User experience is not just about your website

As web designers and website owners we obsess about user experience. However, good user experience is about a lot more than having a great website.

Meet Jill. Jill is in the market to buy a reasonable quality digital SLR. She’s fed up with her point-and-shoot camera and wants something a little more sophisticated. However Jill doesn’t want to rush into a purchase as digital SLR’s are not cheap. Instead she has been researching the options online.

Jill holding her camera


Eventually she discovers a video review on YouTube for camera that looks perfect. The video has been produced by a company called “Professional Cameras”. The review was very thorough and provided her with all the information she required.

Search Engine Optimisation

Once settled on which camera to get Jill searches Google to find the best price. Among the search engine results she sees “Professional Cameras” again. They are not the cheapest, but because she was so impressed by the video she decides to take a look at their site.

The website

The website was incredibly useful. It was well-designed, easy-to-use, and answered all the questions she had about purchasing from “Professional Cameras”. However by this stage Jill was keen to get her hands on her new camera and didn’t want to wait for it to be delivered. She decided she was willing to pay a bit extra to buy it from her local Currys. She got in her car and drove into town.

Mobile website

Much to her disappointment none of her local shops stocked the particular camera she wanted. However she remembered that the “Professional Cameras” website said something about next day delivery for a small additional charge. Although there were other cameras in Currys she didn’t want to settle for second best. So while still in store she used her iPhone to connect to the “Professional Cameras” website. She was delighted to find that they had an easy-to-use mobile version of their site that made it incredibly straightforward for her to place an order. Within 2 minutes she was done and the camera was due to arrive next day.

Support forum

Jill excitedly waiting for the camera to be delivered the next day. As promised it arrived on time and she was over the moon. She spent most of the day out snapping pictures, but when she returned home that evening she discovered a problem. Unfortunately no matter how much she tried she could not get the camera to transfer photographs to her computer.

In desperation Jill returned to the “Professional Cameras” website and visited the support forum looking for help. Unfortunately she couldn’t find the answer she wanted and because it was outside business hours she was unable to contact the supplier.

Social media monitoring

In her frustration she posted a tweet expressing her dissatisfaction with “Professional Cameras” even though she knew that it probably was not their fault. She was just so disappointed.

On logging in the following morning Jill discovered that somebody from “Professional Cameras” had responded to her tweet apologising for the problem and suggesting that she either calls customer services or uses the live chat facility on their website.

Customer services

Jill decided to use the live chat feature because she hated talking on the phone. She was blown away by the customer service she received. They offered to replace the camera no questions asked. However they suggested that a software update may solve the problem. Using the features built into the live chat they took her to the appropriate page and showed her how to download the drivers. This solved the problem and Jill went awayhappy.

An ongoing relationship

Jill was so impressed by the service she received from “Professional Cameras” that she decided to like their Facebook page and tell her friends about the excellent service she had been given. Most importantly when she received future e-mails from the company suggesting alternative products that she might wish to consider she was not so quick to consign them to her junk folder. In fact it turns out that the e-mails she received were incredibly targeted and suggested a number of excellent accessories and provided her with tips on how to get the most out of her new camera.

The moral of the story

So why do I tell you the story of Jill? It is to demonstrate that users online relationship with a company extends far beyond the website. More importantly it is vital that the different aspects which make up this online relationship work well together. Traditionally website owners have employed a web designer to build their site, an SEO company for their search engine rankings and marketing people to deal with social media and e-mail. However often this can lead to a fragmented approach.

If we are really to provide customers with an exceptional user experience it is vitally important that we provide a unified experience which involves the various specialists working together in extremely close relationship. It is time to look beyond the website and see the larger picture that makes up a great user experience.

If you recognise that the mobile web is important and you need help deciding on a strategy, then book a mobile consultancy clinic.

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  • Cool post Paul. However when you said ‘mobile version of their site’ does that mean you think its a good idea to make mobile versions for sites? Or do you think its better to just have separate CSS styles for mobile devices like the Less Framework? Currently I’m considering making a mobile version for a site but I’m not sure which is better.

    • I have to say that where possible the best solution is to have a separate mobile version. People want very different things when accessing from a mobile device and that means different content, different IA and a different user interface. You can’t just get away with changing the CSS in most cases.

    • I think it depends.

      For content sites, such as this blog, I think a different stylesheet is the better option as the user interaction is pretty much identical for both the mobile user and the web user.

      For an ecommerce site, as discussed above, a separate version would be better as the interactions may need to chance for users of the mobile site. For example, older phones may not be able to cope with the JavaScript required for the live chat.

  • Paul, I like your post. For those unfamiliar – this level of ‘design’ is typically called “Service Design” or the “Holistic Experience” although it can be called many things. Basically, your company gets hired to research, analyze and (re)design every single touchpoint to the customer for a given product, service, brand, company etc. Theoretically that could be unlimited.

    Frankly, this is where UX will lead to – in reality the world of experience design is much bigger than UX and I am glad. When I first got going in this practice I thought that there really is more than this. We’re thinking completely digital. There will be some level of convergence – it is just starting to become mainstream. The progression is natural – as more and more companies attempt to attain a competitive edge by providing a complete brand/product experience. And when it comes to touchpoints, the first thing I think of is retail and/or automobile shopping. The complete experience from the decor, music, lighting, architecture, merchandising etc. This could also apply to large enterprise initiatives as well except your customers are actually the employees.

    Here is a few resources: (good slide show here)
    You can also Wikipedia it too. They have a well thought out writeup.

    My 2 cents – thanks again Paul.


  • Hey Paul – great post.

    I’m really interested in this debate, and see it as an issue of content strategy vs online deliverables.

    That model you present is joined-up. It’s the ideal content strategy where customer engagement has been covered off at just about every point.

    But I have never had a client ask for a content strategy.

    Clients still ask for a Facebook page; or for SEO; or for something to do with Youtube. In short, their thinking hasn’t become joined-up.

    The question then arises whether we continue to develop each piece of the puzzle – IA, UI, EX, design, SEO, copywriting – in isolation of every other piece?

    Or do we invest time to educate clients that they need to stop, reconsider, and re-evaluate how they deliver their business online.

    To be fair, as a smaller agency, it’s difficult to do invest that time with a client, as it will inevitably be at the expense of billable work. And it might frustrate the client into looking elsewhere for immediate gratification.

    If we’re going to remain credible as strategic partners to our clients (and that is where the long-term value lies), I think our industry needs to draw a line in the sand and begin to say no to the legacy approach of delivering fragmented online solutions just to satisfy demanding but ultimately short-sighted clients.

  • Len

    I just wished “Professional Cameras” existed.

    Seriously. Given the cost of items like cameras I am surprised how poor the customer service tends to be. Its very much still buyer beware.

  • Jay

    Great post with a very good, straight to the point insight. I like how you’ve shown the user experience as it extends beyond the traditional website and how social media, a mobile presence and a genuine personality to back it all up ultimately reinforce the brand.

  • Great post!
    We are trying à similar thing in our company but we call it Digital strategy. As one of Swedens largest insurance companies we have more than 20 digital channels and about as many target audiences (we are also into research, analysis, preventive work etc).

    One of the most important things I’vediscovered is that well made personas make all the difference. What channels Will they want to communicate through? Level of computer sagt etc.

  • Sarah

    Hey nice post Paul – especially when so many big corps are only just stumbling into the social media sandpit. Loved the acceptance that you can get bad feedback even when it’s unwarranted & that the way to recover is to respond positively & helpfully. Thanks!

  • I do agree with your ending that companies should be able to provide more than just a well designed site – they should be able to provide all of the array of services which leads to a great user experience.