How many times have you ditched one website in favour of another to buy exactly the same thing at the same price? Why do you prefer one supermarket over another? Why do some airlines put you off booking with them ever again?
The common thread running through these questions and many others arising recently, is user experience. A new approach to it is set to overturn much of the established thinking behind business strategy, product development, marketing and customer relations, and transform advertising, most digital marketing and PR as we know it.
Power to the people
Why? Because the internet is changing everything. It is transferring power to the people. And people in the hooked up, social world of the web are increasingly resistant to promotional gimmicks, advertising trickery and corporate waffle. People want substance, relevance and a sense that their needs are being considered, even if they’re not always being met. They want a better way, now.
Why do you have to write a letter to Woolwich Mortgages to get them to stop sending statements in the post? (true). Why do Southeastern trains only offer the £1 fair to Brighton if pre-booked over the phone? (true). How is it that Apple can collect, repair and return an iPhone in the same time as it takes O2 to send a password reminder? (yes, this really happened too).
Users know best
How do any of these examples of bad user experience benefit the customer? They don’t. What stories like this tell us is that these businesses (along with countless other organisations) organise services around their own needs. This may have been viable in the past when people had less choice and less immediate channels for complaint. Now, neglecting user needs makes no sense and shows a lack of respect that people will not forgive or forget.
User experience will be the key value driver in the very near future. It will be the difference between success and failure - and it has such power because it is binary. Yes or no. Buy or leave. And if you have any doubt about this just think about your own habits. If not now, over the next day, week, month. Our guess is you’re behaving this way already.
Out of your hands
As power continues to shift to the customer you should start thinking about how you can get close to those you rely on. Your reputation is in their hands and no amount of ad spend, PR spin, price reduction or feature inflation is going to change their minds. Apply some user centred thinking and really listen to what people want. Whether they are your staff, your customers or your supply chain.
This article appeared in Moot 02, September 2008.