My sympathies go out to the thousands of passengers who had their flights cancelled because of this past winter’s polar vortex. For most of them, the disruptions subjected them to waiting in a seemingly endless line at the airport ticket counter or listening to smooth jazz while they waited to talk to someone on an airline’s 1-800 number. Their experience didn’t have to be this way, and for many passengers on Delta Air Lines, it wasn’t.

When Delta cancels a flight, they don’t just send a cancellation notice to users of their mobile app. Instead, they send the notice with a link to a list of the next available flights the passenger can take to get back home. To rebook, passengers simply tap on the desired flight and away they go. To be fair, Delta isn’t the only airline to offer this kind of service—a few others do as well.

What’s amazing about this experience isn’t so much the technology that makes it possible, but the shift in thinking required to create experiences such as this in the first place.

In the past, creating a great customer experience meant presenting information and functionality to customers in a usable, efficient, and enjoyable manner. That’s no longer the case. What Delta Air Lines and countless other companies are coming to realize is that to create a great customer experience in today’s environment, they need to become better at anticipating customer needs and satisfying them before the customer takes action. We call these types of experiences proactive experiences and they are on the fast track to becoming a standard feature in everyday customer experiences.

Here are just a few examples of proactive experiences in action:

  • The Nest thermostat programs itself based on the activity in your home, current weather conditions, and other factors. It will even adjust your heating and cooling schedule as your behavior changes with the seasons.
  • Healthcare start-up remotely monitors and flags at-risk chronic-care patients when they take a negative turn, enabling care providers to more efficiently manage their time and intervene when it matters most.
  • Google Now learns your daily routines and fetches traffic and weather information before you ask for it. It’ll also fetch directions to off-site meetings and adjust reminders based on traffic conditions.
  • Auto manufacturers from Mercedes-Benz to Hyundai include “smart key” functionality on many of their vehicles that unlock and lock doors based on the driver’s proximity. Kwikset and Lockitron offer products that give homeowners a similar experience.

At their core, proactive experiences change the way customers relate to and engage with experiences by closing the gap between problem and solution, integrating siloed information and services, and personalizing experiences based on context.

The emergence of proactive experiences is tied to the changing role technology plays in our lives

As customers become accustomed to proactive experiences, experiences that fail to embrace this new approach will decline in relevance. UX professionals must meet these heightened customer expectations by building proactivity into their experiences. Here are three things UX professionals should focus on when creating proactive experiences:

  1. Removing friction from customer journeys. Paying for goods used to require taking out your wallet, swiping a debit card, entering PIN numbers, and the like. Not any longer. Using PayPal Beacon, customers simply tell the merchant they want to pay with PayPal and the transaction is automatically completed. In addition, this system can enable sales associates to better serve customers by making essential customer information such as sizing, past purchases, and preferences available in real-time.
  2. Giving customers guidance, not data. BodyMedia FIT coach not only alerts you when it anticipates that you will fall short of your daily calorie burn but also provides personalized recommendations on how you can course-correct to get back on track. For example, when it determines that too many of the calories you consume are coming from fat, it pairs that alert with a helpful tip on how to prepare foods in ways that add flavor without using so much fat.
  3. Helping customers achieve their higher goals. When customers use Wallaby Financial’s app to make a purchase, the financial startup analyzes the purchase and recommends the best credit card to use based on individual preferences and program rules, such as rewards, balances, annual percentage rates, due dates, and special offers. Wallaby also analyzes your spending and recommends an optimal mix of credit cards to achieve your desired goal, whether it’s maximizing airline points, cash back, or other rewards.

The emergence of proactive experiences is tied to the changing role technology plays in our lives. Technology is evolving from a productivity tool into an enabler for how we live our lives and interact with the world around us. As it does, our expectations and desires evolve as well, placing more demands on the devices and experiences we make an integral part of our lives. Proactive experiences are very much at the center of this evolution.


Image of mobile user in ariport courtesy Shutterstock.