Showing your organisational underpants: A case study in failure

So I was having a highly enjoyable time in Brussels at the weekend with some good friends when I experienced a quite catastrophic failure of a service from a major high street bank. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into a ranty blog post. I was just so stunned by the immense failure of the service that I felt the need to document it because it is a lovely example of a number of well intentioned decisions that together culminate in a quite unbelievable customer experience.

“Something is wrong with my debit card…”
I wandered down to reception of my hotel on Sunday morning in order to pay for breakfast in the main hall. I found myself light on cash so decided to pay with my debit card. Three failed attempts to pay later I swapped to a credit card which was duly accepted first time. This led me to believe it was a problem with my debit card. However I put it down to a dodgy card machine or dirty card and carried on with my day by jumping onto the Eurostar back to the UK.

At London St Pancras train station I wandered over to buy a tube ticket and again tried to use the debit card. When this transaction was cancelled I became concerned. Having borrowed £10 off my friend for the ticket we hopped on the tube to Paddington.

“Lets call Card Enquiries…”
At Paddington train station I decided to call the Card Enquiries hotline. Im paraphrasing the interaction but basically my conversation with the automated machine went like this:

Automated system: Please provide bank card details
Me: Done
Automated system: Please provide date of birth
Me: Done
Automated system: Please provide 2nd and 8th digits of telephone security number you set up 7 years ago.
Me: um..what?
Automated system: You have 20 seconds to comply…

Before the system got too ED-209 on me, I found myself being transferred to a a very nice human being who started to walk me though a series of further security questions. This in itself did not concern or irritate me as being a bank that holds my money I was welcoming of a high level of security. However, as the reason for my problems became clearer I became more incredulous.

“Its a benefit Mr Fisher”
The nice human on the phone (after the 5 minute security pad down) explained that my debit card had been cancelled because they were upgrading me to a new “Super Duper Card” (ok I admit that its not called that and I shouldn’t work in financial branding but stick with me). The “Super Duper Card” was a perk because of my loyalty to the bank with “lots of cool new features”. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Me: That all sounds great but I didn’t ask for this “Super Duper Card” and now I have no money
Nice human from bank: I know you didn’t ask for it Mr Fisher but we did write to you and tell that this was happening
Me: when?
Nice human from bank: January
Me: Come again?

Yes thats right. Five months previously they had written to me to announce the “Super Duper Card” via post. I had had no correspondence since.

Nice human from bank: We posted a letter on January 11th explaining the “Super Duper Card”. Can you not remember?
Me: No I’m afraid I can’t. Im as surprised as you are to be honest (sarcasm gets you no where)
Nice human from bank: Well we have posted your new Super Duper Card to you on the 15th May thats why your other one has been cancelled
Me: I haven’t received any new cards in the post…

So who has my bank card?
By this point I was starting to get concerned. Where was this new mystery bank card? Perhaps a worse question was who has my new bank card?

I hung up on “nice human from bank” and got on my train. On the train I rang my wife and asked her two things:

  1. Was there any unopened letters lying around the house?
  2. Could I borrow some money?

Turns out there were no unopened letters and her interest rates were 7%. The day was getting worse.

I called the card enquiries number again and having dispatched the ED-209 style automated voice service in quick order got through to “Nice human from bank #2”. I started to make more headway into the mystery:

Nice human from bank #2: It turns out Mr Fisher that your new Super Duper Card was posted on the 15th May but because of security restrictions we sent it to your local branch instead of your home.
Me: What security restrictions?
Nice human from bank #2: You changed address in the last three months which means we can’t send any new bank cards…
Me You mean the new bank card I didn’t ask for?
Nice human from bank #2: Yes thats the one. Anyway we can’t send you any bank cards to your home for the first three months.
Me: Was anyone going to tell me that I had a new Super Duper Card waiting at my local branch for the last weeks?
Nice human from bank #2: Um no. Its a fully automated system. I don’t why you haven’t been contacted.

I thanked “Nice human from bank #2” and hung up. I have tried to add some humour to this experience but quite honestly lets think about it in a little more detail.

On reflection…
What a devastatingly bad customer experience.

This colossal muck up occurs across four channels (post, contact centre, online banking and high street store), began five months previously and ultimately impacted the customer with a series of very negative consequences.

What was obviously meant to be a nice thing (a customer upgrade to the Super Duper Card) has been so poorly implemented that the consequences for me (the customer) are as follows:

  • Ive spent almost 30 minutes on the phone getting transferred between places with no resolution;
  • Ive been left in a foreign country with no money;
  • I have to leave work at lunchtime to walk to my local branch to collect my new card that I didn’t order. Incidentally when I got to the branch my telephone number was written on the envelope but no-one had seen fit to ring it.
  • Throughout all of this was the concern of who might have my bank card…

Showing your organisational underpants
I think what surprises me the most is not how bad the experience was but how relaxed I acted! I should have been livid and ranty!

Instead having worked in UX for a while, all I ended up seeing throughout was a logical decision taken by some well meaning individual at the bank during the design phase:

Someone thought it would be nice to give me a Super Duper card with lots of perks.

Someone thought they would write via post to tell me this five months before it actually happens.

Someone thought telephone banking needs a really obscure random number that a customer only uses every 7 years.

Someone thought that having moved house they shouldn’t send me anything to that address for three months

Someone thought they should cancel cards without checking with the customer first.

Everyone didn’t see the bigger picture. The customer paid the price.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed what you read then please do share it, I’m always appreciative of the support.  You can also follow me on Twitter here.

Understanding our customers Minimum Expected Product

In “Designing a service no-one wants to use” I discussed combining Scott Jenson’s Value vs. Pain model with the experience realms of Pine and Gilmore. The aim of this approach was to identify opportunities for adding experiential value within a service.

I am referring to those occasions in a journey that result in positive, memorable, moments for the customer. Those delightful moments that could range from a quirky fun micro-interaction, a customer fear reassuringly allayed or the discovery of an entirely new set of functionality in the service.

The role of expectation in memorable moments
Discussion around these types of moments is not new. However, what is interesting is the consistency with which practitioners have discussed the role of customer expectation in determining their likelihood to occur. Whilst flicking through an old note book from 2011 I found the following doodle to myself:

What is a peak experience for a customer?
When my expectations are surpassed and my goals are achieved

Jon Fisher, November 2011

Despite writing this alone in the pub (it was £5 for a pie and pint to be fair), it appears I am not alone in my thinking. Pine and Gilmore discuss one measure of customer satisfaction in The Experience Economy as follows:

Customer satisfaction = What customer expects to get minus what customer perceives they get.

Dave Power III of J.D. Power & Associates

Giles Colborne in his presentation Designing for Delight  talks about delightful moments occurring following periods of anxiety. It is during these moments of anxiety when a customers expectations of a successful resolution to an issue are at their lowest.

There are many other sources that discuss the role of customer expectation in perception of a service but at its simplest I like the analogy of going to the cinema.

At some point we have all left a cinema and said something like “it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be“. If we are honest with ourselves how does our enjoyment of a movie change having read numerous positive or negative reviews vs. not having read any at all prior to watching the film? What expectations have we set ourselves?

Pain Points and low expectations
The service design community has consistently advocated identifying customer pain points and eliminating them as part of best practice.

A graph showing customer journey along the x axis and satisfaction along the y axis. The lowest point on the graph is highlighted.

Existing service pain points are obviously the place of low expectations

There are numerous definitions of pain points but Ratcliffe and McNeil ( a great book on Agile Experience Design) give a nice concise summary of types of pain point in a customer journey:

  • Manual workarounds;
  • Sources of customer frustration;
  • Anywhere that involves the use of legacy technology;
  • Points of high customer attrition;
  • Sources of customer complaints.

Eliminating pain points are the quick wins of design because these are the areas with the lowest existing customer expectations. More than likely, customers have already experienced these pain points (unless its a brand new service) and therefore have their low expectations firmly set.

In contrast, when things work well people don’t want change because they struggle to visualise how it could possibly be improved (plus if we are honest they are probably scared that the design team will screw it up). Acknowledgement of this fact may be part of the origins of Henry Ford’s thinking when he said:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Henry Ford

Deriving requirements – the Minimum Expected Product?
Hopefully by now you can see the powerful role that customer expectations play in both the the perception and subsequent design of a product or service.

Sophie Dennis discussed the combination of the Peak End Rule and the Kanban model for deriving a Minimum Viable Experience at her excellent talk Getting UX Stuff Done at UX Bristol last year. In my opinion, the strength of her technique was recognising that customer expectations have to be surpassed at some point (i.e. the peak in the peak end rule) whilst recognising that, in the context of a minimum viable product (MVP), we cannot do everything and must prioritise.

The Kano model showing three lines on a graph defining basic requirements, performance pay offs and excitement generators

The Kano Model from Sophie Dennis “Getting UX Stuff Done”

To further elaborate upon her approach, my point would be that we should be determining customer expectations around functionality much sooner in the development of our MVPs.

Whilst an upfront piece of user research is often conducted by project teams to identify user needs, we are missing a trick if we do not define the expectations around these potential requirements.

For example, on a recent project me and my team had developed a prototype and were excitedly sat watching users engage in our lab. We had developed a solution for a particularly complex filtering problem that was going down a storm with users but there was one small problem. It was trickier to build and implement than an alternative design solution the team was also thinking about.

The question was would customers miss the more complex functionality if it wasn’t there? Were they expecting it as a minimum or was our observed positive reactions from customers a direct result of their expectations being delightfully surpassed? Could we choose the alternative design option to ease our build and implementation whilst maintaining an acceptable level of customer satisfaction?

Without going into further detail on the project, I hope you can see the powerful role that expectation is playing in this context.

Customer expectation is a two way street
My key point is that expectation works both ways for project teams:

  1. Understanding expectations enables us to spot opportunities for adding experiential value by surpassing existing perceptions, thus delighting our customers.
  2. But also understanding expectation enables our project teams to understand, prioritise and justifiably de-scope functionality accordingly so that we can strategically invest our time and effort in the right places whilst maintaining acceptable customer satisfaction levels.

Both of these benefits can only be obtained early in a project lifecycle (most likely when we are conducting our initial research) and only by asking the right questions. Its all well and good defining our minimum viable product as a project team but perhaps a better way of looking at it would be to define the Minimum Expected Product from our customer base.

Viewed from this perspective we would then be in a position to both optimise our design efforts and delight our customers. Truly a happy place to be!

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed what you read then please do share it, I’m always appreciative of the support.  You can also follow me on Twitter here.

Nine heuristics for designing cross channel services

Last year myself and two associates completed an extensive piece of work on “Sense Making in Cross Channel Design”. A key theme of this paper was exploring how a customer’s understanding can diminish as they transition between various channels of a service. At the conclusion of the paper we had identified nine useful heuristics, observations or considerations when evaluating or planning a cross channel service.

To start the new year (and to ease me back into the blog after returning from honeymoon), I thought it would be useful to provide a short post that pulls out these nine heuristics.

Interlude: Channel switching and information scent

Before we continue, I feel it is important to highlight the importance of information scent on the degradation of understanding in a service. In our original research paper it became clear just how potentially impairing a channel transition can be to the overall success of a customer in a service (see one of my earlier blog posts). Therefore, several of the heuristics below revolve exclusively around the preservation of information scent across channels i.e. how do we help a customer resume a task that they previously started in another channel in our service.

For a deeper understanding of information scent (or any of the points listed below) then I would read our full paper or refer to either Information Foraging Theory by Pirolli (2007) or Spool et al (2004).

Cross channel design heuristics

So here we are then! Nine heuristics, rules or observations that can be used to support customer understanding and help avoid designing failure states into a cross channel service:

  1. In the digital age, the cost of moving channel is very small. For example, It costs me nothing to shut down a browser when I can’t find what I am looking for. Therefore, if our information layer is weak or ill-informed the likelihood of a customer leaving our service or changing to an alternative channel (or competitor) is high;
  2. When looking for information in a cross-channel user experience, customers are effectively conducting a number of evaluations when moving through and across our channels. They are effectively asking themselves “What is the likelihood that this channel can satisfy my informational needs?” In the event that the answer of that question is “Low” then the customer will either switch channel or leave the service entirely;
  3. Do not under estimate the effect that switching channels can have in reducing or eliminating information scent. Every time a customer changes channel they are effectively resetting the information path and beginning a new information forage;
  4. Do not under estimate the role of time in diminishing information scent for a customer. The length of time between customers switching between channels can range from seconds to days. We must consider the length of time likely to elapse and design strong information scents accordingly;
  5. Clear and immediate proximal cues will need to be provided for the major informational needs on all major entry points for a channel. For example, if your service offers a “my favourites” or “wish list” functionally then ensure it is prominent on all major entry points to the website. These information needs should be identified early in the design process and mapped across channels;
  6. Identify the information needs that need to be carried between channels and provide suitable digital functionality (for example, email links and social sharing) that can carry the information scent for us. The topic of carrying information needs and problems associated with this act are explicitly discussed on this blog here;
  7. Basic consistency in taxonomies is still essential for the reinforcement of a strong information scent across channels. The number of navigational paths that a customer has available to them in any given channel is an important consideration in the success of future information retrieval in alternative channels. How can we aid people in their information retrieval when some channels offer a single path whilst others offer as many as eight or more? In my experience, this point is such a common failing of services that its no wonder their has been a resurgent interest recently in content strategy and classic information architecture (its also one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of responsive web design; from both an information scent as well as an accessibility perspective).
  8. Identify the types of failure states that can result in channel switch in a cross-channel experience as well as the “natural” exit points for a task. For example, an “out of stock” result would immediately halt a customers’ task and necessitate a channel switch just as much as if the customer had successfully found what they were looking for. In such an event , what information can you provide to a customer in transitioning to another channel in your service?;
  9. The digital literacy of your services various audience groups and the relative maturity of some channel interaction patterns could have major impacts in the success of a cross-channel experiences. This last point may just be a factor of time as our industry moves forward and more established interaction patterns are recognised by end users.

Conclusion

Obviously designing services involving multiple channels is a lot more complex than the above nine heuristics. However, over time I have been surprised how often I have seen a failure in a system that can be attributed back to one or more of these points. Use them at the start of a project or half way through, it doesn’t really matter. I consistently find them a useful tool for informing decisions throughout the design process. Happy New Year!

References
Pirolli, P. (2007). Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information. Oxford University Press.

Spool, J. M., Perfetti, C., & Brittan, D. (2004). Designing for the scent of information. User Interface Engineering.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed what you read then please do share it, I’m always appreciative of the support.  You can also follow me on Twitter here.

The Trouble with Resumption: Transitions in a modern service ecosystem

“Where was I?” Three little words that all of us have muttered when we return to something that we put on hold. It could have been five minutes or five days but either way we speak them aloud in an effort to refresh our memory. The phrase “Where was I?” is interesting because it leads to a subject that I have been thinking a lot about: transitions.

When I talk about transitions in the context of a modern service I am talking about the movement of a customer across various channels, typically following a period of elapsed time. This movement could include:

  • moving from Channel A (e.g. a website) to Channel B (e.g. a retail store);
  • returning to the same channel that you previously visited (although when considering responsive web design we could be looking at the same website on a different device…).

From discussions and experience, the phrase transition doesn’t seem to do justice to the significant realignment required on the behalf of a customer when shifting channels.

Therefore I have started referring to these channel movements as Macro Transitions to differentiate them from the smaller transitions that we typically design on a day to day basis.

What, Where and Why

Commencement of an activity following a macro transition can cause considerable problems for a customer. Immediately following a channel shift there are three obvious challenges that must be overcome that I like to call the three W’s:

  • “What was I doing?” – The customer must remember what they were thinking about before they stopped;
  • “Where was I?” – The customer must remember the very point where they previously stopped;
  • “Why am I here?” – The customer must place the new channel in the context of their overall goal.

Several others before me have discussed the concept of cross channel understanding (Andrea Remini’s and Luca Rosati’s 2011 classic Pervasive Information Architecture is a must read). However, for the benefits of this post it is a term coined by Joel Grossman in 2006 (in an article for UX Matters) that has resonated with me: “Designing for Bridge Experiences”.

Building bridges: The role of 3rd party applications

The bridge metaphor is apt when considering macro transitions as it perfectly sums up the problem we face as experience designers. We are trying to get a customer to cross a giant chasm in order to continue their journey.

As we have moved further towards cross channel ecosystems, the construction of these metaphorical bridges has been increasingly provided by third party applications and services.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of applications and services whose success is based on their ability to construct a bridge across channels. Some popular candidates here would include Dropbox, Pinterest, Evernote and QR code readers.

Hopefully this small list demonstrates to you the type of applications and services I am talking about. Each of these services or applications have the ability to reduce a customers pain when making a macro transition:

  • Dropbox: I can access files from any device I choose. I no longer have to worry about remembering to leave the house with the right file when i want to work on something;
  • Pinterest: When shopping I can pin something I like to one of my boards so that I do not have to worry about finding the same item again from whatever website I was on. I can access that board from Pinterest on my phone when I am standing in the high street store thus allowing me to continue my purchase journey;
  • Evernote: In a similar fashion to Pinterest, I can create folders for my interests and email things to myself that I can access at a later point from any web browser;
  • QR code readers: If implemented correctly then QR codes have the ability to help a customer jump the chasm from the offline world to some deep place in the online world, for example a specific product page in a large website.

Is there a problem?

So whats the problem you might say? As our society has embraced digital, certain companies have spotted opportunities to offer bridge building services. Good on them!

Thats not my issue, I love my Dropbox and Evernote! My question concerns the number of people in society who are using these services. Lets take a quick look at the number of global users for some of these bridge building services we have mentioned:

  • Dropbox: 100 million users
  • Pinterest: 49 million users
  • Evernote: 60 million users

So if these figures are correct then we are talking in the region of 200 million users (assuming some level of overlap). At this point I should acknowledge that there are other bridge building behaviours (for example emailing yourself links) that customers use but these are difficult to measure.

However, it still seems to me that there are potentially a lot of web users out there attempting to perform these macro transitions without any help whatsoever. Thats a lot of people struggling with the “What, Where and Why” and thats my problem with many existing cross channel experiences.

The trouble with resumption

Easing the burden of a macro transition typically relies upon a customer being both digitally savvy and proactive enough to adopt a bridge building service or application. I would argue these types of individuals are in the minority when compared to the total target population of many services.

Maybe this is only a temporary problem given the state of technology, the publics level of digital literacy and the range of commercially available alternatives in 2013. Whilst I love the concept of Just in Time Interaction, we are not there yet.

In my opinion, as long as navigating a macro transition relies on the proactive downloading of an application then there will always be a significant proportion of our target audience who will struggle in our services.

I will revisit the topic of transitions again but to conclude I want to leave you with a quote from the fantastic Thinking in Systems by Diana Wright and Donella Meadows. The quote comes from an old Sufi story and to me sums up everything about dealing with transitions in modern service ecosystems:

You think that because you understand “one” that you must therefore understand “two” because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand “and”

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed what you read then please do share it, I’m always appreciative of the support.  You can also follow me on Twitter here.

When in doubt: Minimising uncertainty across a service

Doubt. We have all experienced it at some point or another. That nagging feeling about whether we should do something or not. Should we continue or just turn away, choosing another course of action.

In experience design we talk a lot about things like conversion rates, task failure, and the understanding of the customer. However, recently I have been thinking about the distinction between what we consider to be a genuine mistake (for example, a customer’s failure to see the big shiny call to action on the page) and the scenario where a customer has a complete understanding of the situation they are in, they just have a reluctance to proceed.

The wikipedia entry for Doubt states:

…Doubt brings into question some notion of a perceived “reality”, and may involve delaying or rejecting relevant action out of concerns for mistakes or faults of appropriateness.

It is the part about “may involve delaying or rejecting” that interests me. This would seem to imply a customer led conclusion (rightly or wrongly) that the action they are about to engage in will result in some negative consequence.

At this point I would like to make it clear that I am not talking about issues surrounding trust of an organisation per se. I am talking about doubts that a customer feels when they are unclear as to whether their current course of action will adversely affect them now or at some point in the future.

The formation of doubt across a service
Recently I have been thinking that many cross channel services have the potential to instil a higher level of doubt in users over the impact their actions are having across the entire service. Much has been written of the silo-like nature of many services whereby the design of customer touch points in Channel A are vastly different compared to Channel B. Recent examples I have seen include:

The big number on my letter says Account Number but the website is asking for a Customer Reference Number. I better ring them to check

Or

When I looked online yesterday this item had 30% off but now i’m in-store its full price. Ill check on my phone…oh its a different website again…

Remember I am not talking about customer confusion or misunderstanding here (these topics warrant further blog posts themselves). I am talking about a customer having a clear idea of where they are in the system but being reluctant to proceed.

Seeking reassurance
So we find ourselves in a situation whereby a customer is aware of their location in our wider service but due to disparities between our channels they are experiencing a high level of doubt. What typically happens in this situation?

A channel shift. More specifically a shift to a channel that will provide us with a greater sense of reassurance. For example, moving from a “Top Tasks Only” mobile site to the main desktop. Or moving from a desktop to a call centre. Therefore the consequences of these moments of doubt are hitting services twofold:

  • Customers are typically switching to more expensive methods of engagement, for example call centres vs. digital channels;
  • Customers are delaying (or even discontinuing) their engagement with the service, thus adversely affecting conversion rates.

Designing to mitigate the formation of doubt
So how can we design in such way as to mitigate or eliminate the effect that these moments of doubt can have in a service? The discussion around the design of cross channel ecosystems is vast but for the benefits of this blog post lets frame a “moment of doubt” for a customer as follows:

I am in an emotional state because what I am doing is really important to me. Here I am about to proceed with Action X. However, I notice that there is a discrepancy that is jarring with what I know about the system. If I get this wrong, Bad Thing Y is bound to happen. I have alarm bells going off in my head! Should I proceed?

When thinking about doubt in this way, three factors immediately appear as having an effect:

  • Consistency: This will be a critical factor in the likelihood of a moment of doubt forming. Inconsistency across channels in terms of interaction design patterns, terminology and visuals will always set alarm bells off as they naturally imply a difference between what a customer has done before and what a customer is doing now. Differences subconsciously imply that I may be doing the wrong thing!;
  • Clarity of process: Am I aware of the next steps in the process with which I am engaged? Being aware of the bigger picture is critical to a customer when they are experiencing a moment of doubt. It enables a customer to better rationalise the potential consequences of proceeding. It enables a customer to start to ask themselves if their concern is a showstopper that absolutely requires clarification, a minor inconvenience or not a problem at all.
  • Feedback: If I have experienced a moment of doubt during my journey through the service, it is the application of well designed feedback that will alleviate my fears. Good feedback provides that reassurance that we are seeking whenever we feel unsure. Likewise the lack of good feedback is likely to result in an unnecessary channel shift as the customer seeks assurance that they have done the right thing (Avoidable Customer Contact to use the parlance of a call centre manager I have been working with).

Conclusion
My intention with this blog post has been to explore the idea that there maybe value in making a distinction between moments of confusion (“how do i do this?”) and moments of doubt (“I am uncertain whether to proceed”) within a service.

In my opinion, the successful mitigation of moments of doubt would require a holistic service view to be taken in order to identify the interplay between channels. Moments of doubt would appear to be highly contextual in nature as they are inherently made up of a customers wider fears about what it is that they are trying to do. Therefore, your customers doubts will likely be formed based on their perceived interplay of your entire service rather than just the channel they find themselves in at the time.

If this is the case then this leads me to question if most service providers have the level of cross channel understanding required to successfully mitigate these risks?

Somehow I doubt it.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed what you read then please do share it, I’m always appreciative of the support.  You can also follow me on Twitter here.

Designing a service no one wants to use

Lets face it some kinds of services or products are not sexy and never will be. Completing your tax return, applying for a student loan, applying for benefits online. Sure they are important services that need to exist, but they will never be enjoyable for the people using them. No body ever woke up and said:

Today I am going to go online and fill out my tax return. Bring. It. On.

So as designers, what do we do when we find ourselves asked to improve the experience of such services? Our target audience does not want to engage with us, they find us annoying and bureaucratic. Our customers perceive us as a necessary evil to be completed as quickly as possible. For a while now I have been forming a way of thinking about how to approach the design of these, what I call, necessary evil services.

Value vs. Pain

Scott Jenson proposed a very succinct approach for thinking about experience that he calls the value vs. pain model. The simple model states that a user will use a product or service if the value obtained outweighs the pain of doing so. When designing necessary evil services it is easy to see how we minimise pain. The user experience design community has developed hundreds of tools and techniques for reducing pain in services and products.

But on the other side of Scott Jenson’s model is the elusive creature “value”. It could be argued that many necessary evil services have a high value to customers that will always out way the pain. How else could we explain the poor design that many Government and public sector experiences get away with ? Whilst this may be true wouldn’t it be nice if we could identify a method for adding experiential value beyond simply the successful completion of the service? What if customers completed their tax return and walked away with something extra?

Experience Realms

In their excellent book The Experience Economy (Seriously. Read it.), Pine and Gilmore (2011) proposed that an experience could engage a customer across a number of dimensions. Two particularly important dimensions proposed were:

  • Guest Participation: What is the level of participation that the customer has in the experience? Are they passive observers or active participants?
  • Connection: What connection unites customers to the experience? Is the customer’s attention engaged with the experience from a distance (absorption) or are they physically or virtually engaged as part of the experience itself (immersion).

By combining the dimensions of guest participation and connection then fundamentally four types of experiences can be defined.Four types of experience shown in a quadrant: entertainment, educational, esthetic, escapist

Pine and Gilmore’s Experience Realms from The Experience Economy (2011)

  • Entertainment: These are the kinds of experiences we are most familiar with as we passively absorb a stage performance, watch TV or listen to music;
  • Education: The customer is actively engaged in the experience in an effort to increase their knowledge. They are a form of interactive learner.
  • Escapist: These types of experience are much more immersive than traditional forms of entertainment, for example computer games or engaging in sports or gambling;
  • Esthetic: In an esthetic experience a customer is fully immersed in the experience but cannot have an effect upon it. For example, staring at a famous work of art or landscape, sitting in your favourite coffee shop reading. Essentially getting lost in the experience.

For a while now I have been interested by the combination of these experiential realms with the Value vs. Pain model. It seems to me that these experiential realms can be used to identify opportunities for designing on the “value” side of the fence.

Education as an experiential value add

Lets take the conversation back to designing necessary evil services. Typically audiences for these types of services are reluctant to engage and are desperate to finish quickly. Do they want to be entertained? Unlikely. If we try to design in such an element then we risk anger as much as engagement (believe me i’ve tried). Do they want to have an immersive experience whereby they simply “got lost in the moment with their tax return”? Weirdos! In my opinion there is only one viable option for adding experiential value in these types of scenarios: education.

How often have we seen services make, what appears to the end customer, crazy requests or non-sensical demands? How often does the flow of a website appear strange or repetitious? How often do services dictate obscure timescales with no rhyme nor reason for them (“Your application will be returned to you in 28 days”).

Often behind the scenes of these services there are genuine reasons for the design of the service being the way it is. For example, strict policy mandates, infrastructure limitations or inflexible legal requirements. Organisations expect customers of that service to understand all of these factors implicitly.

Customers of these types of services may not enjoy or want to use them, but in my experience they can obtain value by being educated in why things are the way they are. Where are the opportunities in your service or product that a customer can be educated about the situation with which they find themselves? Can you explain in more detail why it will take 28 days for their application to be returned? Can you explain why they are ineligible? Can you explain why they need to fill in more information as a result of their previous answers? Can you simply help them understand more about what it is in which they are engaged?

Incorporating sexy interactions or entertaining videos into your services may have an effect but when it comes to necessary evil services I have consistently seen the introduction of educational elements as having the greatest impact on the experience of the customer. Adopting an educational design perspective can:

  • orientate the customer and make them feel more in control
  • manage the customers expectations (after all you are the one setting them!)
  • empower the customer by making them feel more knowledgeable
  • aid the customers engagement with other touchpoints in the service

In my experience, designing educational opportunities into your service can be as big or small as you like. From deliberate structural changes to the flow of the system through to the simple addition of microcopy on website forms. I very much see the “educational value” as cumulative as a customer moves through the service.

The extent of this blog post has been framed around designing services that people don’t enjoy using. But looking beyond the design of nasty services for a moment, I am left intrigued by the simplicity of the experience realms and their potential to frame the positive, value adding, aspects of experiential design in general. Whilst as an industry we have numerous methods for identifying and reducing pain, many practitioners often struggle to frame the positive design directions that a product or service can be grounded in. So one final question from me would be this: What value can we as experience designers derive from this experiential framework?

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