Having been involved in traditional marketing for my whole career, I am aware of the online and offline experience and how they join up – or are supposed to. Service design and delivery is one of my biggest bugbears and one that I try to impart on people I work with at any given opportunity. You see most people ignore the experience from the end-users point of view in the offline world and systems and processes are set up based on what is most efficient for the business.
Switch to an online world and the reverse is true. More and more focus is placed on the user experience – and quite rightly so! Teams are created to focus on the user experience and every element of it including the design, the flow, the compulsory stages, the language, the EMOTION of the process is broken down and examined AND tested in detail. The result for the end user is at worst hassle free and at best an experience they want to share and repeat.
This all got me thinking … what is the difference between the online and offline world of user experience?
I can illustrate this with a very recent example. I have just bought a new car. My poor Seat has been beaten by a lot of driving all over the country and it has literally protested to the point of no go at all. This has come at a very inconvenient time where I am busy with work and a small child who has a lot of demands in terms of childcare and without doubt a better social life than I have ever had. Not only that, but I live in a village that doesn’t even have a shop for the basics. I needed a car and I needed it fast.
So I phone up a local dealer (this is a bit of a fib because I delegated the task) but after several phone calls, we were still no further down the line to the point where daily to do lists started with the job of chasing the salesman! Ironically, the dealer 75 miles away was very happy to help but ‘convenience’ prevailed, in theory anyway.
After tracking down a salesman and a car, I went to hand over a deposit, so this was my first experience in the show room as the rest had been done via the phone and email. Greeted with coffee, we then waited for a very long time, with a small child and only two books as entertainment. Any parents will know that more then 5 minutes in these circumstances is likely to end in tears, tantrums and unnecessary stress.
Finally we see a salesman and get asked about 3 questions. He disappears to work out figures … for over half an hour. Now the main point here is that we don’t know what he is doing, how long we have to wait, why this couldn’t be done before and why not over the phone or email? Eventually we get figures and everything is agreed, deposit paid, a date to pick up the car, thank you very much.
So far, the experience has been less than good. But it is not over yet.
Two days before picking up the car, the phone rings and we are told the numbers quoted were wrong. There will be another discount applied to compensate but the long and short is we need to pay more. The following day we get another phone call to say there is another fee that was missed off but we will get a full tank of fuel instead. The time that the car is due to be picked up is also as source of confusion and clearly has not been noted in a diary or system of any kind.
At this point, the user experience has pretty much sucked but the process is almost complete so let’s persevere.
The day to pick up the car arrives and I am very keen to get the car, if not just to end the experience. Upon arriving, we are told the car only has half a tank of fuel, despite the promise because the guy doing the handover didn’t know the deal. After apologies, the car was taken to be filled up while we … waited! Again! Eventually all the paperwork was done and we drove off in a shiny new car. Only to get 5 miles away and realise that the salesman hadn’t, as promised, put us on the 7 day courtesy insurance so at this point, we have none. A few missed calls later, we have the details of the insurance company to phone ourselves and sort out the insurance – with the wrong dealer information and a lecture about how we shouldn’t drive without insurance and how has the vehicle been taxed? No idea about any of this as this is a breakdown in the company systems surely?
The morale of the story is that the entire user experience was shoddy, stressful and one that I am not keen to repeat again.
Had this been an online deal, the process would have been a lot smoother – probably.
My theory is that the online world is saturated. The barriers to entry are low and consumers are increasingly savvy. Everyone is looking for that nugget that keeps people coming back, or better still, tells all their likeminded friends about the brilliant experience (we are each the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with – this is exactly how word of mouth is so powerful).
Many online marketers and business owners are looking for the magic button and in my opinion, user experience is that button; designing sites that work and are enjoyable, they are logical and are not onerous, they do what you expect and anticipate the next step in a friendly environment.
The offline world got lazy! The user experience got forgotten and what better opportunity to create a loyal relationship and an amazing experience than in person. What better way to develop a positive emotive response? Offline businesses need to understand that the online world is developing fast and being reliant on having a locational catchment is not enough anymore as people are searching for more, and will turn to the web or travel further to find it. Shoddy experiences need to be a thing of the past and those doing it well in the online world need to be a beacon of light to follow for all of us!