Category Archives: Behaviours

Customer insight from… the Yellow Pages

The dull thud of a phone book hitting the desk. …Probably not a sound you’ve heard since the 90’s, but the humble yellow book, and it’s smaller, newer, blue cousin can be useful to explain the value of customer insights, especially those gathered in context…

20 years ago when the Thomson Directory went into battle with the ubiquitous Yellow Pages in the UK they wanted a point of difference – and to become the ‘most reached for’ directory over their competitor…

…By visiting people’s homes they saw the Yellow Pages not only next to the phone, but in drawers, under stairs, propping up computer monitors etc. Importantly, they noticed peoples’ behaviour – They stacked smaller books on top of  larger books.

Thomson used these behavioural insights to their advantage, producing a smaller book so it would sit on top, and be the first directory people grabbed.

The purpose, function and content remained unchanged, but a practical human behaviour sparked this significant change in the design and form factor of their product.

I’m not sure there’s a digital equivalent to ‘stacking’ items like this… but can you think of other products or services which have been shaped so fundamentally by behavioural insights?

Thanks Simon in London for the photos

…and to Ofer Deshe who told me the story a few years back.

Swipe this way

You know you’ve overlooked basic design research when your customer can improve your product in a few seconds using a pen and some tape.

This is the case with these three payment terminals.

The design usually includes a discreet symbol to indicate which way the card should go through the slot, an interaction that occurs millions of times per day.

The symbol alone doesn’t get the message across, especially when customers have a queue of people behind them and don’t want to look like a goof.

To save time explaining, and customers feeling like idiots, these shopkeepers have removed all ambiguity with a simple message explaining how to insert your card.

It took observation of customer behaviour to improve this interaction, something the designer should have done, not the shopkeeper (who pays for the service).

Last week, for the first time, I saw this.

I like to think that a designer out there took notice of these shopkeeper hacks, then integrated them into the new design.

If your customers could hack the design of your product or service what would they change? and how will you respond?

Tune in to customer behaviour, or you’re buggered

Process from an ethnographic study to understand media use in early adopters.
With technology and the way we consume all types of media advancing at a blinding pace, following changes in behaviours, motivations and expectations of customers plays a critical part in informing and providing a great user experience.

It’s nice to think we kiwis are up to date when it comes to technology and that our media providers are armed with this rich customer insight, but in a weekend radio show some TV folk discussed the future of TV in NZ.

TV3 have this to say:

“TV companies have not yet cottoned-on to the internet generation’s wavelength.

We haven’t caught up with them yet … with their understanding of technology… their understanding of the process.

The world is SO different and I’m buggered if I know how we respond to that”.

mmm, Well …now I’m not so sure.

When less is less and more is too much.

Honda. Door handles optionalThis Honda trunk-lid has been simplified and streamlined so much that the owner has crudely screwed on a ‘hardware store’ handle to make it easier to use.

Mazda. Where is the 'forgot pin' button?This Mazda door entry has gone the other way by adding complexity; a key-code entry, which looked to me like it had never been touched, whereas the standard key-hole had seen plenty of action.

Less features or more?
Your new product needs a point of difference in a crowded market, but there’s a fine balance between adding features and taking them away.

The key to this balance lies in how useful and intuitive it is for the end user.
In these examples, the product teams have gone out of their way to either simplify or complicate a conventional and accepted way to open a car door, at great cost to the carmaker, and with no benefit for the end user.
So, how can you tell which way to go?

  • When does more become too much, and less not enough?
  • At what point does the investment your customer has to make in adapting their behaviour to a new design outweigh its benefits?
  • Exactly how minimal can you go when stripping back those features to make your customer use your product without having to think about it? (let alone hack it to make it more usable).

User research
We can get a good feel for where this balance lies by watching the way people use existing products and prototypes of new ones, gaining an understanding of what they need and don’t need, what works for them and what doesn’t.
If either of these two carmakers had spent time purposefully watching their customers use a prototype of these products they would never have made it to market.

…or perhaps Honda just wanted to sell door-handles as a premium accessory?

UX in the physical world

Individual user experience in the physical world. Custom built surfboards.
This project from 2009 allowed me to work on interactions with a different kind of digital – gripping fingers and thumbs, … taking me back to my surfboard building days.

A kiwi company was developing a new type of mouse. I’used UX methods to help refine the design, starting off with some user research to understand how people will use it.

Working with a physical object so closely tied to the task at hand is a challenge. Asking people how they’d use it can be misleading as they often struggle to articulate what they want from a product they aren’t always conscious of using.

This really takes me back to my first encounter with User Centred Design – making custom surfboards in the early 90’s.

My first customers would fill out an order form with their height, weight and suggested measurements for the board. These were often based on their vision of riding in a certain way, on waves which often only happened twice a year, or in their dreams.

When viewed through the right lens, observing people use a product can convert directly into design requirements to improve the user experience.

Wherever possible, I’d go surfing with my customers, to get a feel for their riding style and the conditions they most often rode in.  Watching them ride provided a more reliable brief of what they needed from a board than they’d written on the order form.

When you’re riding the right board, you forget it’s there; it’s like an extension of your body. Making the board ‘disappear’ was my measure of whether I’d made it right for the rider. (As well as the smile on their face at the end of a session)

Using a mouse with your computer is similarly sub-conscious but it’s not a sport, and doesn’t need to make you smile.

… but there’s a first time for everything.

Prepare to be disappointed. Customer service in an over-subscribed city

I’m en route to London and am bracing myself for the reality of ‘the nation of shopkeepers’

London shopkeepers’ best intentions to deliver great customer experience are challenged under the weight of the massive demand. With this volume of customers to serve, there’s no time for the personal touch.

And from a shop workers viewpoint, why bother? It’s a constant anonymous flow of customers and tourists you’re very unlikely to see again.

I’ll soon get used to this, lower my service expectation and be delighted if I even get a hello at the checkout. When your sights are set so low, it’s amazing how little is required to make a difference.

In New Zealand, good sales staff will greet you with a smile, look you in the eye and seem genuinely interested. Often you feel like you are the only customer in the shop or on the phone, you have their attention and it even seems personal.

When returning to NZ from a global metropolis I really notice our hometown advantage, and it takes some acclimatising. “why are they so interested when I’m just buying the milk?”

I’m already looking forward to the first few trips to the shops on my return.

Kiwi teacher’s User Centered Design approach wins over students (and Microsoft)

A geography teacher from an Auckland school is hailed as the ‘most innovative teacher in the world’. Delivering lessons via students mobile phones.

Nathan’s approach:

  • Understanding his audience
  • Observing their behavior
  • Building empathy with their needs
  • Harnessing their input

…and ultimately innovating learner experiences in an education system stymied by tradition.

Here are some cues from the article as to how a User Centered Design approach helped him reach this great outcome:

“No matter how much technology advances, high-quality teaching will always be linked to having a good relationship with students”

‘learning through information technology and student involvement. Students helped – by telling him what they felt was most appropriate or interesting’

There’s a video on MSN charged with Nathans enthusiasm for the way he’s been able to respond to the needs and behaviours of the students, by the power of observation.

He says the students who inspired the new method have embraced the technology and experience.
Pass rates have risen from 50-60% up to 80-90%.  Hard to argue with that sort of result.

Customer experience pilgrims: Experience economy brings a new kind of tourist to NZ

Some Kiwi brands are attracting their global customers back to the source of their product, creating new customer experience touch-points as well as fuelling tourism.

Companies exporting products ‘made from NZ’ are seeing their customers make pilgrimages to experience NZ brands at the source, connecting with the origins of the product.

Tourists have journeyed to previously ignored parts of our landscape thanks to Lord of the Rings. Now they are visiting high country sheep stations to come face to face with the sheep whose fleece they have been wearing. More than 10,000 people worldwide have traced their merino garment right back to the sheep station here in NZ where the wool was sourced using Icebreaker’s ‘baacode’ trace-ability technology.

Last week an American man whose leg was saved from amputation by a Manuka Honey dressing  has been to visit the apiary here to ‘meet the people who changed his life’.

With an increasing number of global NZ brands trading on the unique geography and natural resources of our country we could see more tourism based on these brand pilgrimages.

Blinded by mass production, availability, and homogenous strip mall shopping, today’s discerning consumers seek authenticity of products and experiences. Providing a traceable origin and conveying the authentic root of the product seems to be winning Icebreaker wearers over, so will 42below vodka devotees visit glacial springs where the magic brew is sourced, virtually, then in person?

What sort of experience are people expecting when they arrive, traditional retail or a gumboots-and-Hilux adventure into the depths of our countryside, both, or something completely different?

In an experience economy, opportunity awaits those who seek to understand their customers motivations, then define and create the types of experiences and touch points these ‘authenticity seeking’ visitors are drawn to.

Those who adapt, survive.

When it comes to adapting, we Kiwis are experts.

Our ‘Number 8 wire’ attitude sees us modify, improve and invent products out of necessity, or just to ‘make do’. This Wellington cyclist shows Kiwis are not afraid of some prototyping to find a solution, and stay safe on the road.

Businesses wanting to survive in times of change can learn from how people behave and adapt to and interact with their environment.

  • Which coping strategies do people employ when a product is not up to the job intended?
  • How could the product be improved to provide a more rewarding experience for the user?
  • Do customer’s habits reveal a latent need for a new product to serve emerging behaviours?

Observing customer behaviour in the context of use, getting out there amongst your customers, building empathy with their needs and watching for these habits is an insightful way to answer these questions   …and a core user research technique.

…but if you are  a bicycle accessories company, this may find you hanging out behind the bike shed after dark. …hmm.

A sign your User Experience needs a reality check

How can it be that a sign-writer, who arranges letters day in day out, can make a spelling mistake?

A mere series of stickers applied to a board, but somewhere along the line, the very purpose of the sign, the word itself became an abstract series of tasks within a task.

Happily beavering away up there in the cherry-picker, the sign-writer has lost sight of the big picture only two letters in … and walked away from the finished task unaware it has totally missed the target – To be read by people.

This happens every day when business and design teams become too close to their product.

The end user experience can and often is inadvertantly deprioritised when you are totally immersed in the myriad details of build and delivery.

User research with identified customers provides the vital ‘reality checking’ of a product, helping the designers see the product through the fresh eyes of its future users.

We’ve got spell-check to keep us literate, but before we deliver our message, it pays to test the product with real customers to ensure we really are speaking their language.