OPINION: Customer experience isn’t someone else’s job

13 Sep 2014

But the website said ...

When taking time out from being an all-round legend, my father is a retired architect and thus is occasionally asked to check out houses by family members when they are considering moving.

In virtually every room he visits, when everyone else is checking walls, doors and fittings, he heads straight for the window. “North is this direction so the sun rises here and sets here so this room would look great in the morning and darker in the afternoon, etc.” He sees the world from an architectural perspective, and is acutely aware of the role light plays in architecture. All of his judgments and opinions are formed through that lens.

In 2004, the then-retiring Irish state pathologist John Harbison, who for more than three decades had been amongst the first to arrive on the scene of the most notorious crimes in the country, gave an interview to The Irish Times. He observed that by the end of his career his intuition became so well honed that he could enter a crime scene and quickly understand the nature of the crime, where the perpetrator was likely to have entered and exited the scene, the type of crime it was, and even if it was likely to have been premeditated. Effectively, his training and life’s passion was such that he was able to see what no one else could see, despite looking at exactly the same thing.

Through the eyes of the user

There is a lens everyone involved in digital needs to see the world through, and that is the lens of the user. It is everyone’s job to intuitively see something that others don’t, which is the world through the user’s eyes.

This may sound self-evident, obvious almost, but it remains sadly lacking in too many digital projects.

Recently, I had to work late to clear up lots of admin I had been putting off for too long. After a busy day, I fancied a change of scenery and decided to walk down a few doors on our street to the coffee shop for a mug of their finest Guatemalan to give me the burst needed to get through the death-by-Excel I was bracing myself for. I quickly checked the shop’s website, which confirmed it didn’t close until 7pm, so excited for caffeine and a bright environment to tackle the job I’d been putting off for too long, I settled into a quiet corner and got to work. All was going well until 5.55pm, when the owner asked me to finish up as they were closing. I explained I was there until 7pm and that their website said they were open until 7pm, but he responded the shop had been closing at 6pm for a few months now.

So my customer experience was pretty lousy because the coffee shop’s site let me down. Amongst my frustration was the notion that when the site was being built, no time, thought or priority was given to a piece of information that played a disproportionately important role in how I experienced the brand of that coffee shop.

Everyone responsible

So who was to blame?

Was it Dave, who designed the logo, the inside of the shop and the website? No, well, he’s the designer, he doesn’t need to concern himself with the customer experience. Perhaps the fault lies with Sarah, who developed the HTML, wrote the CSS, plugged in the content management system and found somewhere to host the site? No, well, she’s the techie, she doesn’t need to concern herself with the customer experience. Well in that case it must be Karl’s problem, who owns and runs the coffee shop? No, he’s the boss-man, who is too busy either serving plates or else spinning them, trying to make sure everything in the shop runs well.

So who defined the online customer experience?

They all did.

Just because they didn’t design it, doesn’t mean they didn’t define it.

I, in common with all of their customers, had an experience on their website, whether they designed it or not. The things they focused on during the design and build process defined how their customers felt when they arrived on the site.

It turns out that Dave and Sarah and Karl are all responsible, because the web confiscates the luxury of the silo. On the web, your user’s experience becomes your brand.

And that belongs to everyone.

Gareth Dunlop

 Gareth Dunlop Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Enterprise Ireland, IDA, Property News, Ordnance Survey Ireland, and Belfast City Council. Visit Fathom online.

 Coffee shop sign image via Shutterstock

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.