UX Paradise, Part 4: The Customer Experience

August 23, 2021

In this article, which is Part 4, the final part, of my four-part series, I describe how customers would hypothetically experience Delta Market—a fictitious chain of more than 500 medium-to-large, high-end grocery stores and an organization at the highest level of UX maturity. This article also describes how customers might experience the gap between Delta Market’s high UX maturity and the low UX maturity of Delta’s biggest competitor, Alpha Market. The outcome of this comparison demonstrates how organizations can justify the substantial costs that are necessary to increase and maintain their UX maturity.

This series has presented Delta’s journey from low UX maturity, the UX Swamp, to high UX maturity, the UX Paradise. In Part 1, I described Delta Market in 2012, including the personas and the UX maturity model they had decided to use. Part 2 related the story of Delta’s journey from the UX Swamp to UX Paradise. Part 3 described Delta Market in 2020, after the company had attained UX Paradise.

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Eva—The Frequent Customer

EvaEva finished nursing school in 2012 and now works at a nursing home. She is single and has no children. She is very familiar with her smartphone and has installed many apps. She has been living in an apartment in a large city ever since she left high school in 2008. Both an Alpha Market and a Delta Market are within one kilometer of her apartment. Eva visits the Delta Market about twice a week and the Alpha Market about twice a month.

Until 2012, Eva was fairly indifferent toward both Delta Market and Alpha Market. She bought most of her groceries at Gamma Market, a discount store. But, in 2012, once she was gainfully employed and had more money, she started visiting both Alpha and Delta Markets to purchase some of her preferred products that were not available at the discount store—for example, regionally produced vegetables and organic lemonades.

Eva became a regular customer at Delta Market in 2014 when she became stressed by her high workload. She wanted to avoid the loss of time that visiting several markets entailed—just to save a few cents. Because Delta Market offered a good selection of healthy products, she began doing most of her grocery shopping there. Shopping at Delta was convenient and efficient. Eva accepted that some products were more expensive at Delta Market than at discount stores. Occasionally, out of convenience, she also patronized the Alpha Market.

The Broccoli Incident

On a dark and stormy evening in November 2016, Eva needed some frozen broccoli, but she couldn’t find it at her Delta Market. She turned to Delta’s digital product finder to locate it. Using this product finder, the customer enters the name of a product—for example, strawberry jam for diabetics—and the app might suggest, Go to section 4, shelf 328. Unfortunately, the product finder replied, Sorry, we don’t have any frozen broccoli. Eva had bought frozen broccoli at the same Delta Market six months before so she knew that Delta carried it, she just didn’t know where it was. It took her five minutes to find a sales associate, who showed her the freezer that contained the broccoli.

Figure 1—Where is the frozen broccoli?
Where is the frozen broccoli?

Two minutes later, Eva decided she wanted a flowering fuchsia plant. She again asked the product finder to locate it for her. No luck this time either. It took her five additional minutes to find another sales associate, who showed her the shelf on which a lonely fuchsia was waiting for someone to purchase it.

Eva says, “Delta just stole ten minutes of my precious life.” *

Even though both sales associates apologized and spontaneously expressed sympathy for Eva’s difficulties and promised to report the problem, Eva was a bit upset about wasting her precious time so she wrote an indignant email message to Customer Support at Delta. Fortunately, Customer Support’s email address was easy to find on Delta’s Web site, and they promised to reply within 24 hours.

Delta’s Web site says, Talk to Us! You can make a difference. We listen to you.

Eva’s response, “Bah. Probably not.”

Three hours later, Wendy, a support associate at Delta, called Eva and thanked her for her efforts to bring this matter to Delta’s attention. Wendy explained that there had been errors in the product finder. It recognized brocolli instead of broccoli and fuschsia instead of fuchsia. Delta had now corrected these errors. Delta also planned to review the entire vocabulary of the product finder and improve quality assurance for new entries. Wendy sincerely regretted the trouble that Delta had caused Eva and offered her a voucher of 20€ for her trouble. Eva smilingly accepted the apology and the voucher. Wendy asked her to contact Customer Support again if she had any additional feedback. In an aside, Wendy mentioned that both sales associates had also reported the problem.

Eva says, “Maybe they do care about my feedback after all. Giving me 20€ must have hurt the company a little bit.”

Two days later, it occurred to Eva that, if customers could use Delta’s app to call a sales associate for assistance, they would not have to waste their time looking for one. She sent another email message to Customer Support, suggesting that the company add a Call a Sales Associate button to the app. Support immediately acknowledged Eva’s suggestion and promised to get back to her within four weeks. Just three weeks later, Delta had implemented the button and Support encouraged Eva to try it out, which she did. Plus, she received another 20€ voucher.

Eva smilingly told her friends, “Soon I’ll be making more money from the good ideas I give to Delta than from my job at the nursing home.”

Not All Supermarkets Are the Same

Eva also related her experience with Delta to her friend Adam. In response, Adam told Eva about a similar experience that he had recently had at an Alpha Market. Their product finder recognized the product that Adam wanted, but the directions the product finder provided were incomprehensible. Adam also had to spend his precious time locating a sales associate, who politely showed him the location of the desired product.

The sales associate said to Adam, “The product finder is crappy. No one can use it. We told headquarters about this problem six months ago, but as always, nothing happens.”

Adam added that he had dutifully filled out a longish form on Alpha’s Web site to report the problem, and the company promised a response within four days. But, after eight days, Adam received an email message saying, Thank you for contacting Alpha Market Support. Your message is important to us, but we are quite busy at the moment. We will respond shortly. After twelve days, Adam received another message saying, Thanks for contacting Alpha Market Support. We are glad to hear that our sales associate helped you find the desired product. Have a wonderful day!

Between the incident with the frozen broccoli at Delta Market and Adam’s story about Alpha Market, Eva had become aware that not all supermarkets are the same. Adam and Eva started trading stories about their experiences at Alpha Market and Delta Market. Both of these markets have appealing stores, friendly and well-dressed staff, sensible hours, a wide selection of products, comparable prices, and occasional special offers. However, there were also important differences between Delta Market and Alpha Market.

Once Eva had started paying attention to the many little extras that set Delta apart, she became an active fan and promoter of Delta Market. Such details can make a huge difference in the user experience.

The Little Extras That Make a Huge Difference

There are important differences between Delta Market and Alpha Market that relate to self-service checkout, manual checkout, product organization, online shopping, their mobile apps, Customer Support and their responsiveness to customer feedback, and how the companies address real customers’ needs.

Self-service Checkout

Delta: For the most part, self-service checkout is faster than traditional checkout. Staff is always on hand to help Eva. Plus, Delta has ironed out all the annoying things that used to affect the user experience.

Alpha: Self-service checkout is faster than traditional checkout only when there are no problems. If there is a problem, customers must summon staff, which takes up to five minutes. Unfortunately, there are frequently problems with the user interface. Adam says these problems have been around for at least two years.

Manual Checkout

Delta: Queues are always short because Delta keeps track of the numbers of customers that enter the store at specific times of day, on particular days of the week. From past experience, Delta knows approximately when customers would want to check out and opens new lanes just before more customers are ready to check out.

Alpha: Queues are sometimes long because it often takes time for a sales associate to notice that too many customers are waiting to check out.

Product Organization

Delta: From observing shoppers’ pathways and studying the results, Delta has made shopping more logical and convenient for shoppers. Delta offers an easy-to-use product finder as part of its app.

Alpha: Because this market has arranged products according to counterintuitive rules that Adam has difficulty figuring out and frequently rearranges products on the shelves, Adam loses valuable time trying to find the new locations of their products.

Online Shopping

Delta: The app reminds Eva only of products she might realistically have forgotten, and she can easily turn off the reminder function. The only products the app pushes to Eva reflect her previous shopping habits. Similarly, she receives only relevant offers and vouchers. Plus, Delta’s online checkout notifies Eva when something is out of stock for her chosen delivery slot and lets her know when it should be back in stock, allowing her to change her delivery slot accordingly. This lets her avoid unpleasant surprises.

Alpha: The app frequently pushes products to Adam that don’t reflect his previous shopping habits and waste his time. Similarly, most of the offers and vouchers that he receives are useless to him. Alpha’s online checkout frequently causes unpleasant surprises. Worst of all, if something is out of stock for his chosen delivery slot, Alpha automatically substitutes another product. Often, the substitutions are unacceptable, and Adam must go to the store to return them.

Mobile Apps

Delta: This chain has only one mobile app, which offers exactly the features that Eva needs and no more. The app is simple and easy to understand and use.

Alpha: This chain has several mobile apps, presenting an overwhelming number of options. The apps display offers, special offers, personal offers, offers of the month, offers of the week, offers of the day, recipes, receipts, accumulated bonuses, and special offers from other companies with whom Alpha has negotiated special deals for their customers—for example, with travel agencies. These numerous features make the apps look chaotic. Plus, Adam often finds it difficult to determine which app would be right for his current purpose and hard to locate the simple functions that he needs.

Customer Support

Delta: Customer Support responds swiftly and really tries to understand what Eva is saying. When she reports a problem, they address or explain the problem quickly. Eva recalls with a smile how, with her permission, Delta published a short story about how her call to Support about the broccoli made an important difference.

Alpha: Customer Support responds slowly, and Adam gets the impression that Support staff want to close trouble tickets as quickly as possible.

Responsiveness to Customer Feedback

Delta: The company listens to what Eva has to say, whether through Customer Support, the free-form feedback she offers online, or the short Talk to Us! interviews that Delta conducts in their stores. This makes Eva feels that she matters to Delta.

Alpha: They ask generic, self-interested questions—such as, How likely is it that you would recommend Alpha to a friend or colleague?—which makes Adam feel that they’re not paying attention to their customers.

Addressing Real Customers’ Needs

Delta: The company provides outdoor vending machines from which customers can buy high-quality, seasonal products—independent of a store’s hours. Stores’ New Arrivals shelves let them test new products by offering them at a reduced price. Delta provides a suggestion box where customers can leave their feedback regarding products, and the company actually responds to feedback and engages in dialogues with customers. Delta actually flaunts the testing of these new products, again making Eva feel significant. Delta tries to achieve an optimal balance between stability and the renewal of its product range. From its Talk to Us! interviews, Delta knows that stability is important to many customers because it makes products easy to find. Delta also supports the community, does charitable work, and talks about it, which makes Eva feel that she is contributing to the community by shopping at a Delta Market.

Alpha: There are no vending machines and no New Arrivals shelves at Alpha Market. The company does no charitable work. They are not aware of real customers’ needs.

Takeaway: Making Customers Fans

Eva says, “Cool features are important, but the devil is in the details. Just one small detail could hurt or even completely spoil the customer experience. We tend to take the good for granted, while we notice and complain about problematic details. Delta cares about these details—even when it might be inconvenient or require a lot of work. The result is that, at Delta, everything usually works perfectly—and if something occasionally doesn’t work, they genuinely care and get it fixed. Delta’s focus on constant customer care sets them apart from Alpha Market and makes customers like me fans of Delta. I am proud to tell my friends about my experiences at Delta.”

As Figure 2 shows, Delta’s fans include Eva.

Figure 2—Delta’s fans, including Eva
Delta's fans, including Eva

Such customer-centered scenarios play a valuable role in our discussions with stakeholders, especially within organizations that have not yet reached the UX maturity–level innovative, but are striving for it. They provide a vision for where the organization could go and show how a high UX maturity level affects external perceptions of the organization. The customer-centered scenario that I’ve described in this article provides justification for the substantial costs that are necessary to reach and maintain the highest level of UX maturity. 

Acknowledgments—Thanks to Björn Rohles, who suggested writing the scenario from Eva’s, the customer’s, perspective to show how high UX maturity pays off by positively affecting customers’ shopping experience. Chauncey Wilson provided valuable comments on a draft of this article.

Owner at DialogDesign

Stenlose, Denmark

Rolf MolichRolf owns and manages DialogDesign, a small Danish UX consultancy. He is also the Vice President of UXQB, which provides UX-certifications. In 1990, Rolf and Jakob Nielsen coinvented the heuristic-evaluation method. Rolf is also known for his Comparative Usability Evaluation studies (CUE). In 2014, the User Experience Professionals’ Association awarded Rolf the UXPA Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his work on both Comparative Usability Evaluation studies (CUE) and heuristic evaluations. Recently, Rolf has applied his 37 years of experience in UX management in telling stories about UX life in organizations at low and high maturity levels.  Read More

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