Designing for the whole experience

Paul Boag

Customer expectations of their experience while interacting with your company is rising. Are you meeting that expectation?

There is a movement among business leaders that threatens to undermine your customer relationships. Some are calling it – experience innovation.

The idea is simple. Improving your offering with new features, better technology or more options is no longer enough. You need to offer an enhanced experience. Customers buy into that experience as much as the products.

This is nothing new – Starbucks, Disney and Nike all embrace the idea of experience. Yet, the number of companies taking this approach is growing and as they do it is changing customer expectations.

Starbucks store
Starbucks could not charge their prices if they were just selling coffee. In reality they are charging for an experience.

Your competition might not be innovating in this area, but your customers are not limited to interacting with them. Customers expect the same level of customer service in all aspects of their life. They are often left wondering why your experience is so frustrating when using other services or products is such a joy. Their dissatisfaction may start them looking elsewhere.

There are lots of levels to improving experience, far more than I can cover in a single post. But if we look at things from an online perspective it throws up some interesting challenges.

Improving the online experience

At the most basic level are you offering a consistent and integrated experience across all the sites you run? When a user logs into one part of the site are they remembered elsewhere? When they visit a micro-site does it offer a consistent user experience? Often our sites fragment because there is no central oversight. Either that or because we are building different parts in isolation.

Then there is how your sites work with other online channels like Facebook or Twitter. Are users moving back and forth between different platforms without difficulty? Does your website integrate with social media and vice versa? Do all channels present a consistent brand identity and tone of voice?

What about experience across devices? According to research by Google many people use more than one device to complete a single task. You can expect an increasing number of users to switch between desktop, tablet and smartphone to do things on your site. This makes it important that these different devices provide a unified user experience. Not only should it be easy to find the same information across devices, it should also be simple to pick up a task. For example if I add a product to my basket on my mobile phone, will that product still be there when I switch to my laptop?

Finally, we need to think about how the online experience works with offline interactions. For example, if I book tickets online can I be confident they will be on the system when I arrive? Do I feel compelled to print them off “just in case?

A big challenge, big changes

As you can see this is a big ask for many organisations. It requires big changes in the way they work and think. If you act now the returns are high. Wait too long and this will become expected, the competitive advantage will vanish.

So where to begin? With so much to do the task can feel overwhelming. Where you begin will depend on how things currently stand.

End the periodic redesign

Many organisations I work with run large sites that have been through a series of periodic redesign. As you dig down through their site it is like going back in time. The deeper you dig, the older designs you discover. Each time we launch a new design it replaces the top few levels and the rest of the site never quite gets updated.

For organisations in this position the priority has to be to create a consistent user experience on their own website. This starts by stopping periodic redesigns and instead making continual incremental improvements.

Changing how we see designers

For other organisations it is about a shift in the perception of how they perceive the designers they work with. Many think of designers as glorified painters and decorators. Designers add aesthetic, look and feel, and brand.

In fact most designers are much more than that. They create user experiences. They long to shape a better user experience. They have both the eye for shaping experience and the imagination to challenge the ways we do things. Unfortunately we often limit their job to superficial changes.

It is time for us to give our designers more freedom. We need to start including them in higher level discussions and help them to become champions for the user. Many may need encouragement at first, but I believe they have a lot to offer in reshaping the customers experience.

Taking bigger risks with pilot projects

For other organisations it is about learning to take bigger risks. This is particularly true for larger organisations. For them there is little motivation to change. They have seen success doing things the way they do them, so why change? The problem is that the world is changing around them and what was once safe ground no longer is.

Thinking about customer experience instead of products and services is a big change. It requires ambitious thinking and big risks. That is going to be hard to swallow in some places. A sensible approach is to start with a pilot project. This gives organisations the confidence to challenge well worn and familiar processes.

Cross department collaboration

Finally, for some it is going to mean breaking down departmental silos. I am beginning to encounter organisations who manage social media and the website separately. Not to mention retail stores, phone support or the many other touch points customers have with a company.

There is nothing wrong with these management structures in principle. What matters is that they work together towards common goals. Unfortunately that is often not the case. Failure to do so makes it impossible to create a unified customer experience.

Do what is within your power

The chances are if you are reading this you are a web professional. Most likely you don’t have the power to make some of the big sweeping changes we have talked about here. But what you can do is work towards a consistent customer experience online.

You can think about how users move across platforms and devices. Begin by ensuring smooth online transition. In time start working with colleagues to extend that experience to offline touch points as well.

“Experience Conceptual Meter” image courtesy of