Monday, August 13, 2007

“Why we love to be Loved!!”

User Experience - The 21st Century Way of Winning Customers!!

Have you ever wondered why do you like to sit and sip a cup of coffee at Barista and Café Coffee Day even when it is expensive? Have you ever thought why a dinner in a 5-Star restaurant is costlier than your neighborhood food outlet?

Despite the heavy damages we incur on our pockets, we still want to go to these outlets. Why? Because, we are engaged in an experience – According to Macromedia, “Experience is a series of memorable events that engage the consumer in a very personal way”. The phenomenal experience that we get at these places while doing trivial things makes the interaction with the business feel special. The experience is what differentiates Barista from a local Chai shop and a 5-Star restaurant from a local Dhaba.

Great experiences are hard to quantify, but we all know when we are having them. They are the memorable events that give shape to our lives. Creating a positive experience is difficult but not an impossible task if we are well aware of our user. In fact in the era of highly competitive market and plethora of brands and products, user experience has become a key differentiator and value builder for organizations.

NSTAR is the largest Massachusetts-based (USA), investor-owned electric and gas utility, with revenues of approximately $3 billion and assets totaling approximately $6 billion. More than 900,000 NStar Electric customers found something astonishing about their electric bill in Mar, 2007. For the first time in a generation, NStar had comprehensively revamped the design of the bills by following a yearlong, $2 million process that included convening eight focus groups, reviewing 70 other utility bill formats, and executives listening in on hours of live calls from customers complaining about confusing bills.

Understanding Users

Users are always interested in fulfilling their needs and finding solutions to their everyday problems. They are least interested in organizational structures, businesses, delivery modes, sales channels, products, and services until there is a need. Nothing wrong doing that, after all they are the ones shelling out money from their pockets. Usefulness and Usability are the main attributes that they seek in a product, service, or system but subconsciously they also desire emotional needs fulfillment. Users no longer buy a product; they buy experience built in and around the product.

When the user decides to buy a product, service, or solution he interacts through one of the sales channels: Physical Store, Website, Call Center, Interactive Voice Response System, etc. A business with more number of channels requires extra care and attention at each channel to provide similar rich experience to the customer. Customer interaction at a channel displays his optimism and enthusiasm for a brand but when confronted with a negative experience, expectations crash evoking mental confusion and discomfort. Discomfort results in cognitive dissonance which is a mental distress as a result of conflicting thoughts.

User Experience Design ensures that the coherence and consistency are maintained across various sales channels to avoid fragmented or disjointed experience. It believes in providing a seamless and integrated experience across channels.

Understanding UXD

User Experience Design (UXD) is a culmination of various disciplines including architecture, interior design, interaction design, industrial design, information architecture, visual design, instructional design, psychology, and user centered design.

User Experience Design puts the user at the center of the business. The user becomes the focal point of the business and the whole interaction framework is built around the user. Since the design process advocates considerable user research, designers can build compelling user’s mental models and therefore successfully embed the future needs to make the architecture scalable by predicting user’s future behavior and trends. Such products have considerably increased market retention time with decreased number of iteration cycles, thereby, decreasing the costs of development and maintenance significantly. Also, since the product is made for the user the adoptability and reliability increase and overall experience becomes more rewarding.

However, implementing user experience design is easier said than done. It requires a thorough research to understand the user. The qualitative side of the research caters to user’s needs, behavior, motivation, aspirations, desires, and future trends. The quantitative side deals with user’s demographics, earnings, expenditures, budgeting, costing, etc. The important part is to understand the qualitative side and building the solution that satisfies the needs.

Business is about users and not technology

Technology is growing at a fast and furious pace. It has been increasingly becoming an intrinsic part of products, services, and systems, thereby making interactions with them extremely complicated and more difficult to use. Complexity decreases ease of use and increases learning curve for the users. In such a demanding scenario it is necessary to focus on user experience design to make the users happy by making relevant, easy to use, usable, and useful products, services, and systems.

Whether it is an e-commerce website or a banking web application, the complexity in the IT solutions environment has grown manifolds. After the advent of Rich Internet Applications (RIA) and Web 2.0 users have increasingly started to demand highly intuitive and interactive environments. They desire more and more control in their hands and on the interface

UXD removes interaction bottlenecks and delight the users. It reinforces the use of user driven solution rather than a technology driven approach. UXD is not a cool interface design with animated graphics but it is designing better information architecture, better taxonomy, and a compelling user interface. It also influences overall architecture, development strategy, and selection of platform and technology from user centric perspective.

UXD aligns business goals and user needs to form a win-win relationship between the user and the business. It achieves a satisfying, loyal and trustworthy relationship by understanding business needs, user needs, technology constraints, information flows between systems-users-business, task analysis, etc. The process helps in building comprehendible business logic and intelligence in the system. It takes off the mental load from the user by leveraging upon system and technology capabilities. Organizations therefore reap more profits with high level of user satisfaction.

Most of the organizations have identified the value of UXD. No wonder, technology giants like Microsoft and IBM talk about increased user experience for SharePoint Server 2007 and WebSphere respectively.

Research found that investments in the user experience can deliver as much as 250% Return On Investment (ROI) in online commerce applications and significantly lower the cost of deploying enterprise-packed applications. UXD solutions are user driven rather than technology driven. The process and philosophy of UXD remain the same irrespective of the technology.

Winning customers

It is wonderful to be treated special. We all desire special treatment from our friends, relatives, peers, etc. and even the business that we interact with. When a business acknowledges our individualism our self esteem increases, confidence grows and we start loving the business because it understands and values us as an individual. Our trust and loyalty increase for them as we get more and more respect and attention. We get the sense of being loved and cared.
So, what is happening here? We are going through a highly personalized positive experience and we want to go through it again and again. True, we love to be loved.

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