On Technology In Experience Design: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Brussels Airport: Human Beings and Technology Complement One Another to Deliver A Good Experience

It’s Monday morning, early, as we are about to land at Brussels airport I decide to take the train rather than the taxi.  On landing I look for and follow the signs for the train. I arrive at level -1. Now I am presented with choice: to get my ticket from the ticket machines (many of them, all of them available for use) or queue up at the ticket office and be served by a human being.  I choose to queue up and be served by the human being.

To the lovers of technology and its promise to reduce friction and bring about nirvana my decision does not make sense. Surely it would be faster and easier.  So why did I not use the machines? I lacked prior experience with these machines. I lacked the kind of contextual knowledge needed to figure what ticket I needed. And importantly, previous bad experiences – like the refusal to accept my credit card, or being told by the inspector that I had purchased the wrong ticket….

Further, and please make a note of this, I knew that the automated ticket machines do not have the same kind of being as a human being.  What am I getting at? I am talking about flexibility, intuitive contextual understanding born from a shared humanity, and a natural inclination towards helpfulness.  How best to illustrate?  Follow my story and you will see.

Within 2 to 3 minutes of queuing up I am face to face with middle aged man behind a glass screen. Do I speak French or English?  I notice that this man had been speaking in Flemish to his colleagues. So I speak English and ask him for a ticket to Bruxelles-Nord.  He flexes: he switches to speaking English fluently. He flexes: he asks me if I want a single or a return. I tell him that I need a return. He tells me the price and issues the ticket.

Time to pay. I get out my credit credit and look at the card processing machine. I haven’t come across this type before. I cannot figure out where the card goes and which way it goes. So I ask the man. He flexes to meet my need: he shows/tells me the correct place and way of inserting the card. I am grateful as I had not seen that slot in the machine.  I think bad design! Great that there is a human being to make up for the poor design of the credit card machine.  I pay. I thank the man and make my way through automated barriers to the train.

When I arrive at Bruxelles-Nord I find myself happy.  I took the road less travelled – I normally take the taxi – there were challenges. And the right combination of humanity and technology allowed me to overcome this challenges, easily, and left me feeling good.  Good!

London Heathrow: Getting Technology and Humanity All Wrong

Same day. It has been a long day. Finally, I am off the aeroplane and making my way to passport control at London Heathrow- later than expected. The taxi driver has just rang me to ask where I am.  So I am keen to get through passport control.

I arrive at passport control along with many others. Two choices – follow the lane for e-passports or the other lane.  Not an easy choice.  There is long queue in the e-passport lane as the demand falling on this lane is greater than the capacity of this lane.  This lane is automated and the technology (the machines) are not keeping up with the human beings.  On the other hand, there are only two lanes open in the other (alternative) lane.

Whilst in the midst of making the decision, I find myself shepherded into the e-passport lane.  I wait. I wait. I wait. Finally, I am near enough to the machines, the technology, to see what is going on.  There are 15 machines, only 10 of them are operational.  Imagine if you ran a call centre and on a busy day one third of your staff were off ill. What kind of an impact would that have on service levels?  OK, that accounts for some of the imbalance between demand and throughput.  What else is going on? I look.

As I am looking, for about ten minutes or so, I notice a few things. I notice that the process of getting through the machines is longer – every time – than with a human being checking passports. So even if everything worked like clockwork, it takes longer to get through these machines. But everything isn’t working like clockwork. It is about as far from clockwork as one can imagine.

I notice that most folks simply do not how to use the machines.  I can see the confusion on their faces. I can see their apprehension as they find themselves face to face with the passport (and facial recognition) machines.  There are no easily (intuitively) understandable instructions. For example, folks don’t know whether to put the passport face up or face down in the scanning area.  The machine does not detect wrong procedure and alert folks. It does its processing and when it is finished a big red cross comes up on the screen. But no useful error message or guidance.

At this point I ask you to think back to my situation at Brussels Airport. Remember me turning to and being served – as in helped out – by a human being?  So you may be wondering what happened to the human beings at passport control. This is where it goes from bad to ugly.  Allow me to explain.

I can only see one human being on my side of the machines – a woman in her late twenties. She is standing in front of machine 11 – only machines 1 to 10 are operational.  She is looking at what is going on.  Her contribution? To look down at the people struggling with the machines and provide useless advice.  The looking down is evident in her face and her tone of voice.  She keeps saying “If you put your passport against the machine and push down then it works fine”.  Folks are doing that and for some of them it is not working out. Clearly, they are at fault given her stance.

I notice that every person who cannot get through the automated passport check  – which is at least one in every three – is instructed by this young lady to go and see the man at the end of the line.  I look and see that there is only one man at the end of the line. He is busy – there is long queue.  The price of cost reduction through technology centred automation is being paid by us – the users.  I look at the faces of the people like me waiting patiently to get through this nightmare. I can see the frustration, even contempt, in their faces. Some of them are voicing this frustration – in a very understated English way.

 

Where I Stand In Regard To Technology

1 – It is my experience that the claims made in regards to technology (in business) are puffery. Or, at best, aspirational – what folks would like to believe. Yes, technology can make things better. But it rarely does especially not for the people who actually find themselves face to face with technology – the users. 

Take Heathrow Airport, I am sure that folks selling the vision and benefits talked about: reducing costs by replacing many people with one machine, the throughput – how it would take less time for the machine to do the work of the human being, the improvement in the customer experience – easier, quicker, better, the reduction in risk as machines don’t get tired….  Now you compare my experience with the vision/promise.  Notice the gap.

2 – Making technology work (for users) requires a deep connection with our own humanity (our way of being_in_the_world). And with the humanity of our fellow human beings through empathy.  Yet this is THE quality that is lacking in the people who purchase technology (managers) and those implement technology.  Further, neither party really cares for the users of technology.  The users are pawns who are to be ‘change managed’ in order for the benefits of automation to be harvested. What are those benefits?  As I mentioned in the last conversation they are almost always cost reduction.

3 – In service contexts, great experience design requires the right blend of the human beings and technology. Why?  Technology is great where something can be reduced a technique – a logical sequence of invariant steps – and thus automated.  Yet an intrinsic and persuasive feature of human worlds is unpredictability, novelty, variance.  These are characteristics of living and life – especially intelligent life like ours. Technology sucks at dealing with this. But human beings don’t. Human beings have the capacity even an inclination to be flexible in an instant. Humans can get an intuitive grasp of the context (the background) and the user and her situation (the foreground). And we can flex to address the specific needs of this user in this context.

4 – It is easier to design and implement technology badly – from a user experience standpoint – then it is do it well. To turn around this situation requires a substantial investment in service designers and ux designers.  As well as prioritisation of the user experience. For all the talk of Design Thinking there is little of it actually occurring – perhaps a drop in the ocean.  As someone in an important position said to me recently “I don’t care about their feelings. I have a deadline to meet!” Further, most organisations are not willing to really get into Design Thinking – it requires a different mix of people, it involves getting out of the office and entering new worlds, it takes time, it takes effort, it requires experimenting and iteration.  None of this appeals when the focus is implementing technology ‘out of the box’ this month using agile.  Were speed and efficiency is of the essence the ground/soil necessary for human centred design is simply not there.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….

What’s The Difference Between UX and CX At An Experiential Level?

Is there a difference between UX and CX? Yes. What is the difference between UX and CX? Allow me to answer this question by sharing my experience in dealing with a web hosting company.

The User Experience? Great!

I came across a web hosting company which appealed to me. Let’s call this company: NewWebHostCo. What appealed to me? The look+feel of the website: easy and appealing to my eyes. The navigation: well thought out and signposted. The content: written in plain English and as such is easy to understand – especially for non-technical folks like me.

So I chose to do business with NewWebHostCo. First, I searched for and then purchased a domain. I followed the instructions, paid through my credit card.  Second, I undertook a second transaction: transfer of an existing domain (from 123Reg) to NewWebHostCo, and the purchase of web hosting plan. Again the process of selecting and paying for that which I wanted was easy and quick. Shortly after each transaction, I got emails from NewWebHostCo confirming the purchases I had made.

At this point I was delighted. Clearly, someone had given considerable thought to the design of the NewWebHostCo website: my user experience was excellent in comparison to other web hosting sites which are busy and often confusing to me. So I was looking forward to being up and running (quickly-easily) with NewWebHostCo; I felt reassured by the promise of a 45 day no quibble refund and the promise of great support-service to customer queries.

The Customer Experience? Poor!

The next day I logged into my account at the NewWebHostCo website. I was surprised and disappointed to find that the domain name that I had purchased was not on my account. I did a web search for this domain name only to find that it was still available for purchase. I found myself puzzled. Previously, this had been such a straight forward matter: select domain, pay, wait several hours, domain is ready for use. Not with this web hosting company.

Later that day, I got an automated email from NewWebHostCo informing me that the transfer of the existing domain had failed. I was surprised as I had carefully read the instructions provided by 123Reg and thus unlocked the domain and made it ready for transfer to NewWebHostCo. And I provided the details that NewWebHostCo’s online wizard had requested. Nonetheless, I double checked everything and went through the transfer wizard a second time. Same result: I got another email telling me that the transfer had failed.

So I reached for support. Only to find that all support requests have to be made via email. So I filled in the requisite form setting out the issues that I was facing. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Days went by and I received no response: no acknowledgement that anyone had received my email, nor any idea of when any action was going to be taken.

Back to the NewWebHostCo website and the support section. Once again I filled in the email support form. This time I took the company up on its offer to ring customers back. I reiterated the issues. I set-out my disappointment. And I asked to be rung back on my mobile.

The day after this email, I got an email response telling me that I had not provided all the required details for the domain name purchase. And asking me for the details of the second transaction – the domain name transfer and hosting package – so that the transaction could be annulled.  I did not find myself impressed.

So What?

My experience suggests that time-effort-money spent on UX is ultimately wasted unless the UX is one component of a great CX: the end-to-end experience of the customer.  How have I come to this conclusion? I cancelled my transactions with NewWebHostCo. And have chosen to keep doing with my existing web hosting provider (123Reg).

Another thought strikes me. I notice that folks in organisational worlds are besotted by technology. Which is to say that I find folks putting their faith in technology not human beings and the kind of service that can only be provided by human beings.  That strikes me as mistake: Technology fail! When technology fails the right kind of human service (responsive, considerate) can take care of the breakdown and build a stronger relationship with the customer. Lack of human service, on the other hand, shows the lack of care-consideration for the customer.

Why have I not named and shamed NewWebHostCo? Because the tone of the email that I received by the human being who finally did respond to my email request for help. The tone was human: apologetic and helpful. For me, humanity calls forth humanity. Is this something that folks that wield power in organisational worlds have forgotten? Or are they simply blind to the value of humanity?

WalkMe: a Great Way to Improve the User Experience and Harvest Business Benefits?

Issue: how do I do this online?

Travel is an essential part of my life as a management consultant and business advisor. Occasionally, whilst I am on my travels I get  a call from either my wife or children asking me for help on getting some task done on the web.  During these remote conversations I tend to be gripped by a sense of frustration and futility. Why? Because I get that the most effective way to help them, and not get another call, is to be by their sides guiding them through the job they want to get done online.

Solution: WalkMe?

This week I came across WalkMe and spoke with their Head of Marketing, Boaz Amidor. He tells me that the founder of WalkMe found himself in the same boat – his mother needed the help again and again – and this is what led him to create WalkeMe.

What is WalkMe™? It is an “interactive self-guidance technology that guides prospects, customers, employees or partners through any Web experience.”  As I understand it, WalkMe it sits on top of your website and as such does NOT need any integration or changes with the underlying site.

Why use it? If you use it intelligently – focussing on the scenarios/tasks that matter – then WalkMe reduces your customers’ frustration of waiting for assistance, shortens the time it takes for support personnel to handle an incoming request and strengthens your company’s support reputation. It also occurs to me that this technology can improve sales conversion as not all customers who want to buy from you call support when they cannot buy from you – some go elsewhere, I do!

How does it work?  “Through a series of interactive tip balloons overlaid on the screen, tasks are broken down into short, step-by-step guided instructions, which help customers act, react and progress during their online experience.  As a result, customer support managers can empower their customers to self-task successfully even through the most complex processes.”

You can get an introduction to WalkMe by taking a look at a short demo video: http://vimeo.com/48888010

And , you can learn more about WalkMe and even try it for free. Check out www.walkme.com

What can you expect from the WalkMe team?  Boaz Amidor told me that their customer support team is not called the customer support team, nor the customer services team.  It is called the Customer Success team. Why?  Because “The philosophy here is to make sure that our team is committed to the success of the customer. WalkMe brings the value and our team is here to ensure the success.”  I say that this resonates with my idea of service.

About WalkMe

WalkMe was founded in 2011, has offices in San Francisco and Tel Aviv.  It is funded by  Mangrove Capital Partners, Giza Venture Capital and Gemini Funds.

WalkMe recently WON the Red Herring Top 100 Award.  Alex Vieux, publisher and CEO of Red Herring, said the following regarding WalkMe’s win: “We looked at hundreds and hundreds of candidates from all across the continent, and after much thought and debate, narrowed the list down to the Top 100 Winners. Each year, the competition gets tougher but we believe WalkMe demonstrates the vision, drive and innovation that define a Red Herring winner.”

WalkMe has been included in the list of “Cool Vendors” in the “Cool Vendors” in the CRM Customer Service and Social 2013″ by Gartner.

You Should Know

I am not a fan of complex technology, I have grappled with it (MIS, ERP, CRM, e-commerce) and it tends to be hard work to implement, and it rarely generates the promised benefits.

I am a fan of simple technologies that are easy to implement, simplify-enrich lives, and create value.  This is how WalkMe showed up for me this week and this is why I agreed to write this post.

I am not being paid, in any shape or form, for writing this post.  Or any other post that I have written to date. My commitment is to write from a context of service.

As with everything I write, I urge you to “try things out AND do your homework”.

Do you know the difference between a good strategy and a bad strategy? (Part IV – Objectives)

This is the fourth in the series of posts on strategy making using Richard Rumelt’s masterpiece: Good Strategy Bad Strategy.  If you have not already done so then you may get value out of the reading the first three posts:

Do you know the difference between good strategy and bad strategy?  (Part I)

Do you know the difference between good strategy and bad strategy?  (Part II – Fluff)

Do you know the difference between good strategy and bad strategy?  (Part I – Failing to face the problem)

What passes for strategy and strategy is so often simply muddled thinking or why so many websites generate a poor user experience

One thing that I have noticed is that so many websites are poor – from the users perspective.  Why is that?  I have my point of view which I pleased to see validated by Mark Adams of PortalTech Reply in the May edition of Internet Retailing:

“If your strategy, for example, is to use mobile to generate significant revenues the key considerations, technology choices and approach are going to be very different from setting out to use mobile as brand engagement channel…….. Often the strategy is to accommodate selling, loyalty, brand engagement, in-store integration, social marketing, payments and so on with no clear path on how each of these areas are going to be addressed and at what point.”

Sounds like a ‘dog’s dinner’ of aims/objectives masquerading as strategy to me.  That got me thinking that it is worth sharing what Richard Rumelt has to say on the matter of aims, objectives and strategy.

What does Richard Rumelt say about aims, objectives and strategy?

Richard Rumelt says that strategic objectives are one domain that differentiates good strategy from bad strategy:

One of the challenges of being a leader is mastering this shift from having others define your goals to being the architect of the organisation’s purpose and objectives.  To help clarify this distinction it is helpful to use the word “goal” to express overall values and desires and to use the word “objective” to denote specific operational targets……. Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favourable outcomes.

In his book,  Rumelt identifies two pitfalls in the areas of objectives: ‘dog’s dinner objectives’; and ‘blue sky objectives’.  Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Dog’s dinner objectives

This is what Rumelt says (keep in mind my earlier comment on poor websites and the quote on mobile):

A long list of “things to do”, often mislabeled as “strategies” or “objectives”, is not a strategy.  It is just a list of things to do. Such lists usually grow out of planning meetings in which a wide variety of stakeholders make suggestions as to things they would like to see done.  Rather than focus on a few important items, the group sweeps the whole day’s collection into a “strategic plan”.  Then, in recognition that it is a dog’s dinner, the label “long term” is added so that none of them need be done today.

I absolutely love this paragraph, it strikes as pointing at the ‘truth’ in a similar way to the Dilbert cartoons and leaves me saying “How true!”.  How does it strike you?

Blue sky objectives

Back to Mr Rumelt and his wisdom on strategy:

“The second form of bad strategic objectives is one that is “blue sky”.  A good strategy defines the critical challenge.  What is more, it builds a bridge between that challenge and action, between desire and immediate objectives that lie within grasp.  Thus, the objectives a good strategy sets should stand a good chance of being accomplished, given existing resources and competence.……  By contrast, a blue-sky objective is usually a simple restatement of the desired state of affairs or of the challenge.  It skips over the annoying fact that no one has a clue as to how to get there.

The purpose of a good strategy is to offer a potentially achievable way of surmounting  a key challenge.  If the leader’s strategic objectives are just as difficult to accomplish as the original challenge, there has been little value added by the strategy.”

Lets revisit 1997 and Steve Jobs return to the helm of Apple

Back in 1997 Apple was burning through its cash and was expected to become bankrupt in months.  The imperative was survival – increasing the cash pile and cutting costs to buy time to focus on product renewal.  What did Steve Jobs do?  The very first thing, the most thing, he did was to persuade Microsoft, the arch enemy, to invest in Apple.  By doing so he was able get his hands on $150 million (in return for non-voting shares).  This dismayed the Apple faithful, left them stunned and led to heckling and booing.  Something that Jobs had not experienced before.  Nonetheless it was a masterstroke as it bought him time to:

  • Cut the number of products from 15 to 4;
  • Streamline distribution by selling  through an exclusive national dealer as opposed to many retailers;
  • Focus marketing on a single message “Think Different”;
  • Terminate licensing deals that enabled other manufacturers to undercut Apple with Mac clones.

Result: operating expenses were cut nearly in half. Within months, Apple was back in the black and could focus on developing and bringing to market ‘killer products’ worthy of the Apple brand as personified by Jobs.

It occurs to me that Steve Jobs was more than creative or a showman (like Richard Branson).  He was a master strategist he focussed relentlessly on the essence.  How different to so many others who call themselves strategist and claim to put forth strategies.  What do you say?

CX / UX: why one etailer won a £500 order and the other one didn’t

Exec summary:  the nugget to chew on

Make it easy for potential buyers to buy from you.  How?  Take the time to understand how people buy.  Design your interaction interfaces and the supporting infrastructure to enable just that.  And that is not enough.  You have to care! Why caring provides the fuel that generates insight and enables actions that make the buyers life easier.  It is the source of “wow”. This is particularly important on digital channels.  Why? Because the buyer, the customer, cannot easily tell you if the interaction is not working for him.

What is the fundamental principle of good customer experience design?

Work with human nature so that ‘effort’ does not show up in the (target) customer’s mind.  Steve Krug wrote a book and I believe the title was ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ – that is exactly it.

What is that we tend to overlook, to get wrong, in customer experience design?

We are not present to non-linearity: that little things can have a huge impact. So we don’t pay attention to the little details, we assume that they don’t matter. We fail to do what Steve Jobs did relentlessly – go for perfection and ensure that each of the little details was taken care of.  Isn’t that the essence of design – to take care of the details so that 2+ 2 = 200 in the users world?

Now that you have the nugget you can leave (and get on with life) or you can come along with me on my latest customer experience with two etailers (PC World, Comet).

My experience of buying a television online

You may remember that I bought a television from Amazon: the television was faulty and the returns experience a most interesting one. I thought I had got away with it and I did for several weeks.  And then my family were on my back about having a bigger television.  So I took another like at requirements, did some research and narrowed my search down to one television.

Who do I buy it from? Using a comparison site I got a list of sellers and prices.  First, I ruled out Amazon – as a result of my last experience I made a decision not to buy bulky stuff from Amazon.  Second, I narrowed my list down to three vendors: PC World, Comet and Dixons.  Why?  All three of them are selling it at the same price and all three of them are notable brands – I can’ tell them apart.

I start buying from PC World

Clearly I had a preference, I just did not know it consciously.  How do I know I had a preference? Because I went to buy from PC World.  Is that something to do with the helpful chap who went beyond the call of duty last time I visited PC World?  Or could it be that the PC World logo stands out more than the other two logos?  Or is it that I have it that PC World is more modern than the other two?  Or is it that PC World was at the top of the list? I suspect one or all of these factors played its part.

The comparison site did its job and I arrived at the at the PC World site I was all ready to buy. This is what I saw and I was pleased with what I saw:


The web page was well laid out, easy to see and understand. Comfortable with what I saw I hit the “Checkout” button; it stands out – someone has been thinking about the design, I say to myself.  And I end up here:

My automatic reaction: “For goodness sake, why have you put this here. This should not be here!  Let me get on with buying the television.” As I am not an existing customer I hit the “continue” button under the “new customer” section of the web page.  And I ended up here:

Why would a sane customer experience / ux designer put this here?  It simply occurred as an obstacle – too much effort! And it showed up as “I am not here to populate your CRM system, I’m here to buy a television. And you’re not letting me so I’m going elsewhere!

I arrive at the Comet site

As I have my comparison site web page open, I hit the button for Comet and arrive at this page:


I love this layout:
it occurs as simple, cleaner and focussed on my needs.  I have high expectations and hit the home delivery button.  The next page asks me for my postcode.  I type in 7 digits and the webpage throws open a list of addresses on my street.  I pick mine: Freshfields.  Easy.  Once I have done that, this page turns up:


“Fantastic”, that is my reaction. 
The layout appeals to me: I like the way that information is presented.  Notice, it is easy for me to choose the delivery option that best suits me.  Notice, all the relevant details are well laid out: the product that I am buying; the price; the address it is to be delivered to.  And notice that the x-selling of products and services is related to the product that I am buying AND does not get in the way of me buying.  For example, it only takes up a small portion of the web page and I do not have to untick any boxes: no effort required!

I make my delivery selection and hit the “continue” button and I arrive here:


Now I am in awe. 
I absolutely love the thought that went into the design of the customer experience, the purchasing process.  Notice that the designers have taken the information I supplied/confirmed (postcode, house name) and pre-populated the form so that I only need to supply the missing information!  What is my thought at this point? “How thoughtful!”  I supply the rest of the details and hit the “continue” button.

I arrive at the “Payment” screen – again this is excellently laid out.  I select one of the pre-defined, well presented (images) payment options.  The designers have been thoughtful again:  by ticking the box which says that my delivery address is the same as my credit card address, I avoid the need to enter my address again.  I supply the credit card details and viola: up pops the order/payment confirmation screen.  This screen is also well laid out and plays back all of the key information: product, price, delivery address, delivery date, order confirmation number. And it shows my email address and tells me that an email confirmation has been sent to this address.  I open up my email and sure enough all the relevant details are there.  Fantastic!

Lessons

Comet got my order because they made it EASY for me to buy. Specifically, the designers behind the Comet site:

  • have studied / thought about how people buy – in detail.  And then they have designed the buying process to work with human nature.  In the real world, I’d turn up at the store, choose the television, tell the salesperson what I wanted to buy and pay. Ask if they would deliver it to my home, when they could deliver it and how much delivery would cost.  If I am happy then I would pay.  Then I’d end the encounter by supplying the delivery address and asking for paperwork as proof of our agreement.
  • have given considerable thought to how to reduce the effort that customers have to put into buying.  This includes: the layout (look, feel, structure) of the web pages; the sequencing of the web pages; the content displayed on each page; and using information that the customer has supplied so that the customer is not asked for and thus does not have to enter the same information twice.

The designers behind the PC World site have clearly not done their homework – they have not looked at the buying process through customer eyes.  And so they have put up a big barrier to purchasing right up front.  I wonder how much revenue PC World are losing by working against the grain of human nature?

Questions for you

  1. How much effort have you spent observing, studying, questioning the process that your target customers go through to purchase the products/services you are selling?
  2. Have you designed the purchase process such that it works effortlessly for your target customers and they are left with a pleasant experience?
  3. Have you rigorously tested this purchase process to make sure it actually conforms to the design specification (“the customer experience”)?
  4. What are you doing on an ongoing basis to spot the flaws and the opportunities to improve the customer experience?
  5. Are you allowing and encouraging users / prospects / customers to let you know what is and is not working for them?