Strategy 8 posts

Treating Users as Customers: Designing the end-to-end

Jan
6

Posted by Frank Garofalo | Topic: Strategy

6 January 2011

"Treating Users as Customers: Designing the end-to-end" (what a brilliant concept), is the title of an article by Steve Workman, a consultant at PA Consulting Group in London, UK. Workman begins his article with a discussion about how for web designers it is easy to divide elements of the user interface and/or the user experience into small parts. He states: "Breaking an experience into small parts allows the details to be worked through and perfected." This is true. However, only looking at the situation with a magnifying glass can miss details seen at the big picture level, as Workman describes: "It's rare that web designers think of the bigger picture - not just the end-to-end journey of a user, but the entirety of a customer's experience." The full span of the customer experience can take numerous weeks to occur, or "it can be as immediate as someone being told about an app, downloading it, playing with it for five minutes, and leaving a review." I strongly agree with Workman's point of: "...the need for designers to think big in order to deliver customer experience has never been so important."

The path a customer takes to arrive to your user interface can greatly affect the expectations they will have of your interface/system. Workman breaks these path/expectation combinations into three categories, to quote:

  • Search gives the lowest expectation because relatively little information is contained within search results.
  • Advertising often paints a rosy picture of products or services so expectations are higher.
  • Social networks produce the most realistic expectations, as this is the only channel where both negative information and independent praise can be found.

Trying to match what a customer is expecting with methods to develop the interface/system to meet those expectations, UX professionals usually turn to generating use cases. Workman states:

Many designers simply view this touchpoint as a single use case, and attempt to group people into buckets to predict what they will do. If customers expect more than a use case can describe, it is entirely possible that they won't be happy with a product or service - their expectations won’t be met.

With the increased number of web sites and mobile apps available on the web, customers' standards for customer support have also increased. I agree with Workman's thoughts on this:

A few years ago, a frustrated customer would simply sigh and give up on a difficult product, or try to accomplish the same thing using another service. More recently, though, people have been treating web sites and "garage-made" apps as if they were products from multi-national corporations, expecting the same level of service from a one-man band as they would get from their electric company.

This is now presenting one-man bands as well as companies of all sizes with several new challenges; "...expectations for support are also going up, often faster than the companies can keep up with," says Workman. He goes on to make the observation, which I agree with, of "...many companies, both large and small, are not providing the same quality of customer service that they provide for their core services as for their mobile apps... they make the mistake of assuming their application is good enough and their customers are technically savvy, so they don’t have to put much effort into customer support."

Looking at the big picture there are several actions that can be taken to improve the full experience of interacting with a company. Workman describes this as:

The customer's experience must be considered at all stages of UX design; the big picture should always affect in the design of the small picture, as each touchpoint in the ecosystem is crafted. Marketing teams must be involved in designing the customer experience, so that the holistic experience of using a service or interacting with a company conveys the right message every time.

Once again, the discussion leads towards collaboration with user experience, information technology, marketing, operations, and customer support. Customers today are expecting an open dialogue with a company to resolve any issues they may encounter. Not only are customer support departments being called upon to help resolve these issues quickly, but information about the issues need to be communicated efficiently to the other departments within the company so that the company can learn from these issues and better respond to the customers' needs thus moving towards the continual goal of providing the best experiences.

I'll wrap up this post with the last paragraph from Workman, which ties the idea together very well:

Thinking of the customer experience, rather than just the user experience, leads to a more complete product, one where customers’ expectations are met before, during, and after their journeys. Thinking of the big picture leads to happier customers, not just happier users.

Read Steve Workman's full article on UX Magazine at: http://uxmag.com/strategy/treating-users-as-customers

Information Architecture

Dec
28

Posted by Frank Garofalo | Topic: Strategy

28 December 2010

Introduction
Planning, designing, developing and building the user interface for a system has a plethora of parallels to constructing a house. Just as an architect for a house needs to plan the structural support for the house as well as the aesthetic design of the house, the same applies to planning the user interface for a system. Planning must occur for the functional development of the system, as well as for the aesthetic design of the system. But it isn't just that simple. There are business and consumer needs which factor into the equation, so the architect has to work within the threshold of the construction company's needs as well as meeting what the new home owner will want. Again, parallels exist from an architect for a house to planning a user interface. Considerations for the user interface need to be made for the business needs as well as the needs of the consumers. Overall, throughout the process there is a concept lying in the center trying to find this balance; that concept is called "information architecture."

The two primary items on either side of the balancing act for information architecture are 1) creative design, and 2) functionality / interaction. The other smaller players in the game at varying levels can typically include, but are not limited to: marketing, software, engineering, language translations, copy writing, and upper-management.

Planning for Information Architecture
When building a house, there are usually blueprints, material lists, schedules/timelines, and budgets. The same documents need to be generated when building an interface. Each of these documents are very important to have listed and detailed. This allows the key stakeholders for the project, in addition to the individuals actually working on the project, to know exactly what needs to occur. Sounds like another field is involved here… called project management. However, for this discussion I'm not going to focus on project management in relation to user experience and/or information architecture. Let’s further dive into the process of drafting blueprints in regard to information architecture. To quote renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, "You can use an eraser on the drafting table or a sledge hammer on the construction site." Planning and concept development are essential, or perhaps you need to invest in a large quantity of sledge hammers (which from another aspect could result in a low morale among workers since now they are tearing apart what they just built).

User Experience vs Information Architecture
The two concepts of user experience and information architecture go hand-in-hand. However, if a "high-level" of one exists, that doesn't automatically mean that a "high-level" of the other will exist. I think Oliver Reichenstein, co-owner and manager of Information Architects (MA Philosophy; former senior brand consultant at Interbrand), describes this well in his following quote: "Architects design houses that lead to a spectrum of experiences, some foreseen, some not. But they do not design all possible experiences one can have in a house." In other words, an extravagant house can be designed and constructed; however, just because the architect designed for a room to be the dining room, the home owner could place a billiards table in that space instead of a dining room table.

The same is true for user interfaces. A quality interface can be produced with excellent information architecture, however all the possible use cases that could occur when in the hands of a consumer are almost impossible to conjure up. Yes, I'm stating that in my opinion, even a leading user experience expert would be challenged to account for all possible use cases for a given product or system. Although, through user testing and observing individuals, better use cases can be generated. To further explain, just because a team of designers and developers define a list of use cases, this does not mean that the consumer will use the system exactly as the use cases had described. This introduces a whole other topic where I've observed numerous occurrences of users essentially forming "hacked" methods of using an interface or system to achieve what they want the system to really be able to do in comparison to what the designers and developers plan with the use cases.

Recap
During the blueprint phase of planning, designing, developing, creating, and/or building a user interface, try to work out as many ideas and issues as possible. Build prototypes to test the concept and observe people interacting with the prototype. This is a cyclical, iterative process… make changes with a "pencil" and try to reduce/avoid the need for a "sledge hammer."

Find a balancing between what is visually pleasing on the screen and what is a natural interaction… in other words a middle ground between creative design and functionality / interaction with the goal to achieve a strong information architecture.

Why Products Suck

Dec
1

Posted by Frank Garofalo | Topic: Strategy

1 December 2010
I recently read an article on TechCrunch.com by David Barrett titled "Why Products Suck (And How To Make Them Suck Less)." In the article he discusses how making a product not suck (and to avoid the "tar pit" of sucking) is actually a complex challenge - if it was easier, more products would be on the market that didn't suck.

Barrett's 5 key points are:
1. It only takes one person to make your product suck
From Barrett's discussion on this point, I liked the following statement: "Convey to your team and the world that not sucking is your primary goal."

2. Nobody ever got fired for sucking
In other words, hire intelligent people - Barrett shares the quotation: "A people hire A people, B people hire C people."

3. It's easier to suck more than suck less
This point made me laugh, especially when he elaborated and said: "Sucking is like a tar pit: once you step in, your struggles only pull you in deeper. After you make that one product compromise to satisfy some crazy customer, then you’ve got to support that setting." We certainly have run into that issue. Customer A wants specific features as a solution to their current challenges. But the feature is so specific to Customer A, now whenever you have to upgrade the system for all your other customers you have to upgrade these small plug-ins specific to Customer A. It causes such a headache...

4. There are more ways to suck than to not suck
Barrett's states for this point: "If sucking is like a tar pit, then building a product that doesn't suck is like walking a tightrope over La Brea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Brea_Tar_Pits)."

5. Customers demand sucky products
Ok so no offense to customers, but we all do it as customers without even realizing it. We want products to align exactly with our needs, but do those needs actually span across all the customers of the product? One strive we are taking towards remedying this situation is to make our web-based products more adaptive and anticipative to what the customer needs at the given moment. I certainly agree with the following statement made by Barrett: "…not all complaints are equal: complaints that you don't support feature X are far better than complaints about how feature Y sucks."

Read Barrett's full article at: http://techcrunch.com/2010/11/06/why-products-suck-and-how-to-make-them-suck-less/

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Oct
24

Posted by Frank Garofalo | Topic: Strategy

24 October 2010
As I thought about posting this blog entry, I did think about the irony of posting an entry about the value of blogging. However, over the past month I've had several small to medium-sized business owners asking me about blogs and if they should blog.

Here are my suggestions:
  1. Thought Leader
    You can go about this in at least two ways:
    A) Post news announcements about your organization or company on your blog. This is an excellent method to inform others about successes and key information about your company. Blogs are helpful for announcements since the blog will already include a date stamp with the blog entry.
    B) Post your thoughts on trends within your industry. This is truly where the "thought leader" concept comes into play. By sharing your thoughts on trending topics of your industry through your blog, can help get your name and your company's name out into the industry. If people enjoy reading about your thoughts, they may return again - hence driving traffic to your web site.

  2. Social Media
    Once you have posted an entry to your blog, use social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to inform others about your recent blog post. This can be done by simply submitting to the social media network the title of your entry and with a link back to the entry on the blog. By providing the link back your the entry, this is another method to drive traffic to your web site. The key here is to choose the title of your blog entry very carefully.

  3. Two-way Conversation with Customers
    Blogs can enable you and your company to have a two-way conversation with your current customers and even with potential customers. Among consumers the ability to have a two-way conversation with companies has become very popular. For more of my thoughts on this read my April 2010 blog entry "Have a 2-way conversation with your customers."
One of the challenges with blogging, once you have decided to start blogging, is finding time to continue blogging with a busy schedule. Don't let your blog go for too long without posting a new entry. Any following that you may have been able to establish with your blog can quickly end if you don't continually add new content. Set time aside in your schedule as often as you deem necessary to write a new blog post.

Hopefully these tips and suggestions are helpful. If you have additional thoughts, share them: Twitter @cyberview

The New Keywords

Jul
13

Posted by Frank Garofalo | Topic: Strategy

13 July 2010
Search Engine Keywords (image)The model of using keywords to promote web sites is not as effective as it used to be. Most people will agree that Google has become the dominant search engine on the Internet. However what does Google think about keywords?

In September 2009, posted an article on the Google Webmaster Central Blog entitled Google Doesn't Use Keywords Meta Tag in Web Ranking. So if Google doesn't use keywords, then what do they use? According to the article Google doesn't completely disregard all the meta tag data, however their web search engine primarily focuses on things, such as "links pointing to a web page."

Now how can you generate more links pointing to your web site from other sites. Two suggestions would be to utilize blogs and social media. Through these two mediums, links to your organization's web site can be generated. This can serve several purposes.

Some people have taken on the concept of striving to be an online content expert, also known as a thought leader, for their specific field of expertise by posting regular articles on their blog and spreading the publicity of those articles through social media networks (such as Twitter and Facebook). For more information about one way to do this, read my post about the Open Graph Protocol.

Facebook Like Button

Jun
16

Posted by Frank Garofalo | Topic: Strategy

16 June 2010

Facebook Like ButtonOne of our clients asked us how the Facebook "like" button worked, so we figured we would create a blog post about it.

Facebook has provided a way for their users to share with their friends various things that they "like" including web sites on the Internet. A web site simply adds the Facebook "like" button to the pages of their web site. If a visitor to the site clicks the button, Facebook will be initiated to ask them for their Facebook user account. Then on the visitor's Facebook account, it will indicate on their list of activities (called their "Wall / News Feed") within Facebook that the person "likes" the web site. The friends of that visitor will then be able to see the individual's activity list and the description will provide a link from Facebook to the web site.

Or in other words, it's a way to get people to tell their friends about things they like and provide their friends a way to go find out more information about it. In the end, the visitors to your web site help to advertise for your company/organization.

We use the Facebook "Like" button on our blog - see directly below, under the section "Like It. Tweet It. Buzz It. Digg It."

For more details visit: http://developers.facebook.com/plugins

Strengthening Alumni Connections

Apr
12

Posted by Frank Garofalo | Topic: Strategy

12 April 2010
Purdue Presidents Council Talent BankLast Spring the Purdue University President's Council (http://www.garofaloglobal.com/pctalentbank/) approached us and asked us to work on a project to help them strengthen the connection with Purdue alumni. The goal was to provide alumni with opportunities to give back to the University through methods besides financial, such as sharing their skills and expertise.

The idea for the President's Council Talent Bank was born. The concept was to provide Purdue faculty, staff, and students a method to "cast" alumni for volunteering roles needed. For example a professor teaching a senior design course could post an opportunity for alumni to volunteer to mentor students on their senior design projects. Another example would be a president of a student organization looking for an alum to be a keynote speaker at an organization dinner/banquet. The "opportunities" are endless through the variety of roles alumni can be cast.

Cyber View's content management system, CyberStudio, is running at the core of the Talent Bank to manage user accounts as well as the opportunities posted. Social media such as Twitter and Adobe Wave were utilized as a means to inform members when new volunteer opportunities have been posted and approved.Cyber View is proud to have worked on this project to help Boilermakers young and wise be able to connect through this on-line system.

Have a 2-way conversation with your customers

Apr
2

Posted by Frank Garofalo | Topic: Strategy

2 April 2010
With the continual growth of "social media networks" such as Twitter and Facebook, new mediums of interacting with your customers are now available to business owners of all sizes. However many businesses are attempting to use the "old school" mentality of pushing out information to their customers using this new medium of social media networks. In this case they are missing the boat, to use a metaphor.

The real power with social media is the ability to engage your customers in a two-way conversation. You are able to receive feedback from your customers in real-time. All you have to do is monitor it. Now this doesn't mean that you have to be at your computer 24/7, but you do need to be listening. Tools have been developed, such as CoTweet (recently acquired by ExactTarget), which aid in monitoring the two-way conversations you are having with your customers. Through these conversations it is even possible to engage your most loyal customers as well as your most disgruntled customers.

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