Holiday User Experience
During the holidays a good service experience goes a long way. People tend to get visibly agitated and stressed out for the smallest things during these few months. Retail and Service establishments put so much pressure on employees in regards to sales and expected work hours. It can be overwhelming for many employees and for the guests that shop at their brick & mortar establishments. It is inevitable considering the amount of revenue companies typically need to acquire within that short time. Application developers in sales-focused industries feel this pressure in a different way. They don’t have that face-to-face engagement but they get the pressures of last minute features, production server issues, traffic surges, minimizing downtime, and getting quicker checkout experience with less drop off in the early cart entry to name a few.
Most notably good user experience tends to suffer. Research & Development (R&D) rarely hears about the good experiences. Typically it is the uncensored ravenous rantings of dissatisfaction that rolls down to R&D. The face-to-face experience is lost with a mobile or web application. For online reviewing, sales, and support people are not afraid to speak their minds and in some cases be cruel & abrasive. The people who built the application are out of mind and out of sight to the shopper. Reviews and dissatisfied comments are what usually rolls down to the product engineering team. Many are in the realm of ‘I-will-never-come back-here-again’ threats accompanied with ‘I-will-spread-the-word-of-my-hatred-to-all-I-come-across-forever’. This vengeful holiday spirit is exponentially true in the large and mid-size companies and their public facing service and e-commerce applications. It is the responsibility of everyone on a product team to make the experience of these applications the best in class. This is especially true for both the User Experience group & the engineering group since they are usually responsible for defining and implementing the design and vision of the product.
I think of this holiday pressure often and find myself very critical of my shopping and support experiences. When I think about the best support experiences I’ve had recently I think of the brick & mortar Apple Store Genius Bar. The reason this sticks out to me is not because I am a Apple fanatic but because it is a personal and concierge experience. I always feel like I have been personally taken care of when I leave the Genius Bar no matter how long I’ve had to wait. The main reason for that is the engaging personal interaction and the rapport. Geniuses, Apple store concierges, establish trust and personal loyalty early on in their engagements. The Geniuses at Apple are trained masters of customer service practices but they also have a very high level of social engineering skills in a ‘White Hat’ sort of way. Other companies seem to be adopting this ‘concierge model’ and making it their own such as the Microsoft brick & mortar stores. It’s a very effective means of gaining customer satisfaction. Wouldn’t it be great to have this experience without ever leaving the comfort of your own home? Let’s take a look at the current Genius experience online. How does the Genius Bar experience scale and translate to a digital format?
A Digital Translation
The IPhone Apple Store App was the first place I viewed the Genius Bar experience in a digital format. One observation I made was that the app does not have a high level navigation element pointing to a Genius contact or even a information page for that matter. In fact, by means of browsing, one needs to first use the store locator, then touch the Genius section to make an appointment and a series of sub pages follow to make an appointment locally at a store. A search in the app yields no indication of where the a Genius type section exists or how you would have that concierge experience online. This IPhone Apple Store App experience left me wondering what the online desktop web application experience would be. My first instinct was to go to Apple’s website and look for Genius information there. I would think that the home page would showcase the Genius bar Experience at some level. The home page had nothing mentioned about the Genius services at all. At the top level navigation, I clicked the link to the main support page for Apple hoping for some better information. Still nothing on the Genius bar. At this point I decided perform a global search using the search box in the top navigation using the key words ‘Genius Bar’. The first result is a Genius bar logo accompanied with descriptive text and a link to make an appointment with a retail store. After I click on the link and run through a series of screens I ultimately get online help in the form of a chat with an online support person about customer service options for Apple. This digital experience is a very different and disconnecting experience in contrast to the physical brick & mortar one I am used to. A few things struck me as odd with this experience.
My 13 Step Journey
Exploring this diagram we can see that it took me quite a few steps to get to a real person. Even when I did get a customer support technician, it was a chat (only a two minute wait on Black Friday though). My point is that the experience is not one of warmth and personal touch as you get in the Apple Store. Don’t get me wrong, the technician I chatted with was very attentive, professional, and polite. I know from experience that these are usually well trained customer service people working in a data center somewhere with a script of things to write, and how to word them. This is not a bad thing per se but not the experience I would have expected based on my concierge service at the Reston, Virginia store Genius Bar.
The next part my journey led me to think about the personas that visit the Genius Bar and how they might utilize a digital experience of similar value. I will post my observations in the next few days.