This blog is the second part of a three-part series. Click to read Part 1 and Part 3.

In our last series of posts on this topic, we introduced the concept of context first experience design and examined its importance and reasons for companies to quickly adopt this strategy. We also outlined the three drivers of context first. Companies that pay attention to these drivers can create a highly personalized experience, almost predictive in nature, to delight customers and provide them with what they need and want at precisely the right moment.

In this article, we will focus on the ‘environment’ driver and take an in-depth look at what constitutes ‘environment’ and how companies can implement this driver on their quest to become an organization leading the new wave of context first design.

What is ‘environment’?

First, it is important to make the distinction between environment and location. While location is based on an individual’s longitudinal and longitudinal position on a map, environment is much broader and takes into account elements beyond just the physical location such as time, locality, weather, recent and upcoming events, and proximity to other relevant locations. Simply put, the environment is the when and where of a situation.

Imagine a summer day in Chicago. A millennial woman leaves the lake shore and has some spare time before meeting with a friend across town. She checks Google Maps on her iPhone and sees her location: the intersection of Cornell and 50th. However, it might be useful to her – and to nearby businesses – to know more about her immediate environment. For example, she might want to know if there is a festival nearby, an ice cream shop since the temperature is warm, and whether heavy traffic is delaying the local bus she was planning on using to get across town.

Now, let’s examine how to implement the environment driver and also look at examples of companies that have successfully done so. To begin, it is critical to first identify environmental attributes that matter most to your customers. This can be achieved by asking: what environmental factors influence your customers to purchase or use your products and services? For example:

  • For food-related products, this could be the outdoor temperature (ice cream is more appealing during a heat wave – unless you’re English and in the UK, in which case our data shows that you tend to buy ice cream when it rains!)
  • For allergy medicine, this can be a combination of the time of year when allergy season is in full swing and the fact that a consumer is located outdoors
  • For social media, this means incorporating local themes or ongoing events as part of a picture or video shared with friends

Once the key influential environmental factors have been identified, the next step is to determine how to best utilize the user’s environment to generate opportunities to enhance the customer experience. Using the same product and service categories provided above:

Benefits of using customer environment as a design driver

A recent study revealed 62% of shoppers like the idea of receiving deals or offers based on their whereabouts and the majority are open to receiving relevant alerts.

Additionally, almost half surveyed said using a mobile device in-store has led them to make immediate purchases. Hillshire Brands collaborated with recipe service apps such as Epicurious to deliver ads and coupons to grocery store shoppers approaching its American Craft Sausage product and found shoppers were 20 times more likely to buy when receiving such tailored offerings.

Customer environment driver at Home Depot

At Home Depot, the mobile app is able to detect the location of the customer and determine if she is inside a Home Depot retail store. Once it confirms the shopper is inside, the app switches to an ‘in-store’ mode and enables features such as real-time inventory availability and more precise search to locate items to the exact aisle and bay of the store.

What if Home Depot wanted to take it one step further and incorporate elements of the customer environment besides just location?

To enhance their app’s ‘in-store’ mode, they can, for instance, use information such as the current weather conditions and forecast to recommend plant seedlings suitable for a customer’s home gardening project. For regions forecasted to have upcoming droughts, the app can recommend drip irrigation plants.

For regions that are about to hit the rainy season, Home Depot can recommend water absorbent plants, ask the customer to postpone landscaping activities altogether, or even cross-sell gutter maintenance products instead. The possibilities are endless.

Next steps

When embarking on the journey to integrate the environment driver as part of your context first strategy, it is important to first target quick wins through ideas that are both easy to implement and provide high value for the customers. Snapchat’s geofilters feature is a good example of a quick win as it was simple to develop: most of the geofilters were customer generated/created so Snapchat did not have to create every single one.

Of course, it is important to note all three context first drivers work together. For example, pairing an understanding of a customer’s environment with her objectives can be an especially powerful way to understand which environmental elements to focus on for that particular customer. Similarly, your customer journey maps should bring to life the impact and opportunities that specific environments will have on the personas you developed. Therefore, it is important to consider and address each driver in order to maximize the impact of the experiences you design for your customers.