User experience over usability

We all know a poor experience with a brand can be fatal. Have you returned to a restaurant where you got poor food, or terrible service? Have you gone so far as to warn others away?

A good experience is essential for a customer to return. Happy customers recommend your site/brand/company to others, and people are much more likely to make purchases from somewhere that has been recommended by a friend. Happy customers are walking, talking billboards, which are a great way to drum up business.

Every time a customer comes into contact with your organisation they will judge your brand, assess it and decide if it's worth their trust and money. These days one of the first contact points with potential customers is your website, so it is absolutely crucial in determining the overall brand experience. Site usability can have a key influence on this experience. When searching online for a restaurant and presented with 2 options, which will be preferred - one with an online menu including prices, good directions and a clear phone number, or one with no obvious phone number, just a map and a basic description of the type of food?

The big picture

Let's look at the difference in focus between usability and user experience. Good site usability has several advantages. It ensures people are able to use the site - making purchases, signing up to subscriptions, etc. It also reduces points where people get stuck or frustrated. After people finish using the site they walk away with a positive perception of the brand.

But how about after they've turned off the computer? User experience focuses on the big picture. It looks beyond the site at the whole experience. It widens the scope of focus beyond the website to everything that surrounds it.

All further points of contact can add to (or detract from) this experience of interacting with your brand. This means every touch point may ruin or reinforce your hard won trust. Touch points such as email communications, packing slips, how phone calls and emails are handled, all continue to influence your customers perceptions of the brand.

How can you ensure a good experience throughout? By diligently checking your contact processes and content. Checking your user experience will give you a clear idea where your communications are letting you down. Do a couple of test runs of what the entire flow of contact is like for both a newly arrived potential customer and a return customer.

Keeping track of all these touch points can be hard work. Do you know what emails are sent out to your customers? As an example, before a meeting with a company we made a test purchase on their site. We printed off all the automatic emails received as a result and took them to the meeting. When we showed them their email communications they didn't believe that 1 was their own. Their system was sending an email to all their customers, which no one responsible for the brand had ever seen or approved!

Key areas to examine

Things you should ensure you check include:

  • All automated emails (both their content and exactly when they are sent)
  • Packaging and all accompanying letters and flyers
  • How customers do the most common tasks
  • All advertising
  • Call centre responses
  • How you handle troubleshooting - Trouble shooting is often a make or break point with brand interaction, if a company is not helpful in helping me recover from a mistake, for example, ordering the wrong item, then why should I continue to use them?

Key questions

Common questions to ask for each include:

  • With all communications - Do they make sense? Is there any risk of misinterpretation? Is all the information needed on them? Do they reflect your brand? Are they on message? Are all communications consistent? Do you give the same information in your call centres, on emails and online?
  • For all processes - Have you made them as easy as possible? Are there points where what was planned and what happens differs? What must the customer do to solve the most common problems? Is this reasonable? Is there anything you can do to help?

Remember - All contact with customers is a conversation about your brand. Ensuring clarity and uniformity throughout this contact and good troubleshooting is the best way to ensure your customers will come back and, perhaps more importantly, sing your praises to others.

This article was written by Alistair Gray a consultant at the user experience consultancy, Webcredible. Alistair's passionate about improving the user experience of websites and is responsible for implementing a variety of user experience projects including information architecture and interaction design.

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