The Fundamentals of Digital Experience Project Planning

Planning-Meeting

No one said implementing a new digital experience project would be easy, and if they did then they have totally underestimated what was involved.

Implementing a customer-centric digital transformation plan involves a lot of moving parts. Unfortunately, most of these projects quickly lose focus on the “customer-centric” part and become all about the “digital” part.

Let the Experience Drive the Systems Design

Focusing on technology, although still complicated, is in many ways the least challenging part of changing the digital experience. We can go out and look at all the fancy vendor demos, issue requests for proposals, run proof of concepts. It’s an easy way to show that we are making progress on the project.

However, putting technology first often means we end up either digitizing the existing process without making things easier for the customer, or we end up having systems limitations drive the experience when instead it should be the desired experience that drives the system’s design.

Avoiding the tool trap is easy. Don’t allow yourself to start talking about technology and software until you understand what the real challenges are. What problems are you trying to solve? Why are there problems? What do those problems cost your organization? And what are you willing to do to make those problems go away?

3 Fundamentals of DX Project Planning

When it comes to transforming the digital experience, the problems you need to solve aren’t only internal ones, they are first and foremost those of your customers. And only by exploring three essential aspects of planning a digital experience project will you truly address those problems.

1. Know Your Customer

I’m sure you know who your customers are. You probably know what pages on your website they visit, what whitepapers they download. You know what products they buy.

You probably also do many follow-up surveys to find out what they thought of their interactions with your brand. Ninety percent of your customers ignore those surveys because they’re about scoring your internal processes, not fulfilling a customer’s need.

Knowing your customer is not about knowing how they interact with your existing processes, it’s about knowing why they do what they do. What problems are they trying to solve? The digital experience shouldn’t be defined by what your products do, it should be defined by what your customers need.

2. Follow Your Customer

Customer journey maps can be a very useful tool, and I’m sure we’ve all developed them. They help define strategies and approaches to delivering experiences.

The problem with these customer journey maps is that the customers don’t see them and don’t always follow along with the nice routes we’ve mapped out for them. Customers drop in and out of the theoretical maps. Typical customer lifecycles are made up of many, often disjointed, customer journeys.

While using techniques like analytics may help bring some of those disjointed journeys to light, the best way to truly follow the customer is to walk in their footsteps and perform the tasks they do to solve their problems. By conducting a practical test of the digital experience, you can discover the bottlenecks and roadblocks that need fixing and identify opportunities to deliver additional value.

3. Understand Your Customer

Delivering real value to the customer comes from examining the gaps between the multiple disjointed customer journeys.

Whenever customers aren’t interacting with your systems is when they are understanding and refining their needs, deciding what solutions or products can address that need, and doing research on a purchase, support, and a wide variety of related information that will add up to the total experience.

On one project I was involved with we interviewed over 100 customers to walk us through what their job was (not how they interacted with our brand). We discovered most of them went through around 35 process steps between identifying a need and resolving that need. We as a company were directly involved in just eight of those steps. We knew a lot about those eight steps — we had all the analytics — but we knew nothing about the other 27.

Once we understood what the customer was looking to achieve in the instances they were not interacting with us, we were able to provide valuable content to speed up the process. We also redesigned aspects of the digital experience with our brand to ensure we were asking for the right information at the right time to smooth interactions and make the overall experience as frictionless as possible.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what delivering a successful digital experience is all about: making it easy for the customer to solve a problem, or fulfill a need?

 

 

Your DX Testing Isn’t Done Till it Passes the ‘Buddy’ Test

Buddy

“Do you think our customers will like the image of the kitten better than the one of the puppy?”

If you think digital experience testing comes down to resolving questions like this, you are missing the bigger picture.  I written before about how we should be designing for a frictionless experience, and testing is a large part of that process.

Testing Means More Than Click Troughs

Test to make sure that your content — text, graphics, video, audio — help drive the overall experience. It doesn’t matter if the kitten gets more hits than the puppy if neither helps the customer progress through the experience to get the information they need. Look at click-through rates and subsequent customer actions.

Check to make sure the graphics are composed and positioned to help the customer on their journey. For instance, shots that guide people’s eyes in the direction of the next call to action generate far more click-throughs than thoughtfully posed shots of smiling models looking straight out of the page.

Refining the digital experience focuses on the user interface as well as content design, but you also need to make sure you understand how they work together.

Test to make sure the page layouts, paths, text and graphics are market and culturally appropriate. Does the experience change based on the level of the customer engagement and where they are in their journey? Is the logged-in experience more personalized than the general ‘guest’ experience? It should be.

Do you have your customer journey mapped out and know which parts of the digital experience map to which steps in that journey?

How about the language you are using? Is your website, mobile app, augmented reality solution, digital signage or whatever you are using to deliver the digital experience littered with jargon, acronyms and industry terms understandable to you and your development team, but meaningless to customers?

Names are important. Think about what you call something. Don’t expect the customer to know the terms you use internally. Pick names that the customer will recognize and use them consistently.

Don’t Take it From the Insiders, Ask Your Buddy

Once you’ve done your final internal testing, and maybe even a focus group or two, I’d suggest you employ the final and best test: the “Buddy” test.

Ask your family and friends to walk through your planned experience design. Make sure whoever does the testing has no knowledge of your industry, your company processes, etc. The more removed they are from your role in designing, testing and delivering digital experiences, the better.

Ask them to do a task a new customer would want to do, like create an account and find some basic information.

It’s amazing how often designers leave out basic information from online interactions because once we become integrated into a particular environment, we get to the stage where we have an almost intuitive baseline of knowledge — knowledge someone outside of the community would not have. Answering “it’s obvious” to any question raised during testing is not acceptable.

If your other friends repeatedly ask the same question about a part of your digital process, that part of your process is broken. You need to fix it. And not in a way that makes it easier for you, but in a way that it makes it easier for the customer to complete their task.

Remember, it doesn’t matter which picture gets more clicks if I can’t find out how your products can help me, how to buy them, or even where you do business or what time someone is available for me to talk to.

A Number By Any Other Name…

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All I wanted to do was give a business some money. Yet they seemed determined to make it as difficult as possible for me to pay my bill.

We had received our first invoice from them as a paper bill in the mail (how 20th century!), but as we pay all of our regular bills digitally we decided to go online and pay that way. Two steps into the website process it asked for our Account Number; which was not printed anywhere on the paper bill, nor on the covering letter.

A few clicks and we managed to find our account profile online. Still nothing labeled as “Account Number” anywhere. OK we’ll pay by check this time around just to make sure it gets there. Then we saw the following note on the payment instructions: “Please include your account number on the check.” – You mean the “Account Number” that you haven’t told us?

A few more clicks around the website and we eventually found an email address to send a question about how we could find this elusive number. The response was “Oh we get asked that a lot. You just go to your account profile and combine the abbreviation from Box 3 with the number from Box 5 so the account number looks something like ABC1245.”

As I ran this frustrating scenario back through my mind (after I had managed to pay the bill) it raised several Customer Experience questions:

  1. If you have customers repeatedly asking the same question about a part of your process, then that part of your process is broken. You need to fix it. And not in a way that makes it easier for you, but in a way that it makes it easier for the customer to complete their task, like giving you money on time!
  2. If there’s a vital identifying piece of information that customers need to be able to interact with your business processes, then make sure it’s included on any, and all, customer correspondence or interaction, be it physical or digital.
  3. Names are important. Think about what you call something. Don’t expect the customer to know the terms you use internally. Pick names that the customer will recognize and use it consistently.

As a further example of this last point, I once worked with a company where one of the product lines was known internally by its engineering name. No-one outside the company used the term to describe that sort of product. No-one in the industry, and certainly none of the company’s customers or prospects did. But the engineering name was embedded throughout the company’s processes and even used on the website.

No-one ever searched for that name and as a result it never came up in search engine results and online lead generation for that product line was almost non-existence. After a lot of discussion we eventually got the product people to agree to using the more common name on the website – i.e. the term that customers and prospects used when searching. In a week the relevant webpages started popping up in the top 10 search results. In a year the lead generation increased exponentially with a resultant growth in product revenue.

The customers were also happier, and support costs dropped, because they could now find the information they needed quickly and easily.

All because the name was changed to the one that the customers used.

Improve customer experience with a little improvisation

Improv

While I enjoy TV shows like “Whose Line is it Anyway” that use improvisation techniques to deliver some fun comedy moments, the thought of doing something similar myself had never crossed my mind. I’m happy standing in front of an audience telling stories as part of my presentations, as long as I know what my story is before I start, but improvising? I didn’t think it was my sort of thing.

Until I went on an off-site management retreat meeting a couple of years ago. The first two days of the retreat were devoted to training led by Second City Works, the corporate training arm of the renowned improv comedy club in Chicago. I’ll be honest I was a little uncomfortable at the thought of this sort of training, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying the experience and I learned several things to use in future public speaking engagements, as well as in the daily interactions we all have in the work place.

In the days following the training I began to realize that several of the lessons and techniques from those two days could also be applied to the way that companies deliver the customer experience. Below are just a few of those ideas that when applied to interacting with customers at any point, be it digitally online, physically in person in a store, or conversationally over the phone, could add up to an overall improvement in the customers experience.

Listen

This may seem obvious, but listening is not something that we, either as individuals, or companies, are very good at. I recently wrote an article on how companies are good at collecting data about customers, but not that efficient at using the data to really understand customer needs. As individuals, we focus on our own work, needs, and the processes that drive them. Consequently we tend to position any interaction with others into our own framework. We need to learn to listen, and understand what customers really want, what are they trying to achieve, and how do we fit into their framework of needs and processes.

Thank you

Acknowledging an interaction with someone is probably the easiest way to improve a customer’s experience. We all feel better when we walk into a store and someone makes eye contact with us and acknowledges that we are there. A simple “Thank You” goes a long way, be it in person, or online. Those can be anything from a simple pop-up when you complete an online form, to a personalized follow up email that shows that we listen, and understand the customer’s problem, or to thank them for a purchase and welcome them to our customer community.

Yes, and…..

No one likes to be told “No.” It sends the wrong message to customers and can bring a halt to the customer’s journey. There is a strong chance that overuse of negative statements will mean your customer will go elsewhere to solve their problem, or fulfill their need. Even if you don’t know the answer to a particular issue, or your system doesn’t have the information needed, there is nothing wrong with saying “we don’t know.” Instead of “No” how about serving up a response along the lines of “Yes, we understand your problem, and while we look into it why not try these few other things we can do for you…”

Understand where you are in the story

The basic structure of any story is that of three acts. The first is the set-up when a need or obstacle is identified. The second is the journey of discovery towards meeting the need or overcoming the obstacle. The third act describes the new reality once that need is fulfilled, or obstacle overcome. If you think about that in business terms, the classic story structure is also a description of the customer journey, awareness of a need (Act 1), research, selection, and purchase (Act 2), post sales ownership and support (Act 3). If you are mapping your various customer interaction points to the customer journey (and you should be), you also need to understand at what stage in the customer’s story those interactions happen. This will provide context and help define what you can do to help the customer continue along that journey.

Know who is the hero of the story

As I mentioned earlier we tend to look at any interaction from our own viewpoint, we see it as part of our own journey, or story. Yet we need to realize that the customer is the hero of his own story, not ours. When the two stories intersect we need to be able to empathize with the customer and see the journey from their perspective. If you know who the hero of any given story is, you can start to see the journey from their perspective, anticipate their needs, and help them solve their problems.

That sounds like exceptional customer experience to me.

Are you Delivering a Sunshine Experience?

SunriseIt’s amazing how even the brightest ray of sunlight can ruin months of work. Several years ago I was part of an industry team working on developing a set of standards for a defined group of symbols and colors to be used in the way that automotive service information was to delivered. We worked diligently for several months to come up with the right experience. Then we built a prototype and showed it to several service technicians who all liked what we had done.

Then we visited one technician to proudly show of our work, but he didn’t want to meet us in his office. He wanted to use the prototype in a real-life scenario. Outside, next to a big greasy machine! It was all going well until the sun came out from behind a cloud, hit the laptop screen and promptly made everything we had done unreadable; the color palette we had selected washed out and everything looked the same. Back to square one on designing the experience!

I was reminded of this after stopping to get gas on the way into the office yesterday morning. My local gas station has pumps with a nice big digital screen front and center. Once you have selected your gas and started pumping it plays a mix of short TV news and entertainment clips, along with some marketing messaging. Yesterday the rising sun was at just the right angle to make the screen almost unusable for both delivering the step by step instructions for purchasing and pumping gas, and for any of the digital marketing designed to engage and entertain me for the few minutes it took to fill the car. A simple lip across the top of the screen that would provide some shade would have probably fixed the problem.

Recently a friend of mine tweeted that it’s a mistake to only test your marketing content on giant monitors. You should review content on the mobile devices your users will use. Excellent advice, but based on experiences like the ones outlined above I believe that to ensure the sort of customer experience that we believe we are designing and delivering we should also test indoors and outdoors as sun glare and lighting conditions can impact the experience.

And not just the mobile devices either; as the customer experience moves beyond the browser, we should also be thinking about embedded screens in “Internet of Things” connected products, or seat backs, digital signage, or other outdoor static screens. The list is growing and so are the environmental factors that will impact the customer experience.

 

Sending the Wrong Email can be an Opportunity to do the Right Thing

email

We all get them every day. Emails that we delete without reading. Yet companies invest countless hours in developing email campaigns and messaging to try and catch our attention or interest just for us to ignore them. My wife and I were discussing recently the top email subject headers that means we will automatically delete a marketing email.

My wife’s top flag was anything that gave her an order to do something. Yesterday’s winner in that category was an email she received from a company that shouted “This is important information you need – Don’t Delete!” – The first thing she did? Deleted that email.

My pet peeve is over friendly emails from people I’ve never met, like this example from yesterday, “Reminder – Hey Alan, did you have a chance to review my email?” My response, check the company on the email address, not someone I do business with, then hit the Delete button.

Then there’s the emails from companies that you do interact with on a regular basis, but when you read it you think “How did I end up on that mailing list?” You delete it and don’t give it much thought beyond it ramping up an annoyance factor with the company that can eventually impact your overall customer experience.

But great brands and customer-aware companies can use a well-defined customer communications management strategy to turn that “How did I end up on this list?” moment into a positive experience rather than a negative one.

A case in point. Our car.

Although my family changes cars on a pretty regular basis we are pretty brand loyal. At any given time you can bet that someone in the family is driving an example from this particular brand’s line up. At the moment it’s my wife. It’s the eleventh example of the brand we’ve owned.

So imagine my surprise to receive an email from the company that was headed “We’re sorry to see you go.” It continued along the lines that the company had heard we had sold the car and wanted to ask a few questions of our experience with the brand, and why we’d moved on. Looking out the window I could still see the car sitting on the driveway. Yep, definitely on the wrong mailing list. I deleted the note, and didn’t think any more of it.

Until two days later.

A follow-up email arrived from the car company apologizing for the wrong email being sent. There was a well- worded message along the lines of “we know that you still own your car, and thanks for being a loyal customer.” This was followed with a note that by way of apology a small gift was in the mail (which arrived the next day).

There was also an additional follow-up that laid out our ownership of the current car, and a note that as a token of thanks for our loyalty if we headed to our local dealer within the next thirty days they would upgrade us from our current model to the equivalent latest model at a stated lower APR rate.

One mistake = good follow up + bonus gift + acknowledgement of my customer loyalty + upsell offer.

That’s good customer communications management, it helps strengthen relationships, develops good customer experience, and promotes more value and revenue across the customer lifecycle.

While we’re not ready to take up that trade-in offer just yet, but when it does come time to change the car again, guess which company will once again be top of our list?

We Can’t Predict the Future, But We Can Prepare

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Growing up in England in the ’60s, I was fascinated by a series of action-adventure TV shows produced by Century 21 Productions. The shows featured machines that traveled in space, underwater, underground and performed fantastic feats or flew at tremendous speeds.

Then in the late ’60s I came across a show called “Star Trek” — and I’ve been thinking about the future ever since.

My first job out of college was working on the Concorde supersonic passenger jet, and I also was tangentially involved with a project to design a hyper-sonic space plane.

Now here we are in the 21st century and none of that happened! 

Who Can Predict the Future?

I love living in the future, although it’s not the one I was expecting.

We may not have flying cars and jet packs, but look at what we do have.

We all walk around with a pocket sized device that connects us to the greatest repository of human knowledge in history. We can have instantaneous conversations across continents, and use that same device to take photos, watch TV and movies, store and read a library of books, access the world’s news organizations, socialize with millions of people around the world — and maybe even make the occasional phone call.

It’s a technology that no one saw coming, yet in the space of less than a decade the smart phone has changed the way we live, the way we communicate and the way we do business.

The Times They Are a Changin’

As content professionals how can we possibly predict and prepare for a change like that? The answer is that we probably can’t.

In the words of America’s newest Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan (and who would have predicted that?), “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

But we can look at where today’s trends and activities are heading and extrapolate.

One of the greatest moments of realization for me around how people interacted with content was watching my then 15-year old daughter doing a homework assignment on Pearl Harbor. When I passed her a book on World War II from my history bookcase she ignored the table of contents and index and instead flicked through the pages until she found a photo she knew related to the subject she was studying. Only then did she start to read around it.

She was doing a visual search and then browsing the book like it was the web. At that point I realized that the traditional book paradigm no longer produced the user experience her generation needed.

Find the Opportunities in Developing Trends

So what’s happening now that will impact the near future? For the last decade I’ve been a big proponent of Augmented Reality (AR) as a way to communicate, engage and inform. I believe it has great potential to deliver as yet unexplored customer experiences. I think AR will win over Virtual Reality as the latter is too immersive and isolating (but I could be wrong — the future will decide).

Look at what technologies are developing and how new generations are using them. Extrapolate, and think how that will impact your business.

Don’t look for potential threats, but look for potential opportunities. It’s not about chasing the current hot gadget, the future is about recognizing change. Look outside your industry, outside your area of expertise. We need to get comfortable about being uncomfortable about new technology and trends. Study across many fields: technology, psychology, sociology, story-telling, movie-making and more.

So how do we address the challenge of mapping the future? First, learn to recognize the future, and then be prepared to adjust when the jet pack turns out to be an iPhone instead.

 

Is Your Website a Reflection of You or Your Customers?

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Hey Dad, did you have any feedback?” That text from my daughter was part of an ongoing discussion around the website that she was designing for a new business venture that she and a partner were launching. It was the third iteration of the site, and this was the first version that was fully mobile friendly.

My feedback was that with just a few minor tweaks, this iteration was very close to where they needed to be for the launch. It told a good story and provided the basic information their customers would be looking for.

It wasn’t always the case. Early in the process of them developing a business case I asked my daughter and her business partner what they wanted the website to communicate.

The immediate response was “We want it to let people know what we do.”

A logical answer, but my response was something along the lines of “That’s great, but other people do what you do. What makes you special?”

We are focused on people with a particular problem area.”

Great. So think about the people who need help solving that problem. What are they going to be looking for?

As these sort of discussions continued, the website design and prototypes evolved from their description of what the new company did, to a series of short articles that addressed the potential customer’s problems, and how my daughter and her partner can help.

They also looked at the list of services they were offering and decided to focus on the three where they have had the most interest. Now instead of a webpage with a shopping list of things to pick from, each solution article has information about the relevant service, with pricing and contact information.

But it’s not only small businesses or start-ups that need to be switching their thinking from a website that, no matter how slick it’s presented, is little more than a digital brochure. Often these sort of “inside-out” websites end up being a reflection of the corporate structure accompanied by a list of products. Switching the mind set to a customer driven “outside-in” view can pay dividends, not only in an improved experience that can help customer’s solve their problems, but they can also have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line.

I once worked on a project for a large company whose website was a perfect reflection of their corporate and business unit structure. You had to know what part of the company was responsible for a particular product to be able to find it; even the employees had a hard time figuring out where to find information. But a customer focused analysis showed that 80% of the traffic went to the website for just four things: to look up product specifications, pricing, buy spare parts, or get support. Once we rebuilt the website around making those tasks as easy as possible, traffic, leads, and online parts sales revenue all increased, and support costs decreased.

Improving the customer experience is now regularly cited as a top strategic imperative for many companies, and the website is the always-on global showcase for that. Delivering a customer-driven web experience means not only changing the mind-set and the content, but also delivering a more engaging relevant and engaging experience that delivers value to the individual customer. It can rapidly become a complex process and needs the right sort of management tools to enable and support an effective web presence.