Concierge UX : Part 2 of 3

Apple Genius Bar Personas

An Approach to User Research Requirements Gathering

This is the second of three posts that are about user experience for concierge services like the Apple Genius Bar. In this post I look at a few different personas of the Apple experience that have specific goals in mind. I have identified a few possible personas that might navigate through Apple’s website trying to get personalized help:

  • A Parent setting up their 12 year old daughter’s new iPad Mini
  • A  visually impaired developer looking to get Siri training and help with ‘blind mode’ on their iPhone 5
  • An on-the-go young tech savvy visual designer needing help with internet connectivity on their Macbook Pro

Persona 1 : The Father Who Spoiled his Little Princess

Spoiled girls with iPads (linked from cnn.com)

* See disclaimer

Mr. Jones is a middle aged father that has a wonderfully spoiled 12 year old daughter that badly wants and iPad mini. In a effort to buy his daughters love at his local mall and after hours of his daughter begging him to take her to the Apple Store, he ultimately had forked up the cash for her brand new iPad mini. Although Mr. Jones is fairly knowledgable in computer technology, he knows very little about tablets or smart phones.

After his daughter opened up her new tablet, she invited all her “cool” friends over to show off her new toy. Just minutes after that, she instructs her father that he will get the mini working for her right away and it has to be before her friends get to their house in an hours time. Daddy happily agrees and gets on his personal laptop, navigating in his browser to the Apple store online for assistance.

Persona 2 : The Blind Engineer getting acquainted with Siri

Photo of a blind women using an iPhone (Linked from Apple.com)

* See disclaimer

Kathy, a legally blind web developer, has a good amount of upcoming contract work so she will need to use a smart phone to keep in constant collaboration with her clients. Her  macular degeneration has caused her vision to degrade to the point where she has difficulty seeing details. Despite this, Kathy is a master at typing and is still able to use her computer although in some cases she requires the use of a screen magnifier or her screen reader, Jaws. She recently purchased an iPhone for her contract work and has been interested in getting some face-to-face training on Siri and the accessibility features on her new phone. Kathy has already read the Apple manuals online but is still not getting the workflow she desires from the iPhone experience yet. Since she works remotely and living a great distance from a physical brick & mortar Apple Store she requires either a IM chat session, phone assistance, or audio conferencing to get this help.

Persona 3 : The Visual Designer working from Starbucks

designer working from starbucks (linked from starbucks.com)

* See disclaimer

Kenneth is right out of school. His impressive design work has caught the attention of large companies and he is currently working on redesigning the Washington, D.C. Metro Train System’s visual design and branding for the train ticketing machines. This is a huge undertaking and it requires him to do a lot of travel on the train as well as heavy user research for his designs. Kenneth is working with an agile development team in Fairfax, VA and needs collaborate with them on a daily basis so connectivity is very important. One day, the usual wifi connection at his local Starbucks is no longer working for him. The coffee steward at the front desk explains to him that someone updated something over the weekend but nothing should change for the cafe customers. Connectivity seems to be working for other customers in the shop. Kenneth needs to contact Apple on his iPhone but because he is around a crowded area he has no desire to talk on his phone with a customer support representative.

Thoughts on Personas

Who are These People?

These personas are just a few I imagined. Perhaps the majority of Apple’s users falls into other personas. Additional research with Apple’s customer support and Genius Bar teams might clarify this to a better degree but the three listed above can really give us a lot to think about. Defining what a user may experience requires a balance between the right amount of research, great user interviews, people skills, and a little luck.

What do they want?

Each of these personas needs specific information from Apple’s support and they have specific criteria for how they want to get that information. The goals they desire are very concrete and descriptive but the context is very different. Imagine how each of these people might experience the Genius Bar on the phone, their Laptop, or some other device. Where do they start their journey? What is their motivation? What constraints might they encounter?

Mapping the Journey

My journey on the Apple site finished in 13 steps.  I was using my Macbook Pro in Chrome so my page load times were better than some other browsers on some other devices but if I were in a rush (keep in mind this was black friday) I might have left the site as early as step 3 (as seen in Figure A).

Genius Bar Search Results

Figure A : My Genius Bar Search Results – Make A Reservation implies that I will need to go into the brick and mortar Apple Store

As I stated, I may have been be in a rush but, to compound my problems, the choices I was presented were too many and too detailed in some cases. Although the visual elements tended to be large click/touch areas with icons paired with short & simple text, I still had to stop and think about these choices more and more as I went on. I initially desired a face-to-face personal encounter much like I had in my local brick and mortar Apple store. A video conference on FaceTime with a Genius might just have been the thing I needed! I couldn’t help but wonder why I had to make all these choices when I could simply get down to the point quickly with a  interactive Genius Representative in front of me. I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of steps on the Apple site that I was taking to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and was not even sure where these technical support choices will lead me? I found myself thinking things like ‘what else is on this page?’ and ‘Was I choosing the right option here?’…I didn’t want to have to start over and if I chose wrong, would it be easy to get back to my last step?

Gaining Insight

Being an application developer and UX professional, I had a bit of insight into my own experience and had some clear assumptions to go on. I had to keep in mind that these were only my biased opinions and I needed to quickly validate or invalidate them before I could make any decisions on what the real challenges of providing a scalable concierge online services would be or what might be a better experience. I imagined how each of the personas I had defined might have felt while trying to get the information they needed. Research & testing on as many different users and personas as possible could determine better ways to experience the Genius Bar in a digital universe but more importantly give insight into what the experience provides and doesn’t provide to its user base.

Collaborative Ideation

Collaborating with other UX professionals in understanding this data can reveal possibilities that by myself I may not see right away which is why I love working in groups. Every professional in a product team comes from different experiences and ways of thinking. Exposing my research data to as many viewpoints and interpretations as possible can only give me a broader understanding of of the user experience. A given persona may need a real-time communication application, a holistic knowledge management solution, or a Teleportation device. It is near impossible to say until you get the facts out of the data and determine what is real and what is tangential.

Defining the Problem

Rather than suggesting a product that would define what our solution would be, it would make more sense to define the problem in a clear high level and then apply several solution ideations. How might approach this? For me, I usually create a outlined rough script that has open ended questions helps manage my assumptions.  Based on the answers to my questions I try to understand what these people are thinking and feeling.  It’s important to see not just what a persons says they would do or what they do, but to also understand why they do these things. Emotion and thought process can sometimes be inferred with the right questioning and collaborative data analysis.

Connecting the Dots

Looking closely at repeating patterns and key points there will most likely be a much more accurate idea of the high level issues these users have. It would be my hope that I would have enough information to create a definitive problem statement that would either lead to the possibility that a Genius Bar experience online is not something I want to build as a product/service or reveal many possible product/service solutions. What were the core problems that overlay across our personas? For UX professionals, understanding these core problems keeps us on track and help to maintain focus on what is necessary to create something that has real meaning, value, and purpose.

* Disclaimer
Photos are just links from cnn.com, starbucks.com, and apple.com to get a high level visual representation of what the persona may look like. Names and details of the personas are not actually correlated in any way, shape, or form to the people in these photos. Any coincidental information is just that….coincidental.

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Concierge UX : Part 1 of 3

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.

Concierge Service

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

User Flow for Genius Bar

Figure A : My 13 Step User Flow to get to a Live Chat with Support on the Apple Website Apple

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.