One idea I have taken into close consideration when designing customer experience along the customer journey, is that of time. To me, the concept of experience is closely related to the one of managing time — either time itself, or the perception of time.
Thus companies may choose to be part of the customer time, embodied in it, or then be a blaze of effectiveness, barely being noticed, and build this near-invisibility as its differential. This is discussed in more nerd-friendly terms by the timeless concepts of immediacy and hypermediacy, by Bolter & Grusin. I’ve written about it too, in my book/thesis Actors, Computers and Interactors, dealing with the idea of foregrounding experiences to create apparent invisibility.
Back to reality: you either stand out by standing out, or you stand out by blending in. And to make it actionable — or in the least, tangible — I like to break time down into a day. A day is the most basic, wholesome unit of time with which you can measure a customer. Because months demand repurchase or reconsideration. Hours demand ups and downs and the whole rollercoaster of emotions of going to store, back home, back to the phone. And minutes and seconds are that whole other deal with precision and careful interaction building. Managing minutes and seconds online is like building a castle. Every single path and transition from one place to another is essential for it.
By the way, have you ever read What Matthew Fredrick Learned in Architecture School? It’s a primer on seeing spaces as time. Check (or come back) for the labyrinth concept, I will blog about it here soon.
So, a day is the basic unit of reestablishing a new order to things, yet staying a little bit the same. That’s a basic premise of every story, and that’s a little bit how we tell our stories to ourselves and friends. Thus I think the day is when you weight what worked, what didn’t; what sucked, what was awesome.
A day is boring, but it’s magnificently boring. The sunrise and the sunset is the reminder that you chose the life you’re living. The moments you interact with your customer create a similar relation: you can either remind them of their bad or their good choices. You can stick to the nice part of the day, or the nuissance.
We may not have consciously this sophisticated balance of what was nice, what was not (despite the fact of a billion motivational speakers telling us to write those down). But we probably will have a certain incentive to do something again if it worked well, or face a certain friction to what we didn’t like.
I started talking about time, but what I think is really the focus in here, when talking about experience, is friction. Experiences are by definition friction because they would be its perfect opposite of non-experience, of ultimate effectiveness, if there wasn’t friction. So we may have good friction and bad friction. We need to carefully examine what kind of those we are creating with our experiences, and work to strategically reduce them.
You will find a thousand sites telling you to “eliminate friction” from your consumer experience, but that just doesn’t add up to what you can do, most of the time. Or else, of course, you would have already done it. Thus a few principles I live by, which may help you:
- When good friction is possible, dwell on it, underline it, highlight it, and make it ten times worth the time spent on it just by showing how great it is. Good friction is often given for granted. Tell your customer you are providing it, add a cherry on the top, and you have much higher experience over lowe expectations. Win.
- When bad friction is necessary, manage the moment before and after. Prepare your customer for it, justify as a slight memento that we live in the real world, and nonetheless, we’re doing the best; distract, but don’t deceive, and create a “small talk” that will get their hearts. Who will think Tumblr is slow as hell when the preloader says it is now “cleaning the inside of your screen”?
- Pay attention to the expectations, not the assets. Assets are limited. It demands resources. If you could deliver twice your offer for half the price, why wouldn’t you already be doing it? So manage the expectation. When sentiment is in the right place, customers tend to be forgiving, understanding and end up having a nice story to tell.