Designing a successful pervasive user experience.

One of the challenges faced deploying any social strategy is taking it from theory into a live environment. Reality is often different than theory and users never behave as expected.

A sample customer journey

A woman has moved and is now installing her broadband in her new home. She installs it as per the manual but it is not working. Fortunately the woman has Internet on her smart phone and goes to the providers help forum. She searches for an answer but doesn’t find one immediately so she logs in with her customer details and posts her query and leaves to do some shopping.

Sounds reasonable, right?

From a strategic engagement point-of-view this customer journey covers the ability to give the customer the option to post her question to an environment of her choice using a method of her convenience.

For the marketing department the customer journey gives the customer good touch points with the brand opening up for cross-selling opportunities to be explored.

And for the web designers and developers this customer journey gives them a good overview of what needs to be designed and developed to give the customer the interface she needs.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is nobody would do this in a real life situation. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. Imagine for a moment your broadband is not working.

Now pick up your Internet-enabled mobile phone, don’t just imagine this part, do it for real. Open your mobile browser. What is the first thing you do? My guess is you opened a search engine such as to search for your broadband provider’s website.

This step, opening the search engine, was not covered in the user journey described above. Whether it was forgotten or just assumed doesn’t matter. The importance of this step from a pervasive user experience point-of-view cannot be overestimated. If the providers site do not show up in the results of the search engine the whole scenario is dead in the water… or worse; it leads to a competitor’s site offering to help by switching provider.

And it gets worse…

Reading the scenario backwards it becomes clear the woman has been planning to go shopping rather than sit at home and fight the wires to connect her broadband. It is a grudge task she really don’t want to waste time on.

The scenario assumes the customer know her customer login details but how many people know their broadband customer login details? No, they are not the ones used to log on to the WIFI.

Given our customer in the scenario just moved, chances are she really have no idea of where these may be hidden. She may even have thrown them out during the move. And she really don’t want to spend time finding out as she wants to go shopping.

In fact, we must assume that some customers are not even aware they have these in the first place. So in effect this login process becomes another practical show-stopper.

The solution is rather simple: Make sure the customer can login using other means either by registering separately on the forum or by using social login features such as Facebook Connect, Twitter Anywhere or OpenID.

10 tips to creating a successful cross-channel social user experience

Making sure a pervasive user experience holds together presents some unique challenges but overall it is not much different from an on-site user experience.

  1. Don’t confuse business requirements with user research. Requirements sees the world from the company while user research looks at the world through the eyes of the customers. The two need to come together in a holistic user experience.
  2. Test with real users not just business stakeholders.
  3. Use prototypes to avoid exposing live environments to real customer situations.
  4. Use real environments. Don’t use a computer to represent a phone call or a mobile browsing experience; use a phone.
  5. Keep testing loose to allow test subjects to reveal paths not already considered and listen when they do.
  6. Maintain a consistent brand exposure. This can seem tricky when introducing external environments like Facebook, YouTube etc with limited visual control. Use what is available and remember to keep a consistent tone-of-voice as copy may be the only element you have full control over.
  7. Clear and consistent contact options. Having clear help options serves as much as a way of giving the users confidence to continue on their own as they know they have a panic button if they get stuck.
  8. Do not ignore non-digital channels such as phone calls, postal letters or shops.
  9. Don’t trust theory. Always validate.
  10. Don’t trust what has been done before. Always validate.