The good news is, there’s a simple way to avoid this trap and improve company culture and bottom line while you’re at it.
How often does a product or service sabotage itself because of the way it’s delivered to you? Quite a lot, when you stop to think about it.
I stopped to think about it when I interviewed Damian Rees, Founder/Director at Experience UX. Damian’s team of behavioural experts help companies to gain a deeper understanding of how their customers think and act. Once those companies truly understand, they are more surefooted about giving those customers experiences they’ll remember for the right reasons. (I’ll come to what makes you memorable for the wrong reasons in a moment.)
Experience UX’s methodology is shaped by Damian’s background in Applied Psychology. During his degree he became fascinated by how human beings interact with computers. For instance, how design affects how we interpret things; whether or not we pay attention and the fact that we can only process a certain amount of information at any one time. During this period, everything fell into place:
It started to make me realise that things frustrated me. The way things are designed really frustrated me. Even today, the way door handles are put on a door, for instance a ‘pull’ handle on a ‘push’ door, or you go and get your car parking ticket and the ticket machine is just horrendous. That sort of stuff really frustrates me.
I started to see that in the natural everyday world. It dawned on me that pretty much everything is designed and it’s a conscious decision to either design for people or not.
It’s the difference between making your customers feel really special… or really stupid.
The VHS trap
There’s a brilliant book by Alan Cooper, where he talks about ‘apologists’ and ‘survivors’. And I’ve seen it with my mum. She will pick up something and she can’t use it. Then she apologises for being stupid! Whereas I think, “It is not your fault. Someone has designed it that way and they have designed it to make you feel stupid. That’s not what should happen!”
So someone comes up with a shiny new way of doing something and they implement it and the users are an afterthought.
I suppose the most classic example is VHS players. They had so many features, so many things you could do with them. Yet most people barely really understood how to record and play. The same with TV remote controls: so many buttons, so many functions and features, and yet you use maybe 10% of that.
As Damian talks, it makes me think about the gulf between what VHS promised and the frustrated reality of how I, the human user, experienced that promise. This was in the late 1970s and the 1980s, well before the wonders of digital catch-up TV. The ‘Video Home System’ promised a cosy evening on the sofa, watching a favourite television programme safely recorded from earlier in the week. It seemed magical that you could pop a rectangular piece of plastic into the video machine, press a few buttons and past programmes would appear before your eyes.
But Damian is right. My memory of VHS players is tainted with frustration, and let’s be honest, lots of four-letter words. I’d tap the buttons in a range of sequences, as if I were trying to crack open a safe. I’d watch the digital display flit between ‘E’ for error and some random timing that had little to do with the programme I had recorded. Now I was having to work really hard to reach that cosy evening. And I felt really stupid, because although I was working hard, I couldn’t actually work out what was going on. The promise of a lovely night in was broken. This probably wasn’t what the creators of VHS wanted their customers to experience.
Dodge the VHS trap
And in the last 30 years, the opportunities for companies to make their clients work hard and/or feel stupid have increased, as technology throws more tantalising features and functions at them.
I understand that companies want to get the edge by passing these new things on to their customers. It might be in the product itself, or on the website promoting that product. But it’s sobering to think that the shiny new thing you hope makes your company special, could be the very thing that drives your prospects away.
That is where Experience UX and their behavioural expertise come in. Their approach is rooted in a guiding principle. However fast the technological world changes, this principle never wavers. When you apply it in a methodical way, it can transform your company culture and commercial value for the better. As Damian puts it, “It’s win-win. Users are happier because it’s easier for them to do something. Your business wins as a result, because you are more likely to get more customers through and they will be more loyal.”
Start with humans
This is the principle: whenever your company is contemplating changing the way it interacts with customers, you take the time to understand them properly. As human beings, face to face.
With scientific rigour, Damian and his team create the conditions where you get a ringside seat to the inner workings of your customers’ minds. In the space of a few hours, you’ll see how these customers behave in the raw. You’ll see what they do when they come across what is, in effect, the 24-hour meeter and greeter for your company: your website.
This observation session is the first part of your company’s Customer Experience Strategy. It’s carefully set up, monitored and evaluated – and it goes well beyond traditional marketing personas and usability testing. Damian:
In a typical project, we recruit people to take part in face-to-face research. There will be a researcher, and alongside them will be a customer or potential customer of our client’s organisation. For example, somebody seeking health insurance.
We sit them in front of the computer and say, “You’ve been recruited because you fit this profile. Can you tell me a bit more about your need for health insurance? What triggered that? Can you show me what type of problems you have? When do you need to engage with the website? Can you show me?”
So we get natural behaviour. Then we ask more probing questions, get them to answer those and then set them tasks to do. So we’re really uncovering their experience. While we are doing that, we normally have a boardroom available. The video from this session with the customer is fed through into the boardroom. The people in the boardroom are our clients. They see a picture and video of their customer. They can watch the screen activity, with the mouse moving around the website. So they see all of this research taking place live.
Watch and learn
This frontline picture of people responding naturally to your website is powerful. Damian:
It’s usually when the penny drops. We like to invite directors, project managers, designers and developers to watch. When they are sitting in their office and are making decisions about the website, typically they do it from their own perspective – their own personal opinion or the business needs. They very rarely say, “What would Bob and Mary do?” Instead, they end up making lots of assumptions about client behaviour.
We pretty much shatter those assumptions in that session and they say, “Really?! Okay, I didn’t realise how much people struggle through this process, because I know it inside out”.
A different way
McCarthy and Stone are an example of how these frontline insights can deliver long-term benefits to a company’s culture and bottom line:
They were focused on the retiree. So they broke their profiles down by their products at the time, such as ‘Retirement Living’, ‘Assisted living’ and ‘Ortus’. But this wasn’t the mind-set of participants we were talking to. Participants had different needs, such as where the property was and how many bedrooms it had. They didn’t search by product.
By conducting a profiling workshop with different areas of the business, we uncovered that it wasn’t just prospective buyers looking at retirement properties. It was also third party influencers – family friends or relatives – looking on behalf of someone. So we changed our personas, to focus on these different audiences visiting the McCarthy and Stone website, making sure it answered their initial questions.
Imagery plays a big part in the decision-making process, because prospective buyers don’t see themselves as ‘old’. Even when we spoke to participants in their 80s, they didn’t consider themselves as elderly. So seeing pictures of what they class as ‘old people’ sitting around drinking tea, does not appeal to them and would stop them going ahead to enquire about a property. They see themselves as active, full of life and want to be around like-minded people.
The website imagery needed to reflect this. Development pages not only needed to show what the properties are like but also sell the independent lifestyle a prospective buyer could have.
So I think we’ve helped McCarthy and Stone an awful lot, enabling them to change their company culture to be much more user-centred. And we are seeing the impact of that now. We have won an award for the work we have done and we’ve had massive return on investment.
In this whirlwind of technological change, how do you make sure your company stays ahead by making your customers feel special, not stupid?
For Damian, it’s about pausing and using behavioural techniques to get to know your potential customers. From there you can build your company’s Customer Experience Strategy. Now you have reliable, front-line evidence of what customers really think of you and how they behave around you, whether it’s online or face to face.
When you know that, you can be much more surefooted about the changes you need to make as you move forward. These changes are worth investing in, because the end results are clients who are never made to feel stupid. The opposite. They appreciate you because they realise you have gone out of your way to make things easy and enjoyable for them.
Congratulations, you’ve successfully dodged the VHS trap. It’s win-win, for you and your customers.
Offer an amazing experience
Experience UX love working with forward-thinking companies who want to do just that. If you’d like to have a chat with Damian and his team, contact them here.