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User Experience: first impression versus lasting impressions

A crucial step in the deployment, or redeployment of any application requires a heavy dose of end-user involvement. We do not need to go too far back in time to find good examples of this; i.e. the recent Facebook changes that were not very popular. Even more recently, the a popular social site, FriendFeed, introduced changes that are causing a little bit of a stir, not as bad a Facebook though, is it was soft-launched as a beta. The simple fact is that we can learn from others, within our domain and outside of it, in order to avoid these pitfalls. Finally, while the examples used here are on a grand scale, when deploying your own solutions, the same rules do apply.

Two key messages I am hopeful are supported within this short post:

  1. Ease of use, on the first use, is not always the end goal – said with caution and caveats
  2. Change management is a practice unto itself with good reason

Bringing three accepted tenets of application development/deployment together in support of my key messages:

  • The processes (thought and action) required to introduce changes are important and necessary.
  • Involve your users/customers, ask them what they want, listen to the answers.
  • Look outside of your core businesses or domain; you can learn from other lines of business.

(ok, that last one is not yet a ‘tenet’ but we are working on it)

A fun example brings us back to the old Pepsi Challenge.  A few years back, Pepsi supported a blind taste test, to prove that people liked Pepsi better than Coke. I am not a marketer by trade, but smart enough to understand what happened, or at least the analysis. The summary version (with a reference here – warning it is a pdf) is that Pepsi won the challenge based on the ‘sip’ test, Coke reacted (New Coke), and then realized that people do not drink one sip, they drink a whole can.  Further analysis showed that people actually liked a can of Coke, better than Pepsi.

This study hits 2 of the 3 tenets –

  1. Coke reacted and did not do effective change management,
  2. Coke reacted and did not talk to their customers,
  3. What they could have learned from another business?

I am sure you can think of a few examples outside of the soft drink industry that if Coke had looked at, would have taught them a thing or two. Lucky for us, we can take this example and learn from it; First impressions do not always represent the end-game, and involve your customers before acting.

In designing systems there exists a critical balance between feature rich, sophistication and ease of use. Of course it is easier said, than done; It takes time, thought and a lot of skill. Iterations and incremental changes, based on customer/user feedback will provide guidance. I do understand that it is a balance, because if users or customers cannot get past the first screen, they will simply stop and not use whatever it is you are building.

Systems (applications and hardware)  that demonstrate ‘too well’; with eye-candy and overly simplified user interfaces often fail once the user community reach a level of competency. This rings true more for applications designed for internal enterprise use, but may be carefully applied to consumer facing applications in a given context.

The timing of this muse may seem odd, given my recent research on Cloud Computing, SaaS and SocialCRM (CRM 2.0).  But, I needed to remind myself that we need spend time looking back every once in a while in order to move forward. Given the power to reach nearly any customer base or user community, through a variety of channels, with unprecedented speed, we all need to have an action plan in place to consumer the information. Planning and strategy have taken on a whole new meaning.

I would like to note that this thought was is actually inspired by 3 independent conversations occurring through blogs and twitter – thanks to @GrahamHill, @scorpfromhell and @pgreenbe

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