I often tell people that I’m passionate about designing value exchange, and I am often met with blank stares. Here’s why this little-known but powerful principle matters.  


At every encounter between your brand, business, product, or service—across channels and over time—you have an opportunity to capture value from and/or deliver value to your customer. Value exchange is the idea that every encounter should involve both delivering and capturing value. Customer experience (CX) is actually the experience of value exchange.  

Here’s a poetic way of saying the same thing: To your customer, value is more like a complex piece of music than like a widget, which means delivering value is more like conducting an orchestra than overseeing an assembly line. Today, most businesses are running efficient factories and hoping music comes out of them. That makes value exchange a critical factor in the design of differentiated, effective, and profitable customer experiences. 

The era of value exchange 

If these three forces sound familiar, a value exchange approach might be right for you.  


Uncontrollable variables impact every purchase. 

Repeatable outcomes cannot be manufactured because experience is intangible and services are inherently variable. 


Commerce includes more than transaction. 

Your customers expect to receive value throughout their engagement, whether it’s with retailers, on-demand services, or platform-enabled peer-to-peer networks. 


Customers prefer to buy experiences. 

An experience can be a product, service, or omni-channel engagement across products and services; what your customer is actually purchasing is complex. 


Orchestras over assembly lines 

Gone are the days of simple commerce strategies. Today, uncontrollable variables impact every purchase, and businesses that want to thrive have to abandon the manufacturing view of value capture and delivery (repeatable inputs, processes, and outputs) in favor of an orchestration view. 

 In an orchestra, though each member has full autonomy, the conductor and group of players understand how each of their roles contribute to creating a greater whole for the audience, and they work together in real time to do so. 

Similarly, while the commerce landscape is full of uncontrollable elements, it’s the job of the business to orchestrate conditions in real time toward the most favorable possible value delivery outcomes. Simultaneously, the business must orchestrate internal elements—silos, product offerings, and services—to create conditions that allow employees to meet customer needs. 

 This sounds challenging, and it is. However, continuing to use an unsuccessful manufacturing approach is even harder. CX design, as we practice it at Cooper, works with organizations to realign around customer needs and goals to make successful orchestration possible.  

Finding the right customer-to-value fit 

Here is the simplest model of value exchange: when customers purchase products, they are delivered value in the form of the product; when they purchase services they are delivered value in the use of the service. 

But what about the purchase of what a product enables, i.e., the management classic “people don’t want a drill, they want a hole”? Or the purchase of a service for the sake of the outcome of the service, e.g. a haircut or a cab ride? What about purchases toward emotional goals, e.g. mindfulness courses or spa visits? Value is more like a complex piece of music than like a widget.  

Most customers are seeking value in exchange (receiving something), value in use (using something), and value in achievement (attaining something). It’s likely that they have different expectations of value and anticipate different types of value depending on channel, type of engagement, and overall moment within their larger journey. Businesses need clarity about what type of value to deliver to the customer when, over channels, throughout a customer relationship, and—critically—at what cost and effort. 

CX design addresses this by mapping the customer’s journey over time and identifying the value exchanged at each moment of interaction, in order to uncover missed opportunities and failure points. Not all customer journey maps do this, of course, but I recommend it; our CX design practice focuses on helping businesses achieve profits by delivering the right value at the right time across their customer’s journey. 

The right tools for the job 

A quick note on tools of the trade: Journey mapping has become the ‘put a bird on it’ of customer insights and business solutions. Businesses are abstracting their customers so frequently and so haphazardly that a real ‘bird’ coming into their shop can throw them into a state of panic. We are at peak journey map, but that doesn’t make journey mapping a bad tool. 

In our practice we’ve used them in every stage of work, from workshop facilitation tool to early problem definition artifact through to final communication deliverable. A few common ways we use journey maps: 

  • Building empathy and/or shared understanding during collaborative workshops by having cross-functional stakeholders work together on the customer’s journey 
  • Identifying and prioritizing opportunities for improvement by highlighting customer pain points and current-state experience strengths 
  • Creating a future-state vision by mapping the ideal customer experience across touchpoints 
  • Socializing research into customers’ experiences by highlighting quotes and stories from the field 
  • Summarizing research findings into a polished deliverable 

When working in the realm of value exchange, journey maps are a convenient and simple way to sequence relevant touchpoints in order to assess the value they deliver individually and together. 

How do you use value exchange? 

So far I’ve talked mostly about delivering value. Capturing value is, of course, the other half of value exchange—but I find that capturing value is rarely the half that businesses struggle with. Making sure value is going both ways is the fundamental goal of this approach. 

To put the principle of value exchange to work for you, you’ll need to plan ahead. Value delivery and orchestration can’t be reactive! 

Here’s a typical approach: 

  1. Start with customer insights. Customers come to the metaphorical table with a wide range of goals and expectations. 
  2. Based on research and insights, map and validate the customer journey. Make sure to include goals and expectations across channels and time.  
  3. Identify the value being exchanged at every point of interaction. Where is there opportunity to deliver or capture greater value? Where is there opportunity to shift the type of value delivery to better meet customer needs? 
  4. Zoom in on key interactions using a tool like a service blueprint (link to JM or blueprint post) to understand, improve, and/or design processes that enable value delivery. 
  5. Develop an organizational plan for acting on the value exchange insights and customer-facing process improvements uncovered during this process. 

The intention to deliver value, the understanding of what value to deliver when, and the ability to align the organization around the delivery of value: these are the critical pieces to the orchestration of a high-value customer journey. If you want to learn more about CX design and value exchange, that little-known thing I care about so much, call us.