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Friday, September 16, 2016

When technology fouls up user experience!

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Technology makes our lives better. Right?Some positive examples quickly come to mind: 

  • automobiles and airplanes versus horse and buggy, 
  • cellular telephone versus telegraph and semaphore, 
  • light bulbs versus candles, 
  • microwave ovens, 
  • computers, and 
  • Wi-Fi…

to name a few. 

But I suspect that about as fast as you read this list, you had to fight off strong thoughts of examples where the opposite is also true — when technology failed to make the user experience better. 

There are many opportunities during the customer buying journey for technology to foul up the experience. And of course there are also many opportunities after sale.

If the shiny object dulls quickly because it doesn’t meet our expectations, then the emotional pretense of the sale is tarnished.

Last week, Apple unveiled its latest offering, the iPhone 7. This event along with some other recent brushes with commerce got me thinking about the role of technology in user experiences. And it’s not always a good thing.

Let me explain.

The Make-up of User Experience

When we consider a purchase, our buying journey includes a customer experience. We are wooed by advertisements and company brands. These ads target our emotions to muster the courage to overcome any resistance and compel us take action to make a purchase.

For more expensive purchases, the process is longer. When purchases involve greater sums of money, our impulsiveness is tempered. For these, a business must invest considerably more time and resources in courting us.

As in mating courtship, the process begins with attraction. It is followed by engagement … not in the literal sense just yet, but figuratively. A relationship must develop that includes interaction. 

We are diligent in our investigation of the field of products. We conduct research. We examine specimens. We touch and hold it. We test drive it. We use it.

All the while, businesses strive to ensure that our experience is positive. Failing that and we are gone. Out of there. Vamoose! 

There is always another business with a similar product that has the right mojo to win our business — that overcomes our rational barriers by making us feel emotionally connected, that strokes our ego and satisfies our ethos.

During the buying journey, customer experience transitions into user experience. After sale, our focus is using our new product or service. We put it into service; we interface with it. 

Businesses need this user experience to be positive also. They want our continued loyalty for future sales. They have already invested in us and it is much less expensive for them to stay top-of-mind and keep us happy until our next purchase than it is to cultivate a new customer. 

If they really excel at retaining loyalty through a positive user experience, heck, we may pledge our allegiance, buy the T-shirt and become a loyalist, a promoter … even an advocate!

Times when technology is not right

I have always traveled a moderate amount for business and pleasure. 

I enjoy new adventures. As much as I like to discover the sights and sounds of new places, I especially enjoy the people. 

The people of a place are the culture if they are deeply woven into its fabric. They are telling of a place’s character. They are a barometer of the times. For that reason, I try to discover the places away from the usual tourist traffic.

Often, I will sit and watch. The pace of a place speaks volumes. I will strike up a conversation with just about anybody. This is how you learn more about a place, its people, its underlying ideology.

Hardly a day goes by in which technology doesn’t work like it’s designed to—kiosks, debit machines, computers, parking meters, bus fare machines, airline travel, etc. When you are away from home and on travel it often seems exaggerated and worse than it is. And every time, it’s how the service folks handle the situation and the affected people that defines the user experience.

I was in New Orleans recently and got hustled by a street vendor. I guess I just didn’t disengage fast enough, but before I knew it he gave his opening line “I bet you a dollar, I can tell you where you got your shoes.” 

While I was sorting through the young man’s accent pondering his claim and before I could decline, he thrust his hand into mine to shake on it. A gentleman’s commitment. Then without waiting, he delivered his punch line. “Why you got your shoes on the bottom of your feet … on Canal Street … in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Got me. He was correct sure enough. I couldn’t argue with his salesmanship and paid up.

On this and other trips, I find some people to be so friendly or pleasant or accommodating that they really are the gems in the rough that show the character of a place. They take time out of their day to converse with me — a total stranger — to share information and ideas. And best of all, they share a little bit of themselves.

Far too often now, when I walk around my hometown or travel elsewhere, I see people buried in their smartphones. To be sure, some are using their devices for navigation. That’s cool. 

But when they are stationary and part of a group, they are missing the special things close up … failing to stop and smell the roses. I’ll see two people on a park bench occupied by the digital world. I’ll see them at the same table in restaurants avoiding the human experience.

These are examples of when technology is simply not right. Is the user experience simply that engaging that we have lost our filters?

Technology test drive

I recently wrote on the subject of simulated customer experiences. You can read about it here: 

http://www.charleslaymon.com/tech-business-overlook-critical-marketing-tactic/

It is typical today for scrutinizing, tech-savvy prospects of expensive software, equipment or instrumentation to engage in the experience of simulating what it’s like to be a customer of a specific business. 

Both the technology and the company are on trial here.

Knowing that their purchase will require a substantial after-sale relationship, the prospective customer’s goal is to get the most realistic experience possible of what it will be like to do business with a specific company. They will be hyper-sensitive to the interactions that take place and the relationship that develops.

At the same time, the prospect wants to use and “test-drive” the product. They are past sales resistance and fully engaged. In my article, I wrote about different ways the simulation can be accomplished.  Suffice it to say, it is a very in-depth, personal shopping experience.

But this is precisely where technology gets put to the test. If the simulated customer experience does not translate to a positive user experience in this controlled setting, or the customer does not see a smooth path forward, then the sale will be derailed and scuttled.

To render a good experience, the simulation experience itself need to be very well thought out and engineered with an undeniable positive outcome.

Foul! Forced compliance is totalitarianism

And then there's Apple. 

As we all know now, the iPhone 7 is due out very soon. This is the company that Thinks Different. Or is it that they want you to Think Different. 

After all, they just made a new high-tech phone, no wait…it’s a mobile device, WITHOUT AN AUDIO JACK! What were they thinking? Differently, for sure. 

If you haven’t already, you can read more about the iPhone 7 here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/apple-iphone-7-you-fking-kidding-me-shelly-palmer?trk=hp-feed-article-title-hpm

Steve Jobs understood that design and functionality dictated user experience. But this is a perfect example of how technology has fouled up user experience. 

Did the engineers forget to include a 3.5 mm audio jack? Did they not think we needed it, or wanted it? Were the customer’s wants ignored? Or was this an intentional redesign to go a different direction? 

Ah, perhaps this is part of a covert plan to bilk consumers into shelling out more money for an over-priced adapter cable — on the order of US$40. And since it will be impossible for consumers to keep up with it, there will be an endless supply of repeat purchases! 

Now, you tell me…has Apple lost its sensitivity to the connection between design and user experience? 

To be fair, the iPhone 7 comes with EarPods that are wired to a Lightning connector.

But as I understand it, the iPhone 7 has only one lightning port! To use any existing equipment, we require an interface adapter dongle (say that three times fast). Engaging in multiple functions simultaneously, like charging the battery and using wired headphones with a microphone, is not realistic except by purchasing a specialized dongle from a third party.

Apple is forcing iPhone 7 users to change. Apple is calling the shots on user experience. They want us to evolve by purchasing wireless headphones. Compliance is hardly optional. I guess wires are just too old school now. We will have to try and keep up with two tiny wireless earbuds. Drop one on the floor in an airplane and good luck.

Not having been part of the decision-making team makes this whole thing stink. It just doesn’t sit well with me.

Are you ready to embrace this change or do you feel a bit like a fast one has been pulled on you and your hand has been forced? 

Leave your comments below? I look forward to seeing what you think?

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Article by Charles Laymon @ CharlesLaymon.com


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