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Leadership

Why User Experience Is Critical To Customer Relationships

User experience is a priority that should, in some way, find a home within the design of any new-media strategy.

 

This is part one of a limited series on the need for brands to employ UX in new-media strategies to improve customer experiences and engagement.

With the explosion of social media and smart devices, customers are becoming incredibly sophisticated, elusive, and empowered. As a result, the dynamics that govern the relationship between brands and customers is evolving.

But even in this era of engagement and "two-way" conversations, the reality is that the relationship businesses hope to have with customers through these new devices, applications, or networks and their true state are not one in the same. In fact, it is woefully one-sided, and usually not to the advantage of customers, which for all intents and purposes still affects businesses. 

Rather than examine the role new technologies and platforms can play in improving customer relationships and experiences, many businesses invest in "attendance" strategies where a brand is present in both trendy and established channels, but not defining meaningful experiences or outcomes. Simply stated, businesses are underestimating the significance of customer experiences.

Some of the biggest trends today—mobile, geoloco, social, real-time—are changing how consumers discover and share information and connect with one another. Technology aside, consumers are driving the rapid adoption of technology because of the capabilities that are unlocked through each device. From self-expression and validation to communication and connections to knowledge and collaboration, new opportunities unfold with each new device and platform.  

As smart and connected technology matures beyond a luxury into everyday commodities, consumer expectations only inflate. As a result, functionality, connectedness, and experiences emerge as the lures for attention. For brands to compete for attention now takes something greater than mere presences in the right channels or support for the most popular devices. User experience (UX) is now becoming a critical point in customer engagement in order to compete for attention now and in the future. For without thoughtful UX, consumers meander without direction, reward, or utility. And their attention, and ultimately loyalty, follows. 

The CrUX of Engagement Is Intention and Purpose

Brands as a whole suffer from medium-alism, where inordinate value and weight is placed on the technology of any medium rather than amplifying platform strengths and ideas to deliver desired and beneficial experiences and outcomes. Said another way, businesses are designing for the sake of designing, without regard for how someone feels, thinks, or acts as a result. 

Thankfully, there’s a cure for medium-alism. UX is the new Rx for most new media deployments. From social networks to mobile apps to commerce to digital, experiential strategies form the bridge where intentions meet outcomes. By starting with the end in mind, UX packages efficiency and enchantment to deliver more meaningful, engaging, and rewarding consumer journeys.

It’s easier said than done, however.  

UX is an art and science, and it is all but ignored in the development of new media channels where customers control their own fate. If the appeal of an app diminishes, it’s removed from the device. If a brand page in a social or mobile network no longer delivers value, a customer can effortlessly unlike, unfollow, or unsubscribe. If the rewards for taking action on behalf of a brand—think check-in, QR, barcode scans, or augmented reality plays—are intangible, or gimmicky without intent, customers will simply power off. And, if a consumer cannot take action in your favor, within their channel of relevance, with ease and elegance, value or ROI will forever escape your grasp.

Agencies, brand managers, developers, consultants, and anyone responsible for any element of customer engagement can learn from the art and science of UX. To that end, UX is a role that should, in some way, shape or form, find a home within the design of any new media strategy today. So I ask:  

  • Who’s your mobile design expert?
  • Who understands the engagement dynamics of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other new networks?
  • Who on your team is a master of the psychology to better understand engagement, behavior, and expectations?

Often, creative strategies are driven by a clever idea and not necessarily an idea supported by an engaging design or experience. At the same time, many campaigns are developed for a medium or an event where the platform takes precedence over sentiment or desired results. Of course, when considered, the formula of experiences and outcomes is incredibly potent. But when deployed without directions, everything that results is left to happenstance. Why risk it when you can design for it?

The Experience RedUX

Certainly many brands are guilty of deploying technology strategies without designing a holistic experience. It’s the reason the result of a QR scan is a web page that’s—unsurprisingly—not optimized for mobile devices or the enthusiasm that precedes an AR activation is usually met with an unimpressive digital diorama, only to dwindle in disappointment or novelty.  

Intent or desired outcomes are often thwarted by their very design or lack thereof. 

The primary function of UX is the development of an architecture that creates a delightful, emotional, and sensory experience. This is why it’s vital to customer experiences and engagement. UX is, among many things, designed to be experiential, affective, useful, productive, and entertaining. And, most importantly, it’s devised with an end in mind where the means to that end is efficient and optimized for each channel.

Let’s take a look at the point of origin for the moment. Your smartphone, computer screen, and tablet open a window to a new experience that is unique to that device. It’s a looking glass into your world that goes beyond usability. Successful UX evokes engagement or purpose, affects sentiment, and influences behavior. And this is why UX is so important. 

As Marshall McLuhan once said, "The medium is the message." Now, the medium is not only the message, the medium is the experience. And that is why we cannot simply design for the medium, we must design the experience where the medium becomes an enabler to the journey and the end as devised.  

Two words come to mind here: mission, and purpose. Jesse James Garrett, author The Elements of User Experience, once observed, "An information architect makes information work for people."  If we use his perspective as a springboard for new media, what businesses need now are new CEOs—Chief Experience Officers. But in all seriousness, brands must employ experience architects, as it is they who will carry the responsibility of designing the customer journey so that it is engaging, worthy of sharing, and unified regardless of platform.

Engagement is not a campaign, it’s a continuum where technology is merely an enabler for a greater vision, mission, and purpose. And as such, the attention, engagement, and outcomes that result are indeed reflective of what is both earned and deserved.

Next up…the principles and pillars of UX.

Follow author Brian Solis @briansolisFor more leadership coverage, follow Fast Company on Twitter and LinkedIn.

[Image: Flickr user Berenger Zyla]

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