It’s one thing to create a great looking product that’s easy to use. It’s another to create a great experience that continues to improve, delight, and expand in scope over time. The first is user experience. The second is customer experience.
The two are often used interchangeably. But generally, user experience focuses on designing a particular device or screen and the interactions that occur on it, while customer experience stitches those together with many other touchpoints (front-line staff, promotional emails, store environment, etc.) spread out over time.
Here’s an example. Google Maps has long been the gold standard in mobile mapping applications. Nevertheless, Google continually updates Maps to make it even better– it has introduced 1-finger zoom (instead of the trickier 2-finger-pinch zoom), and the app now gives lane-specific turning instructions (“Take the left two lanes to merge on to…”)
These are examples of iterating the user experience: they improve the usefulness and usability of the app–but they are limited to finite interactions within the app itself.
However, Google is also moving to a more integrated customer experience across touchpoints. For example, the mobile and desktop versions of Maps share common histories of what you’ve looked for, which is great if you start looking up something at home and then hop in the car a few minutes later to actually go there. What you just searched for will be at the top of the recent history list in mobile. That’s smart and helpful.
One recent experience is a good example of Google’s attention to the customer experience. A change to the mobile Maps app really made me mad–mad enough, in fact, to send Google a note using the feedback mechanism within the app. What got me so steamed up? The red, yellow, and green lines denoting heaviness of traffic had been made so thin they were now hard to make out against the amber-colored roadways. Believe me, in San Francisco Bay Area commute traffic, this counts as a major problem!
I checked user reviews in Google’s Play app store to see if anyone else had noticed the same thing – no one had. So I sent in a complaint through the mobile app itself, got a generic “Thank you for your feedback” message (yeah, whatever), and thought nothing else of it.
A few weeks later, I got this email from Google:
I literally said “Wow!” I was surprised I got a response at all, but even more amazed at the personalization of the response.
And sure enough, when I checked my Maps app, the lines were back to being thick and easy to see – no update required. (My guess is that I was part of a Maps traffic A/B test, because of the lack of other people commenting on this interface change and the fact that I didn’t need to download an update in order to change it. So it was probably just a flip of a virtual switch to restore my old thick lines.)
Customer experience mission accomplished: delight over a period of time, utilizing multiple touchpoints, responding to feedback. Loyalty restored.
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to create this delightful experience. But if we peel back the different layers that made it possible, we find practices that — with a little creative application — can help almost any company make the jump from user to customer experience:
- Integrate across touchpoints: In 2015 having a cohesive, integrated experience across desktop, mobile, email, call center, sales, etc. is just expected by customers– but it’s still hard to do consistently. It requires fostering cross-team organizational collaboration on features and design, and thinking about how each touchpoint acts as an on-ramp to another.
- Don’t ignore the plumbing: Smooth multi-touchpoint experiences are enabled by lots of “boring” behind-the-scenes infrastructure that passes customer data around so that it can be employed at each touchpoint. Arguably, Google faces challenges of a scale that almost no other company does, which is what makes the Maps example of personalized feedback so remarkable: cataloging and tagging of feedback types, scanning of text for keywords and follow-up responses, keeping the A’s and B’s of the test separate over time, etc.
- Make the experience personal: Acknowledge the individual customer’s situation and demonstrate that you understand their specific needs. In the Maps example, Google did this by repeating my own words to me and then acting on them.
- Make feedback part of the customer experience: How do you tell if you’re moving your customer experience in the right direction? Customer feedback. So make gathering it an integral part of the experience itself, as Google did here — even the customer feedback mechanism was itself a source of delight.
Delivering great customer experiences requires going beyond the surface of individual customer interactions. You must instill a mindset that takes a systemic view over time of the customer needs and your organization, and match it with the capabilities to deliver the integrated touchpoints. If you’re just starting to make the leap from user experience to customer experience, keeping these principles in mind will help steer you in the right direction.