Mind the gap

Paul Boag

Are your users falling between the gaps? The gaps between devices, channels and business units.

Things used to be so simple. Customers would pass through a standardised sales funnel that would end with them making a purchase. Even when the web started to disrupt this sales funnel things were still pretty simple. Your corporate website would just about fit into that funnel.

But things have become more complex. The traditional sales funnel no longer applies. User journeys are becoming more convoluted, especially in light of device switching.

Gaps between devices

Research by Google seems to show that 90% of users switch between devices during a transaction online. It is unsurprising that prominent figures in web design are talking about device switching. They are highlighting the dangers of users becoming confused. That as users switch between devices they become less likely to buy. It is a legitimate concern and as user interface designers these are problems we need to address.

Google research shows us that users switch between devices.
Google research shows us that users switch between devices.

But these are not the only gaps that exist in the user journey of todays connected consumers. There is also gaps between channels.

Gaps between channels

Users don’t just switch between devices. They switch between channels too. That might be moving from Facebook to your website or from a blog to Twitter. But it could just as easily switching between online and a call centre. Like switching between devices these can be points of weakness. Points where the user could become confused or receive an inconsistent experience.

That is why I like the Barclays Banking Mobile App so much. If I have logged into the mobile app and then need to speak to a person, I am not required to verify my identity again. They have made the transition painless.

Companies like Barclays Bank are focusing on the gaps between channels.
Companies like Barclays Bank are focusing on the gaps between channels.

Yet so many other organisations fail to consider these transition points. For example the transition between website and social media is often poor. As I have written before, things could be much better.

But gaps do not just exist at transition points. They also happen over time.

Gaps in time

The National sales executive association say that 80% of sales happen on the fifth to twelfth contact. In other words often users are not going to act on their first visit to your website. They may well return many times. What happens in those gaps is crucial for deciding whether a sale happens. Are you following up on those who got half way through a registration process before abandoning? Do you reach out to those who liked one of your pages on Facebook?

But more than that, are you making it easy for them to pick up where they left off? Does your website remember login details or site settings? Are they expected to re-enter half completed forms when they come back to your site later? Putting thought into how to nurture the user relationship over time is a crucial component of digital design.

We cannot solve all ‘gap problems’ with good design and well built applications. Some are organisational in nature.

Organisational gaps

It is easy to focus on the design and technology problems we can fix and use them as an excuse to ignore the elephant in the room. You see when it comes to users falling between the gaps the biggest gap is between business silos.

Many organisations manage customers using a waterfall approach. Marketing cultivates the leads. Sales are then responsible for converting those leads. Production delivers the product or service, before customer service handles post sales support. Unfortunately the transition points between these silos can be a disjointed experience for customers.

Take for example one client I worked with who had different targets for the marketing and sales department. Marketing had to generate a certain number of leads in a year while sales had to convert a percentage of these.

Marketing didn’t care about the quality of leads. So they insisted users could only see their product demo once they had handed over their email address. Of course many users didn’t wish to get a call from a sales man. At least not yet. This wasted both the sales departments time and angered many potential customers.

Another example of users falling between the gaps occurred when I purchased an iPad. I couldn’t enable the personal hotspot on it so I went to my network providers website to see if there was a fix. When I failed to find an answer I called their call centre. After sitting on hold for over 30 minutes customer support informed me it was Apple’s problem.

In the end I posted by frustration on Twitter. Within ten minutes somebody from my carriers social media team contacted me saying it was a known problem and provided a fix.

The problem was clear. The marketing department (who ran the social media channels) hadn’t communicated. They hadn’t told either the web team or the customer service department about the fix. As a result I had fallen through the gaps.

The user experience delusion

Users have come to expect outstanding user experience. It is becoming the key differentiator for companies across a wide range of sectors. Yet many companies are in denial about how well they are doing. They cannot see the gaps in the experience.

In his TIME article ‘Customer Service Hell’ Brad Tuttle explained that 80% of companies believed they offered a superior customer service. Yet only 8% of their customers agreed. Offering a great customer experience is about the details and those details happen in the gaps. The gaps between devices, channels, business silos and over time. It is our job as user experience specialists to highlight these issues and help address them.