Over the last few years, the popularity of UX has grown by leaps and bounds. Companies have come to realize the importance of offering engaging experiences to their users, lest they risk losing them to competitors that have invested time and money into improving their product and service experiences. An interesting side effect of this enhanced focus on UX is that it has helped make users more sophisticated. This, however, can be a double-edged sword; as users become more sophisticated their expectations also increase, and UX professionals must find new ways to meet these elevated expectations. One way to achieve this is to extend the experience beyond the device.
Most of the time when we think about UX, we are thinking within the confines of the digital world. What I'm suggesting, however, is that there are ways to extend the user's experience from the digital world into the real world. This is by no means an earth-shattering revelation; businesses have been working hard at offering exceptional offline experiences for decades. The explosion of the web and, more recently, mobile devices has given businesses an exciting channel to expand the experience.
This holistic approach can create very powerful experiences, which in turn can build tremendous brand loyalty. Imagine the enjoyment you get when using an application or a website that has a carefully crafted, wonderful experience. Now imagine you've just received the product you ordered via that app or site, and the same attention to detail has been paid to the presentation and experience of receiving and unboxing that item. How much more likely would you be to tell your friends about your experience? The next time you need that product or a similar one, where are you going to go? Extending the experience can pay huge dividends in attracting and retaining customers, and some companies are already embracing this practice and providing inspiration for UX practitioners to use in their work.
In-Store Experience: Apple
It should come as no surprise that when talking about experience Apple jumps to the top of the list. For years, Apple has blazed the trail of UX with its hardware and software. So it made sense that when they opened their physical stores, that their focus on aesthetics and experience would continue. If you’ve ever been in an Apple store, you know what I mean—they're beautiful. It wasn't enough for Apple to simply have beautiful stores, though; they wanted shoppers to have a beautiful experience as well. They've done this in multiple ways, but perhaps the most interesting is their approach to the most dreaded of all shopping tasks: checking out.
When you walk into an Apple store, there’s an army of blue shirts there to assist you—nothing revolutionary here. But these folks are more than just your typical sales staff. They are armed with specially outfitted iPhones that can process transactions on the spot. Your blue shirt helps find the product, checks you out, and you’re out the door without ever waiting in line.
Suppose you just want to purchase some accessories for your iPad. You don't really need to ask any questions, which is good because all the blue shirts are busy anyway. Apple’s got you covered there, too. Fire up the Apple Store app on your iDevice and use the new EasyPay option. Just scan your product, pay with your iTunes account, and leave—again, no waiting!
How does it apply?
Apple gets it. Find the biggest pain points in a process and reduce or remove them. As you are conducting your research, keep an eye out for processes, bottlenecks, etc. that get in the way of users’ goals. After you’ve identified these issues, develop innovative ways to reduce or eliminate them. Try to find ways that you can empower your users to complete tasks that they are currently unable to do on their own. One surefire way to deliver a great experience to your users is to help make them more efficient in their work.
Packaging and Delivery: Warby Parker
Buying eyeglasses can be a daunting task. You have to pick just the right frames to fit your face and match your style. This is nearly impossible to do by just looking at pictures of frames on a website.
Warby Parker realized this was a problem and came up with their Home Try-On Program. With this program, you select five frames from their site and they send them to you free of charge to try on at home. You’ve got five days to try on the different frames and solicit feedback from your family and friends. If they aren’t any help, you can upload pictures of yourself sporting the various frames to the Warby Parker Facebook page and they’ll help you choose the ones that look best. At the end of the five days, you simply ship the frames back using the included, prepaid shipping label. Didn’t find anything you like? Order five more.
This experience is great in that it solves the problem of trying to find the right frames online in a simple and elegant way. It also one-ups the traditional eyeglass store by giving you multiple options to take home and take your time to decide. No more pressure of being in the store, surrounded by hundreds of frames while trying to make an on-the-spot decision.
One of the things Warby Parker prides itself on is offering designer frames at low prices. The bargain prices don't mean they skimp on the experience, however. When your new frames arrive they come in an attractive package with a thank-you card. They also include a quality case and microfiber cleaning cloth at no additional charge. Warby Parker definitely sees the value in going the extra mile to deliver a memorable experience with their products. And their customers seem to have noticed; Warby Parker has experienced tremendous growth in the two years they've been operating, which goes to show that if you take the time to focus on the experience, you will be rewarded for it.
How does it apply?
Warby Parker took a difficult task that seemed almost impossible to do online, and made it not only possible via their website, but also enjoyable. If you’re working on a project that involves a process or task that people find difficult—especially in the real world—try to find ways not just to duplicate it with your app, but to also improve it and take some of the pain out of it. Leverage the benefits that technology can provide to create a better overall experience.
The second thing we can learn from Warby Parker is that the experience shouldn’t end with the sale, and that surprising users by going that extra mile can be extremely powerful. Look for ways to provide value beyond what users expect. Maybe you can offer an in-store discount with the purchase of your app, or follow up with some swag mailed to people who sign up for your service. The opportunities are vast; be creative and be generous. It is likely that your investment will pay off.
Customer Service: Zappos
This final example is anecdotal, but I believe it is indicative of Zappos' approach to customer service as a whole. I was looking for some new shoes, so I thought I'd give Zappos a try. After a few minutes of searching, I couldn't find anything I was looking for. I took my frustrations to the Twitterverse lamenting how I couldn't find a thing on the new Zappos website. Shortly thereafter I received a reply from Zappos asking what I was looking for. We exchanged a few tweets and within an hour or so I was purchasing a new pair of shoes from their site. This was about three years ago and almost every pair of shoes I’ve purchased since has come from Zappos.
Zappos’ shopping experience is nice, but it's nothing special. The thing that brings me back is that initial experience of the one-on-one assistance I received when I was having trouble. It can be hard to get that level of assistance from an employee in a brick-and-mortar store, let alone from someone thousands of miles away via a third-party web service.
Like the companies in the other examples, Zappos gets it. They understand the importance of creating a great experience for their customers and they are benefitting from it.
How does it apply?
This one is straightforward: deliver great customer service. Use all the tools at your disposal to deliver great customer service. Go out of your way to deliver great customer service. Companies live and die by their customers. Deliver great experiences by way of great customer service and you’re well on your way to success.
There are many avenues for extending the experience beyond the device. From traditional venues like brick-and-mortar stores, to the virtual world of Twitter, there are a multitude of ways to deliver compelling experiences to users. Right now, extending the experience beyond the device is a good way to differentiate from the competition. As users continue to evolve, however, they will come to expect experiences to continue beyond the device. The companies that can realize this and deliver will succeed. Why not be on the cutting edge of that movement?