The point is that it was one of the most frustrating customer experiences that I’ve had to date. Finally, after three Web site attempts, two mobile app attempts, a whopping five hours with customer service reps on the phone, then a bunch of struggles with the on-site scheduling department, FiOS got installed. Verizon scores a point for acquiring me as a customer; I score a point for telling hundreds of people that Verizon made me feel like I was in “the pit of despair.” It was the totality of a poor customer experience that completely missed the mark on meeting my expectations that led to my dissatisfaction.
Verizon needs a better user experience strategy. What exactly does that mean?
What Is UX Strategy?
It seems like the UX community has been struggling a bit to reach a common definition of UX strategy. Is it a framework or an approach? Is it a methodology or a philosophy? For me, it is all of these things; but the most important thing is that UX strategy is fluid, not fixed. Companies pay a lot of money to hire UX Strategists to prepare UX strategy documents, without realizing that a UX strategy needs to be alive and current to be valuable.
So, what is on trend now? There are three concepts and perspectives that are all the rage in our larger design and development space:
- service design—See the Web site This Is Service Design Thinking.
- lean UX—Read Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden’s book.
- disruptive design—Read Luke Williams’s book.
My proposal is that, cumulatively, these three trends give us a solid working definition of UX strategy.
My friend and colleague Tony Brinton, Experience Design Director at Motivate Design, says:
“As usability or user experience practitioners, sometimes we get hung up on the U, or the user. If we drop the U in UX, then we are left to focus on Experience. Experience defines a person’s perception of a brand, and brand is defined by the sum total of all their interactions with the brand.”
User experience is not just how a user interacts with a user interface. A well-designed experience leads to consumers that love a brand. Love of a brand usually leads to more money for a business.
Eleven years ago, when I was taking a Marketing course for my Master’s program, a professor who worked at Ogilvy walked in and asked, “What is a brand?” We all had a few minutes to write down our definition and share it. Once we finished, he gave us a hard stare and said, “Wrong. Brand is everything.” Then, he walked out.
Brand is everything, offline and online. Therefore, the overall experience is what gets people to engage, buy, use, and connect with a given product or brand. The UX strategy defines how this happens.
And UX strategy actually makes it happen. The UX leaders in any company, whether C-level executives or consultants, have a strategy and use processes, tools, methods, and people to create user experiences. They make sure that the experiences users have are easy, efficient, satisfying, engaging, and compelling. They help prioritize features and make sure that technology can enable their ideas. They establish metrics, measure performance against those metrics, and demonstrate success in the form of bottom-line improvement.
However, the UX Strategist’s job is not to own the user’s experience. (Many people get hung up on this. If you are busy trying to own the user experience, your focus is on your ego and needs, not the users.) For example, if I were the Director of UX at Disney, the late and rude bus driver, the super-sweet ticket lady, the waitress at the overpriced restaurant, and even Mickey Mouse might have a bigger hand in determining the user’s experience than I would.
The UX Strategist’s role is to help an organization want to consider and understand the user’s experience first and foremost. The UX Strategist’s job is to create a connection between the people who work in an organization and the people who might purchase its products and services or otherwise engage with the organization. It is to teach an organization how to embrace design thinking.
It seems that this broader perspective on designing good, holistic experiences is now being called service design. (I know that some of us have always seen user experience as being this broad, while others are used to defining service design as designing a service instead of a product. Regardless, I think we can agree that UX professionals are delivering a body of work that is broader than designing user interfaces for products, and many are referring to it as service design.)
While we have methods and processes for understanding how humans interact with machines, service design is about going beyond a machine or user interface and looking at a whole engagement, across every touchpoint, and optimizing the entire experience. This includes both the service that an organization provides to customers in the front of the house and at the back of the house—that is, what customers see and what they don’t see.
As the authors of This Is Design Thinking put it, service design is what makes you go into one coffee shop over another when they sell the same product at the same price in the same location. This analysis extends to all the pieces and parts that make up an interaction with a brand. The end goal is to create an experience that is engaging, delightful, and even addictive—that, in attaching the experience to the brand, basically hits a home run.
For example, a typical usability project might be to improve the user’s experience with a mobile banking app. However, a service design project is about the app, the Web site, the person at the bank branch, the lighting and quality of the coffee at that branch office, the customer service rep you speak to on the phone, your experience at the stadium that the bank sponsors, the free museum tickets that the bank offers, and even the way the bank helps low-income, stranded Hurricane Sandy victims get access to cash when they don’t have credit cards and need to buy water, batteries, and flashlights.
Another way to think of this is that user experience is about redesigning, while service design is about reimagining. Just ask yourself whether you’re fixing, innovating, or disrupting? When you really understand that your company has something of value to deliver—and why the thing that you’re delivering is valuable or maybe even exciting to users—that usually requires broader thinking and serves as the entry point to looking at the macro experience that Figure 1 illustrates.
This leads to a broader definition of service design that is starting to resonate with me. Usability and user experience and service design are about improving a person’s interactions with a thing or a set of things. I like to think of Service design, with a big S, as being about improving how we live as a community. There’s an aspect of sustainability and community building to it—designing for people, profit, and the planet—or 3BL for those who know it.
Think of the common Service Design example, Zipcar, which provides a beautiful experience for each user. Yet, going beyond that, Zipcar has done so much for the environment, building a community and movement around the concept of mine versus ours. So, rather than focusing on that U in user, we are focusing on serving a bigger cause, across all users, and for a larger community.