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Rolling with the Rollout

12 Feb
Let's not be subtle about it.

Let’s not be subtle about it.

Digital product rollouts are often treated as an afterthought. That is the proper planning of internal and external socialization activities that would ensure the product persuades users of its benefits beforehand. “We’re building a very inviting and intuitive digital experience, that should be persuasive enough for any user…” or so the thinking goes. The problem with this approach is that it totally discounts that users often have a thousand other things on their mind. Just because we think our product is inherently persuasive  right out of the box, doesn’t make others see it that way. Most new things, no matter how intuitive, will present a cognitive challenge. And we can easily fool ourselves during usability testing because the “first encounter” challenge is simply sidestepped. Sure, test participants may tell us the app is easy to understand and use, because by the very nature of the testing environment we have effectively socialized them with the product. We have their attention. We are not really testing it “in the wild”, where distractions abound.

Many brilliant applications have failed because of poor rollouts. I have been recently exposed to the story of a fantastic customer facing application for the mortgage division of a national bank that tested beautifully, yet completely failed in the market. The bank pulled the plug on it and is now back to the drawing board. The reason, according to the parties involved I had a chance to meet with, was poor rollout. When the application was launched the organization failed to properly socialize it with key internal constituents. These constituents who had roles in the process the app was supposed to support did not know about the app. Or if they knew about it, they were poorly educated about its strategic objectives and features. Worse, many key interactions and resulting customer data never made it to their CRM system. What happened is as these people were not invited and persuaded to use the application, they were kept in the dark of many customer interactions they needed to know about. This was a recipe for disaster.

So what does this mean in concrete terms? I thought I’d put a simple practical outline together. The key idea is to care for the planning part of the rollout. A good rollout needs to be planned in advance. Not when the product is ready to “hit the shelves”. And it needs to provide each user base with clear and unequivocal answers to the following questions.

What is this application or tool for?

We need to explain to users in clear and simple terms what the product will do and most importantly how it will benefit them. And we need to hammer it in. Studies in persuasive psychology have shown that if we can identify the users pain points, remind them of those and prove that the product will alleviate them in succinct, clear and easy-to-understand terms, we are well on our way.

What am I supposed to do with it?

We want to illustrate in a bit more detail why the app will benefit users. This is the exercise of explaining the features that support the objective mentioned above. Simply put, demonstrate why it will benefit users if they use it as expected.

How does it work?

A picture is worth a thousand words. Videos that explain the features and show users what to expect have proven to be extremely effective in persuading users to try an app. Although, let’s be clear: We do need a good product to begin with. No amount of video illustration will help persuade customers to use a poorly designed, cluttered and confusing app.

How/Where do I get it?

This is about ensuring the app (or whatever it is) is easy to find, download and install. This seems like common sense but is also often ignored.

Rollout plans don’t have to be onerous and time consuming. In fact, the steps presented above can be planned for and executed during the development stages of the product with minimal effort using the same resources who actually produce the app. Then of course, someone in the organization needs to ensure all of that gets properly delivered to the target audience.

The Rabbit Hole of Persuasion Architecture

24 Feb

Funny Bunny

Customers want to be inspired. Not persuaded.

Now to be fair, persuasion can be a good thing. Open, honest persuasion is definitely much better than downright dishonest manipulation or coercion. But is it really necessary?

The idea that if we craft clever paths into a website or other digital media, we will somehow enable users, who would otherwise not be interested in our products or services, to become willing customers is in large part a myth or an illusion. Now, to those who have followed my thoughts in the past, this may come as a surprise and sound like a major a departure from a previous stance I may have participated in. Which was to indeed, in some instances, market ourselves as “persuasion architects”. Again, to be fair, there is a large part of our work, especially with e-commerce that concerns itself with buy-flows. Persuasion may play a role there. But I now believe, the term “persuasion architect” is misleading.

We, as humans, make purchasing decisions at an entirely different level, that is actually far more emotional than we are willing to admit in most instances. And, more importantly, where external persuasion does not play a role at all. We then use our own “rational” arguments to justify our decisions. So, in that respect, the best a website can do is simply clear the way for an easy path to fulfillment. No real need for so-called “persuasion architecture”. However, the inspirational component is very much relevant. Brands can inspire us and lead us into action.

And so the more relevant question for digital media producers is: How do we most effectively weave that stickiness, that emotional inspiration into an experience that does not detract from the need to be totally transparent, fluid and easy to use? Better yet, how does that inspirational component actually make the experience even more fluid?

The Business Side Effect of UX

7 Oct

We’ve come to a point where pretty much every single business process from the most complex data analytics to the most pedestrian expense report is touched by technology.  As a result there is an increasing number of opportunities for UX practitioners to get involved at the business level of enterprises and help make their tools more convivial and usable.

The interesting twist is that in the process of developing UX with business stakeholders, we often find ourselves in the position of questioning the very business processes that we were simply called to make more usable through better user interfaces. The assumption made by business at the outset, was that these processes were founded in sound logic and therefore it is just a question of developing the right “flow” on the screen.

What ends up happening instead, is that the practice of developing UX shines a sort of a design-thinking black light on the business process itself and reveals inefficiencies that might have gone unnoticed otherwise. The simple act of thinking the process from a UX perspective helps take that process through yet another efficiency filter.

What if UX practioners became the business logic architects of the future? What if it all came down to a visual sketching tool, that seamlessy scales up to a full fledged business application?

Brand and Usability

21 Feb

The branded appeal of a website in all of its components is just as important as its usability (or user friendliness) in order to guide the user to a specific goal. As we now know, decision making is first and foremost emotional. And that goes in every situation. I could be buying the most pedestrian commodity and even then my decision on who to buy from will be emotional before I justify it with “reasoning” or rationalizations. Therefore the emotional appeal of every touchpoint matters.

The touchpoints can be multiple steps in a multi-channel hybrid campaign with a complex decision tree (a relationship building engine so-to-speak) or in the context of a single website, the touchpoints can be 1. the focal point value proposition on the homepage, and 2. a specific call-out or call-to-action tile followed by a multi-step form-filling process. If your website focuses all its creative emotional energy on the homepage or landing page but then treats the call-to-action and the subsequent conversion steps as a series of purely functional (read non-relational) features, your website’s conversions will lose out in a big way.