Why Good Experience Design Is Great for Business

The makers of Roku, a popular device that streams video from the internet to a TV, put just one word on the front of its user guide: “Hi!”

The idea behind this simple greeting is that it’s human, engaging, and builds trust with consumers, as if a friend is about to walk them through the device’s setup. Its conversational tone sets the expectation that the guide won’t barrage them with technobabble as they try to follow it and connect the device. In fact, the instructions are very simple. Roku is one of many companies that has mastered experience design.

User experiences matter to even the smallest of enterprises. Think about all of the customers who visit your retail store, get help from a sales rep, order a service, set up a product, access your website from a mobile device, or contact tech support. Their interactions with your company or brand often determine whether or not they choose to do business with you again.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently discussed the importance of user-centered design with three experts: Klaus Kaasgaard, head of experience design for Intuit’s Small Business Group, who led the redesign of the all new QuickBooks; Fabio Sergio, executive creative director at frog, a global product strategy and design firm; and Mike Wittenstein, founder of Storyminers, a customer experience and service design consultancy.

Here’s what they had to say.

ISBB: Why do businesses need an experience-design strategy?

Kaasgaard: Design should not be thought of as a “nice to have.” It has become a business imperative and a competitive differentiator. With each touch point, a customer has a good or a bad experience. The overall experience it creates is your brand.

Sergio: Experience strategy is in many ways quickly overtaking the role played in the past by brand strategy. Today brands can say whatever they want about “this is who we are,” but if the experience they create with their products and services is not in line with the expectation they have set, they may not succeed.

Wittenstein: Customer experience is everything you do for your customers, plus everything you do to them and how it makes them feel. The for things add value. The to things (like making customers wait on the phone, forgetting their name, or crossing the line from self-service to no service) are all detractors. Most people judge their experience with you based how they feel. Those feelings are often as valuable as the service or the product you’re offering.

What common mistakes do businesses make regarding their customers?

Wittenstein: The #1 mistake is to offer a selling experience, when what customers really want is a buying experience. Selling is about control and price. Buying is about options and value. If you’re taking away steps in their day, putting minutes back in — if you’re making it effortless for them to work with you and perhaps delighting them unexpectedly — your customers will appreciate it by becoming word-of-mouth ambassadors for your brand.

Sergio: Not thinking about an experience strategy at all, or developing a strategy and then not executing it well, is a mistake. Without a human-centered process in which empathy is key, it is every hard to design for many people in the same way. Take someone off the street and strap him to a roller coaster: If that person is an experienced jet fighter pilot, he might find the ride dull. On the other hand, if that person has never been on a roller coaster and is afraid of heights, it will be a terrifying experience.

You have to account for the fact that humans are complex, not just driven by rational or emotional needs. You have to understand how your product is positioned and what levers to move to make sure you resonate with customers across the spectrum.

How does a business with a small budget develop an experience strategy?

Kaasgaard: Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What are they trying to accomplish? What are their barriers, and how is the situation actually perceived or experienced by them? In short, develop empathy and an understanding of their situation.

Wittenstein: Become your own mystery shopper and visit every available channel: store, online, phone, even fax. Write down a scenario (like buy online and return in store) and your expectations. [Then do it.] Note how well or not-so-well your people, processes, and brand respond. Also observe how each of the behaviors, comments, or facial expressions of your staff make you feel.

Then look for ways to make the experience easier and more delightful for your customers, more engaging for your employees (yes, you have to make it fun and easy for them, too), and more profitable for yourself. The holy grail of customer experience design is to take initiatives that meet these three criteria at the same time.

What smaller businesses do it well?

Sergio: Nest, the startup that reinvented the home thermostat and smoke detector. [It was] co-founded by Apple’s former iPod team leader, Tony Fadell, who has successfully differentiated his company by merging experience with elegance. Also, Jawbone, the award-winning purveyor of noise-canceling headsets and audio equipment. The company has grown fast by putting out products that provide a good user experience, and it also is fast to market with updates as it learns from mistakes.

And the last word?

Wittenstein: If you are truly serious about earning a lasting differentiation for your brand, you should make listening and responding to complaints one of your top three customer experience initiatives — and never let it fall below #3.

About Kristin Ewald

Kristin Ewald, a former Time Inc. editor based in California, has written frequently for the SMB audience. She is also a small business owner who helps companies write and produce user-friendly websites.
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