Customer Experience Management for the Pragmatist

As you may be aware, the term Customer Experience Management (CEM) has become one of the latest buzzwords in the enterprise software industry.  Many large companies have formed CEM groups and a few have even created “C” level positions that are dedicated to improving the customer experience.  Adobe has embraced CEM in a big way (you can see the Experience Delivers blog  or Steven Webster’s blog for just a couple of examples), so I felt I needed to understand more about it.

In my search for answers I came across tons of white papers, research notes, videos and other content on CEM and its related topics (such as Rich Internet Applications (RIA), User Experience (UX), Experience Oriented Architecture (XOA), etc.).  There were web pages that call out “bad” design and praise “good” design.  Some sites had some best practices (although these were mostly based on specific examples).  I found a plethora of other phrases that seemed to float around the subject – customer oriented design, put the customer first, contextual design, etc.

I also spoke with some of Adobe’s CEM proponents.  Unfortunately these conversations tended to bend towards rather philosophical discussions.  One time someone actually said “the Medium is the Message”.    At this point my the part of my brain that performs cognitive reasoning ran down the hallway and hid in a quiet corner.  I can’t help it; McLuhan has that effect on me.

Nothing really hit home with me.  I might be able to recognize a CEM application if I saw one, but I still couldn’t describe to you why it was CEM.

It started to feel like when I played baseball as a kid.  Both my little league coach and my dad kept telling me to “keep your eye on the ball”.  Repeating the phrase over and over made it essentially meaningless.  One day someone (probably a frustrated first baseman) said something like – “look, just watch the ball as it leaves my hand.  Keep watching it as it goes through the air and then put your glove in front of it.”  All of a sudden it made sense.  I still suck at baseball, but at least I don’t get beaned as often.

One day, while searching for cheap vacation flights, things started to congeal.  Navigating through several sites that essentially did the same thing, I started to understand what was meant by customer experience.  More importantly I started to get why it was so important.

When you get right down to it, what does CEM mean in a practical sense?  Its simple really – build software that helps the user accomplish their goal.  At the very least it should not actively make the user mad.

Like so many simple statements, that has some rather complex consequences.  For one thing, as a designer/developer you really need to understand what the user is trying to do as well as how they feel confortable doing it.  This includes not only understanding the direct path to the goal, but how to assist them.  Also allow people to get back when they go down a different path.

If I look at my own recent experience with online ticket retailers, there were precious few who designed their applications in this way.  For the most part the sites were designed for people to book flights; but I, for one, wasn’t using it that way.  I was shopping for flights – changing dates/times, departure location (I’m Canadian, so it sometimes pays to drive to a US airport), airlines, etc.  One site made me re-enter all of the information each time I changed one thing.  Others would only give me one flight choice and would not suggest others.  Some would require me to know things that are industry specific (such as airport codes).  The sites I really appreciated, and therefor spent more time on, made my life easier.

Here are some general things that I observed:

  • Cut down on the clicking
    • If you’re going to require me to read something then just show it to me.  Don’t make me click on a button that brings it up.  If its that important than gimme it.  This really goes to presenting the right information at the right time.
  • Get on with it! (or where’s the “f@*ck off” button)
    • Of course the flip side is presenting too much information.  If I don’t need it right now, get rid of it.
  • Just do what I tell you to do
    • Software is a tool.  As developers we often think that the software itself is the most important thing.  We must keep in mind that the user is trying to get something done (like shop for a flight) and the software is just a means to an end.
  • I don’t care about your process
    • Remember that the user is not concerned with what is going on behind the scenes.  Your product codes, industry regulations, inter-departmental routing, etc. does not matter to the user.  While you do want to tell the user what is going on, they don’t need to know what’s going on in the sausage factory.
  • Customize when necessary, but but not necessarily customize
    • There is a trend to allow the user to customize every aspect an application.  In some circumstances this is a really nice thing (iGoogle is a prime example), but it has a dark side.  I’ve used too many applications that require lengthy configuration to provide a personalized experience.  I know they theory is that by customizing the interface the user takes ownership, but Its not always necessary or even wanted.  Sometimes I just want to do a quick search and get on with my life (google.com is a prime example).

As I said, it all boils down to designing software that helps the user do something.

3 Responses to Customer Experience Management for the Pragmatist

  1. Hi Mike,

    On the first two points (clicking and volume of info), I would be interested how you get over situations whee the caption is very long.

    On a project there is are several requirements (legal/statutory/client/etc) where some questions have very long captions.

    Users will either be familiar with the question or become familiar with the question and so I would prefer to reduce the length of the caption.

    Here is a mock-up with five options: https://acrobat.com/#d=VXbW74yWd2Ymf1Chs*uSUg

    My preferred is option 2 at the moment, which uses a button for the caption. I know – more clicking.

    What would your approach be in this case?

    Thanks,

    Niall

    • Mike Hodgson says:

      Hi Niall;

      Your document illustrates wonderfully the plethora of different options available to the designer/developer, and the outside constraints that may be placed upon them. It also brings to mind something that I didn’t mention (but smarter people that I have) – the delivery mechanism will greatly influence your interface method.

      Given that your delivery mechanism is a PDF, I also like the 2nd method. Although you shouldn’t take my word for it. I would strongly suggest getting the opinion of your target audience. After all, they are the ones that are going to be using your system.

      If you were to deliver using another medium, such as HTML5 or Flash, then I might consider bringing up the rest of the text when the user either hovers over the text and/or when they are filling in the field. Sort of like the tooltip, but with the text showing up inline like option 2.

      A mobile-app, on the other hand, may require a completely different solution. Especially given the screen real estate constraints.

  2. Thanks Mike,

    Yes, I am limited to PDF deployment. The problem with this type of project is that it is the client’s potential contractors who will be using in and I don’t get to talk to them.

    Having said that I will be going through it with the client and while they are not really concerned about the user (“just fill it in!”), I will be trying to get across the issue of the quality of the information that comes back to them. “Balance Grasshopper”.

    Great blog!