Posts Tagged ‘user experience’

Vertical User Experience Platform

July 5, 2012

Whilst discussing what a UXP is and who the key players are with a customer I was asked an interesting question, “is there a need for industry (banking, retail, government …) specific UXP ?”.

My immediate reaction was that the technologies in a UXP were generic horizontal solutions that should be agnostic to the industry they were implemented in. The fact that they were specialised solutions and are not industry specific to me was a key advantage. So why would you want a content management solution or collaboration tool that was specific to banking or retail?

The response was interesting: For many smaller companies the complexity of managing their web presence is huge, even if they buy into a single vendor approach for example using Microsoft Sharepoint they still have a huge task to set up the individual components (content management, collaboration, social tools and apps) and this is only made harder with the need to support an increasing array of devices (phone, tablet, TV etc…).

It seems there is a need for an offering that provides an integrated full UXP that can be set-up easily and quickly without the need for an army of developers. Compromises on absolute flexibility are acceptable provided a rich set of templates (or the ability to create custom templates) were provided, such that the templates handled device support automatically. Further the UXP might offer vertical specific content feeds out of the box.

As in my previous blog “The End of Silo Architectures” using a UXP front end technology to create industry specific apps is a great idea. Such a solution could not only provide the business functionality (e.g. Internet banking, insurance quotes/claims, stock trading) but the technical issues of cross device and browser support, security and performance.

So whilst I can understand the requirement and the obvious benefit, the idea of a vertical UXP to me seems like providing a vertical specific CRM or Accounting package. The real answer is that it makes sense to provide vertical apps and use generic Content, Collaboration and social tools from a UXP. Ideally the generic components are integrated and have easy to configure templates.

As I have highlighted before though the UXP is complex not just from a technology perspective but also from the perspective of skills, processes and standards. The first step for any organisation must be to create a strategy for UXP: audit what you currently have, document what you need (take into consideration current trends like social, gamification and mobile) and then decide how you move forward.

Unfortunately this area currently seems ill serviced by the consultancy companies so it may just be up to you to roll your own strategy.

Arise the new CEO: Chief eXperience Officer

July 14, 2011

Since the early days of the web, marketeers have espoused the merits of “managing customer experience” and how online it is only the “experience” that will differentiate companies as the web brings pricing transparency. Certainly in the case of the latter issue, the rise of “comparison” sites has highlighted the fact that price alone can not be a long term strategy. Post the Internet bubble bursting the issue of customer experience has for many had to take a back seat while organizations strove cost cutting measures to remain profitable or even just to survive in the midst of recession.

However more recently it seems that customer experience is again getting more prominence and importance in organizations. I believe mobile has had a role to play in creating this renewed excitement with the apps showing “the art of the possible”: engaging user interfaces with greater usability. It’s no surprise to see experience champions rallying their brethren troops to create their own community of professionals in the field. Founded by Bruce Temkin (previously an analyst at Forrester) , the CXPA (Customer experience Professionals Association) is a organization focused on creating standards and best practice in Customer Experience Management. As a non profit organization it’s sponsors in Adobe, Microsoft and SAP. Whilst it is early days there are enough credible people involved to make this a success in an area which sorely requires standards.

But what really captured my attention this week was an announcement by US Insurance company Mass Mutual, appointing a Chief Customer Experience Officer, the remit of this role is to manage “central oversight of the end-to-end experience for MassMutual customers to ensure a consistent, favorable and efficient interaction across the organization”. What’s interesting about this is that whilst most C level directors recognize the importance of customer experience, very few actually have someone in their company whose prime responsibility is managing customer experience.

So well done to Mass Mutual and hopefully we see many more similar appointments, in the meantime however the CXPA or someone of the same ilk needs to bring some much needed standards and best practices to a field crowded with self proclaimed “experts”.

Birth of the User Experience Platform (UXP)

January 15, 2011

Regular readers will know I have an interest in the user experience. Actually, it’s more like a passion – so, what’s next for web and user interaction technologies?

 Gartner has answered that question in their recently released hype cycle paper on the next generation web (see further reading, below). The cycle itself raises some interesting issues and trends, not least the potential horror of ‘Web 3.0’ – which the analyst suggests could be an ambiguous and unhelpful term.

 In other areas, Gartner is able to be more precise. The analyst recognises that the web continues to evolve along multiple dimensions, such as social, mobile, programmable and real time. Such developments are taking place outside and within the business, causing growth on an unprecedented scale.

 Much work, however, still needs to be done. Too many workers at too many companies remain unaware of methodologies and processes that can be used to help improve the user experience.

 Understanding the user is everything. Giving users the platform that meets their needs – and inevitably the power to tweak that platform via end-user computing – will sort the web-enabled wheat from the business chaff.

 Once again, that is a trend recognised by Gartner. The analyst suggests that a series of trends, such as context-aware computing, the mobile web and the cloud, are of particular interest right now. However, it is their take on user experience platforms (UXP) that is most significant.

 Earlier in the year, I said I expected the pendulum to swing towards UXP in 2010 (see further reading). That foresight now looks spot on, with Gartner tagging the emerging concept of integrated technologies that help deliver user interaction in its hype cycle.

 The analyst suggests the UXP is developing as a critical platform, which represents the convergence of presentation layer technology. It suggests the UXP helps provide consistency and integration, helping users to have a similar experience across multiple platforms. A UXP, in short, provides significant efficiencies.

 Gartner suggests vendors have been slow to match demand and that the market will emerge through 2013. Some specialists, however, are ahead of the game – and the analyst’s hype cycle identifies edge IPK as a UXP vendor.

 Once again, it’s nice to be proven correct and even better that our good work is recognised. My advice is to take a look at the UXP now; it’s increasingly a business necessity and you will be way ahead of your competitors.

Further reading:

Microsoft wake up to smell the coffee

November 11, 2010

Another month, another confusing set of stories relating to Microsoft’s web framework Silverlight and the next generation mark-up language HTML5.

I wrote about the relationship previously, referring to Internet Explorer general manager Dean Hachamovitch’s suggestion that the future of the web is HTML5. More specifically, I questioned whether Microsoft’s support for HTML5 left Silverlight out in the cloud.

The answer for a few weeks, at least according to the team in Redmond, was at the centre of the next generation web. In a blog posting (see further reading, below), Microsoft’s director of product management for developer platforms Brad Becker stated that Microsoft remained committed to Silverlight – and that the framework extends the web by enabling scenarios that HTML does not cover.

That comment, in itself, was not surprising. HTML5 remains a work in progress, with developments on various platforms continuing to be developed. Silverlight, as Becker states in his own posting, is already installed on 600,000,000 desktops and devices.

But success is not just about numbers. Take the related area of mobile operating systems, where Symbian remains the leading mobile OS with about 40% of the market, according to analyst Gartner (see further reading).

Those figures, however, include the legacy of Nokia’s previous success. The smart phone market is leading to the ever-increasing growth – and inevitably the dominance – of Research in Motion, Apple and Android.

The same will be true in web development. Do not assume people will use a specific platform just because a provider has a ready-made user base. More to the point, Microsoft seems to be coming round to that way of thinking.

Bob Muglia, Microsoft’s head of servers and tools division, gave an interview at the company’s Professional Developers Conference and said that Silverlight was still “core” to Microsoft but the company was looking to other technologies to allow people to access online services (see further reading).

Muglia attempted to cool the situation in a blog posting (see further reading), suggesting his comment that the company’s Silverlight strategy had shifted was simply a comment on how the industry had changed. It was a suggestion that, rather then cool the situation, helped to add petrol to an already well-stoked fire.

Developers rounded on Muglia, posting comments on his blog which suggested they felt hurt and that Silverlight’s reputation had been left damaged: “The effort needed to restore our confidence in Silverlight is tantamount to unringing a bell,” suggested one poster.

HTML5 is a work in progress, but its progress is also startling. Non-believers – even at Microsoft’s Redmond HQ – are beginning to wake up and smell the coffee. Confusion reigns but sense, and HTML5, will win out in the end. Now somebody needs to pass the coffee cup to Adobe !

Further reading:

Continous Experience Improvement is the customer winner

August 3, 2010

Times might continue to be tough, but there is no excuse for ignoring the demands of your client.

 Your company lives or dies by its ability to service existing customers and attract new business. The distraction of new and fast-changing economic pressures is no excuse for ignoring the basic tenets of customer service.

 The organisations that strive to make sure clients are well-serviced will emerge strongest in the upturn. In fact, improving customer experience is the best way to attract new clients and retain old business.

 Take a recent survey from Watermark Consulting, which says that from 2007 to 2009 – through the best and worst of times – customer experience leaders in the insurance business generated total returns that were 145% better than customer experience laggards.

 As ever, attention to detail matters. Your boss is likely to be concerned by value. Approach him with a project that aims to deliver “a good customer experience” and he is likely to mutter disparagingly about return on investment.

 As Watermark suggest, some business leaders are reticent to invest in improving and differentiating their customer touch points because it can be difficult to quantify the resulting bottom line benefits.

 The economic crisis means capital for new projects is likely to be limited, even non-existent. A project that proposes an intangible increase in customer experience will fall on deaf ears. Instead, act to make sure customer experience is viewed as a business necessity.

 You simply must demonstrate how businesses that deliver a positive customer experiences are rewarded in the form of better financial performance.

 Turn to the web and think of the user interface. How do your customers interact with your business and how collaborative is your presentation layer?

 You do not have to spend big to improve customer service at the front-end. Making use of existing resources and legacy applications is the easiest way to produce a cost-effective improvement in user service.

 Aim for simplicity and find ways to display complex, but useful, information in a customer-friendly form. Act in an open manner and look for a platform that will help your business to deploy information from customised apps and white label products across multiple channels.

 Your loyal customers – both external and internal – will notice the front-end improvements. And your boss will notice the cost effective way you have created customer experiences that impact the bottom line positively.


User Experience Analytics (UEA)

May 4, 2010

For companies that treat their web sites as another piece of marketing collateral, creating a good looking site is their end-game. For anyone that treats the web as an efficient and effective sales channel, managing their online presence is a continual cycle in customer experience management.

The cycle of create/monitor/refine relies on a three-pronged approach of creating a site, monitoring its use and refining the experience to meet new demands.

To measure a sites effectiveness, one method is to use specialist analytics software, either open source, hosted (for example, Google Analytics) or proprietary (such as Webtrends).

Such tools capture information about web site behaviour, such as who has visited, when they clicked and how long they spent at each destination. The information can be extremely helpful for organisations hoping to develop targeted marketing, interactive advertising and search optimisation.

But creating honed behavioural analytics can be a complicated task. Each page needs to be “hooked in”, so that pages are tagged and individual hits and user behaviour recorded.

If behavioural analytics tell you “what the user did” on your site, quite often it is the transactional data (data they have entered into online forms) that tells you “why the user behaved” in a certain way.

However transactional data is normally held separately in an organisation MI Database and is only captured if the user completes a process – for example, receiving a home insurance quote. However, to find out why users don’t get to the end of a process firms have to undertake separate programming to capture the transactional data. Such programming helps to ensure that transactional information is recorded in databases and the intelligence passed to an analytics engine. But once again, such a process is complex and time-intensive.

So, here’s an idea – wouldn’t it be great if you could easily combine behavioural and transactional data? Such an approach would really create 1+1=3, as web designers and business experts can analyse and tweak customer experiences based on intelligence gathered from actual usage.

Evidence comes from our work at edge IPK. We worked alongside a large financial organisation, analysing behavioural data to identify the most common page that users left without completing an insurance quotation form. From the behavioural information, we knew that most users not completing a car insurance quote left on the page where they would enter their car details. The additional transactional data told us that users would select a car maker, but would leave before selecting a car model.

We quickly concluded that users were leaving at this point because they could not find the model of car they wanted to insure. The result was an increase in quotes and, more importantly, an increase in sales.

Happy customers and new business. Isn’t it time you tweaked your user experience analytics to ensure all potential metrics are covered?


Is it touch and go for future user interfaces?

November 3, 2008

The next couple of years promise a huge upsurge of interest in touch-sensitive user interfaces, as IT firms battle to provide new and intuitive ways to access information.


Following on from the massive popularity of Apple’s iPod and iPhone devices, major suppliers – such as Microsoft and RIM – are exploring how new input mechanisms that can improve the user experience.


RIM recently announced the details of Storm, its first touch screen BlackBerry. The device – which includes dual-mode functionality and integrated GPS – uses ClickThrough technology to allow users to push the screen as they select an application or enter text.


Other manufacturers are offering additional bonuses. Nokia’s 5800 touch sensitive phone includes a semi-professional camera and – most tantalisingly, perhaps – unlimited music downloads.


Camcorder specialist Flip, meanwhile, has just released details of its next-generation Mino recorder and the pocket-sized device relies on a touch-sensitive screen for its user interface.


Developments are not just confined to mobile devices and the latest Jaguar XF includes a touch-sensitive video screen that allows the driver to operate climate, entertainment and driving controls.


Other devices offer a clever solution to an intractable challenge, such as the Series 58 touch-sensitive switch from EAO – which can stick to a surface without the need to drill holes and its electronic switching element is powerful enough to operate though thick double glazing.


But is important to remember that being flavour of the month is no assurance of long-term popularity. And while IT firms are working hard to develop sleek touch-screen devices, they must remember that a good-looking device is no substitute for a usable interface.


There is clearly an advantage for multi-touch device over single touch, as they offer a greater palette of “touch gestures”. However, such richness comes with issues: first, no common standard for gestures across devices; and second, having to remember more gestures.


Problems with touch devices are common, too. Screen calibration issues can mean users have to “guess” hot spots for touch. Button performance can be erratic and users often enter applications or text accidentally.


Interfaces can also be slow to respond, leaving the individual waiting for a device to update menus and on-screen information.


Such problems mean users can sometimes be wistful for their old-fashioned mechanical buttons – and for many applications, the ability to support “Undo” functionality will be a key blessing!


Take Google’s new G1 phone, which includes a touch-sensitive screen and a computer-like keyboard and tracker ball mouse that provides an additional interface to the firm’s Android operating system.


Such developments illustrate that levels of users satisfaction will not necessarily match huge interest in touch-sensitive devices until interfaces are perfected.