Some discussions and descriptions of user experience focus solely on the qualities of the product itself, yet this is only one part of the overall story involving the user. There are many factors that over time will influence the experience. The more that organisations can do to ensure they consider and coordinate all these factors the better chance they have of designing not only good products but providing a good overall experience.
See below for some examples of these influencing factors at different times in the user relationship. I’ve broken it up into a number of stages although in reality these will probably blur together. For simplicity I’ll use the word product but it could be a physical product, a digital product, a service, or combination of all of these.
Initial feelings and expectations can be set by how easy the product is to find, how it is marketed, and how other people talk about it. Good initial awareness of a product or brand helps ensure that you are considered at the next stage when the user starts to make a choice from perhaps many possible solutions.
When someone is deciding which product to pick they make decisions based on the information available and how desirable it appears. Independent reviews and comparisons can hold far more weight than the views of the provider of the product especially if it is in a competitive market. The price being asked will also set certain expectations with the customer about the functionality, quality and reliability of the product.
A slick shopping and purchasing experience, whether online or in a traditional shop, will often go unnoticed unless exceptional. A bad shopping experience though will not necessarily stop the user in their tracks but it will set a bad tone just before the important first contact with the product.
There may be certain expectations built up already and these can be heavily influenced when the product is first unboxed and turned on, or installed and used for the first time. This first contact may only be a small proportion of the overall time one spends with a product but these first impressions are strong and will be remembered. Designing to make a good first impression will make the user far more positive and forgiving towards the product in normal usage. Obviously the opposite is also true.
Assuming the product has made it this far then it needs to be usable and meet the needs of the user. Emotions are often overlooked here and the experience will be heightened if it proves a pleasure to use. Can the product make the user smile? Can it continue to impress the user over time, and not just at the beginning?
Ideally problems in using a product are anticipated and prevented as far as possible. If problems do occur however then how they are dealt with can have a huge effect on the experience in a positive or negative way. If the problem is dealt with badly or unresolved then it may be then the product may simply not be used any further. If handled well it can lead to a far better trusting relationship with the user than if there had been no problems at all.
The end of a relationship with a product is often an area that is neglected and yet like many stories the beginning and the end are the most memorable. If someone has decided to stop using a product then a clean and polite uninstall process, or upgrade path, can make sure that related products are considered in future or even recommended to others.
If the overall experience has been a good one for the user then this will have a positive effect on their attitude to the company, other current products, and other future products. If the experience is exceptional then it is likely that this will affect not only the actual user but they will champion the product to other people in their network and spread the delight!
Lining things up
The more all the influencing factors line up and reinforce each other the greater the effect. Conversely one part can let the whole side down and taint the overall experience, and we all know how bad news spreads easier and quicker than good news.
Most of this should be familiar to us as consumers of products everyday and not many people would argue that you shouldn’t be designing consistent experiences across all these stages. Many companies struggle to design and implement these good holistic experience for their users mainly due to the fragmented nature of their organisation. Those that do stand out from the crowd. They don’t just have happy users, they are usually the most successful companies.
Who influences the user experience and what can we do to help this holistic view take place in organisations? Sounds like a good topic for the next post!