miles, Wong used the five steps of design thinking – empathize, define (the problem), ideate, prototype and test – to find out how to improve their loyalty program’s value proposition to its members.

For example, it helped Asia Miles to create Project Rockstar, an initiative to allow members use miles to redeem tickets for popular contests.

Taking a page from’s Moments initiative, the project was the result of the members highlighting that they were finding it difficult to get tickets to popular contests.  Most of the members are travelling for business or key decision makers who are too busy to wait in queues or over the phone.     

“We found out that the tickets are sold out fast in Hong Kong and so we defined the problem statement around the ease of getting the tickets for our members,” said Wong.

His team then created an entire program that saw the company purchase tickets to popular events and programs and then send eDMs to selected members. Members then used their Asia Miles to redeem the tickets.

More importantly, it assured members that they will get the tickets they were looking for and not be disappointed because the ticket sale is over – the key pain point for many.

The benefits also go both ways. “Entertainment gives you memories,” said Wong. The company maximized the benefits by offering their key members backstage passes, and thereby scoring points on loyalty – a premium in today’s hyper-competitive loyalty program industry.

Lessons for adopters

One key takeaway during Wong’s presentation is that design thinking cannot be done in silos. Although nice ideas can begin within groups and departments, the process works best when the entire company gets involved.

Wong also noted that team members need to talk to customers directly to understand their pain points during the initial empathize stage—not just rely on quantitative data.

“[Design thinking] is not rocket science. But you need to talk to the customers,” said Wong. “Quantitative data is good at giving you quick answers to symptoms, but they do not tell you the ‘why’.”. 

“I strongly suggest it should be a qualitative and quantitative combined process. [Asia Miles] is not data driven [organization]; we are insights driven,” he added.

Further reading:

Marketers must separate the ‘hot’ from the hype

Businesses yet to tap into full potential of digital transformation

Winter is coming as adtech and martech converge