There are many terms and acronyms that have snuck into the vernacular of marketing folks over the past few years – most web-related. Social media, SEO, click thrus and apps. Broadband adoption, short codes and CMS. And whoever could have predicted that a widget would now mean something real rather than metaphoric.
There’s another term that’s risen with the web that’s equally important but that doesn’t get nearly as much love or understanding as it should. Without it the web would be useless, but it’s not a technology or a programming language. It’s ignored by Flash-happy agency developers. To the extent that marketers are aware of the term at all most use it wrong – as in “The user will have a GREAT experience when they come to our ‘upload your worst enemy’s image and paste it on a virtual toilet-roll’ ‘viral’ microsite.
I’m talking about User Experience Design, otherwise known as UX or UE. Really though it’s much better to think of it as plain old user experience, with no caps. Because even though UX is a critical digital discipline with lots of smart science behind it, most importantly it’s also the term that describes what happens when customers and consumers intersect with your brand. And not just online, everywhere. Evidence suggests that in general the experience is by no means uniform or even uniformly good.
I believe that companies are in business to understand and serve their customers. The concept of service is of obvious importance to any business. Take retail for example. How you’re treated by a sales person in-store is typically a big determinant of how or whether you choose to spend your money. It’s why retailers came out tops in Forrester’s recent Customer Experience rankings. Retailers like Best Buy, whose initiatives like The Geek Squad and their generally knowledgeable floor staff show they’re on the right track. Unlike their erstwhile biggest competitor.
Of course there are lots of other ways in which consumers interact with companies and each one provides an opportunity to deliver a positive or negative experience. It might be a call to customer service, a visit to the website for information or to purchase a product, an expanding web banner ad that blanks out anything of real value on a web page or an email blast. Every touchpoint provides an opportunity for the company to serve its customers by providing a great user experience. One that is specifically designed to help them get something done – complete a task, pay a bill, research information, buy something. Mostly though these interactions fall short. Why?
Two main reasons:
1) They’re designed from the company’s point of view, not the customer’s.
2) They’re not coordinated.
Let’s take these points together. Companies, despite paying lip-service to the empowerment of the consumer, are mostly still behaving in the same old manner of yore (didn’t people say things like ‘yore’ in the 90’s)? They know the consumer is empowered. They instinctively get that crappy experiences damage their brand – they see it every day in the social monitoring reports. And yet they struggle to really do anything about it.
Truly it’s not their fault. Not only are most marketers and other corporate communications professionals still siloed into disciplines that are as relevant to modern day business as massed tank battalions in Germany are to our current security needs, they’re also incorrectly incentivized. Their performance is mostly judged on (self defeating) company-centric goals like ‘awareness’, lead generation, email capture, and yes, the dreaded ‘click thru’ metric – under the massive misperception that those things (OK, I’ll give you awareness) actually have a positive impact on sales. (Feel free to debate me on this).
Companies need to look at their business in a completely different way. A customer-centric way. I’m an advocate of hiring and empowering a Chief Customer Officer, someone who is personally responsible (among other things) for the overall consumer experience when they interact with his/her company – at every touchpoint, across every medium. Genuine CRM.
The CCO and their empowered team will need a new, media agnostic (finally a use for that term that makes sense) discipline called User Experience as their tool and yardstick.
This broad definition of User Experience takes much of the thinking of its digital component – user insight, persona development, usability testing, on-going optimization, etc – and applies it to appropriate, inter-connected tools and metrics designed to ensure that the experience at any given touchpoint is media-appropriate, positive and consistent with the holistic, strategic plan developed by the CCO and team. And the CCO needs new incentives against which to be judged. Incentives that supports consumer-centric goals that really do impact sales. Net Promoter is a good start.
Many companies are beginning to move in this direction. It’s hard, but it’s better than the alternative.