Posts Tagged ‘User Experience’
Looking down the road to what appears to be a one-Windows-fits-all offering from Microsoft; I can say without hesitation, I dread the day it arrives. If you want to embarrass me, I’ll save you the trouble – I also said I didn’t want an iPad. Ironically, when I wrote that I didn’t want an iPad, I said that I was looking for the features Microsoft seems to be building into Windows 8 for tablets. What I failed to consider at that time is that I am a geek. I wanted those features, and I wanted the ability to build on that complex platform to give my users what I think they expect from me. It turns out, that most of my users don’t want that at all.
Since 1981, when first IBM PC came out, I have been giving my users something that was way more complicated, way more powerful and that demands way more knowledge than they wanted. In fact, most of the users that I support (work, friends, family) really don’t understand the PCs I provide to them or help them use. They learn specific applications and they use Windows the way a passenger uses a bus. The fact that Windows can do so much more than run Word, Outlook and Internet Explorer is lost on most users. In fact, most of the features of Word and Outlook go unused, and most users aren’t fully comfortable with Windows Explorer! If you want to test that, ask someone to change the default application for opening a file type – go ahead, I’ll wait.
For the first time, I am giving people something they want, like and understand – an iPad. Oh, I have some who complain that they can’t find their files, but they are in a minority that, amazingly no longer includes me. I don’t care where the files are. My apps always know where the files are, I can always open, delete and share those files, so why should I care where they actually reside? I was driving with a friend last week and I asked him if he felt the absence of a file system on his iPad was a drawback. He immediately replied: “it’s a blessing!”
Microsoft seems to be banking on the fact that users want more from a tablet; I doubt it. I think they want tablets to be, as Einstein said, "as simple as they can be, but no simpler" and for my money, and the money my boss trusts me to spend, I think Apple has nailed that with the iPad. The app that I developed for our iPhone and iPad users is dirt-simple to use, and I can honestly say that I’ve gotten more positive feedback on that app than any other piece of software I’ve ever written.
In fairness to Microsoft, maybe they do get it, maybe they know where this all has to go, but they also realize that there are a gazillion PCs out there running Windows and they can’t just throw the switch and change things. Microsoft is fighting momentum (conservation of energy) Einstein had something to say about that too. In fact, Einstein changed the law from conservation of energy to conservation of "mass-energy", recognizing that mass is converted to energy by E=mc2. One of the sad realities revealed by that simple equation is the amount of energy required to counteract momentum. So maybe the iPad is just a disruptive technology and Microsoft is fighting back the best way it can, or maybe Microsoft is trying to wring every last dollar out of its customer base at every turn and they are afraid to actually make life simpler for those who want it. A Windows world where some users have desktops and some laptops and some tablets, might be a nice place to live, if each user had what they want, and an operating system that fully exploited the box it was running on. Giving a desktop or laptop user a touch-based OS is like turning the on the sound on a TV in a sports bar – it’s a distraction that provides no benefit.
For almost 10 years, I used a Toshiba Portege Tablet PC. I loved those laptops; they worked as fully functional laptops and flipped around to create awesome slates. Unfortunately, the last model (M800) featured a full touch screen, even though Windows 7 was ill-equipped to take advantage of it. It caused me constant grief as people would point to stuff on my screen and cause actions to occur. When I tried to use the stylus for input, my palm was always doing something I wasn’t trying to do. After I got my first iPad, I ditched the Portege in favor of a lighter, no-touch ThinkPad.
Windows is like a railroad that never unloads its trains. The trains run for a while and then they stop and add a few more cars. The routes get more complex, serving more and more customers. The trains have gotten longer, carrying a wider and wider variety of loads. Microsoft seems to think we want an N-gauge version of the whole Windows train. I think most people want a mix of unit trains (like the one shown above), light-rail, subways, buses, cars and bicycles, and I think we are right to want those things.
I received two pieces of information from vendors this week that had my head spinning. One was an email asking for my help in “spreading the word” about a vendor’s services, and one was an invoice. Normally, I am very happy to help my vendors with their marketing, either by serving as a reference or Tweeting or blogging about them. Normally, I grudgingly open and process invoices. This week was anything but normal.
I am going to take these in opposite order from the title; that is, I’m going to start with the absurd request I received from a vendor.
The request for a referral began:
Have you received great service from our company? Fantastic – can you help us spread the word? We’re hoping you’ll tell others about your experience with us, because referrals from people like you are essential to us in sharing the message about what we do.
You can imagine how special that made me feel. Just for grins, I put the email address they used to send me this piece of junk mail into Google and Bing. Both immediately returned an entry in the #1 spot on the list that contained my name, title and the company I work for. It would have only taken a few seconds to look up the details and make that a more personal request. By neglecting to do that, they not only missed an opportunity to have me talk about them, they sent me the message that they don’t value our relationship very much. That makes me wonder about how hard the work on anything and that makes me think that I will avoid these guys like the plague in the future.
Shortly after reading that email, my mail arrived and I noticed an envelope with a hand-written address. The return address told me that this was going to be Jill Hart’s invoice. Jill owns Brain Logic, whose company provides consulting on the broad topic of “improving user experience.” She had recently conducted a usability review of our company’s website and I was extremely happy with the things she pointed out to us so paying this invoice wasn’t going to be hard. When I tore open the envelope, I received a surprise. In addition to the invoice, there was a cover letter thanking me for the opportunity to have worked with us and a self-addressed stamped return envelope. A cover letter – this woman doesn’t just advise on the subject of user experience, she lives it!
I can’t begin to express what a difference this little bit of personal attention made. I’m sure it was made even better by having arrived on the heels of the pathetic “Hi customer” email, but even on its own, this was an awesome bit of correspondence. With a little time and effort, Jill turned the necessary but normally unpleasant duty of collecting money, into a conversation with a friend. Sure, the end result is a check being cut to Brain Logic, but I never felt so good processing a check request in my life.
I am in the technology business, I write software, I build websites, and I work to provide solutions so that others can do their jobs better, faster and cheaper. One of my pet peeves is that so many companies (banks and airlines for example) only focus on the ways in which technology can help save money. We hired Jill, and I guarantee we will hire her again in the future, to help us use technology to make doing business with us a better experience. One of the things we need to do a better job of is personalization. We want our customers to know that we remember them; we remember their name, the business they have done with us, their preferences and the people on our team that they have worked with. We have all of this information, but we don’t always use it well enough. We aren’t nearly as bad as the companies that have you punch in your account number before answering the phone and then immediately ask for your account number, but we could do better. We certainly aren’t interested in putting a message on our website that says “welcome back Customer!”
Looking ahead to my next pet peeve, I have to point out that so much personal information is available today, that there is an emerging fine line between personalization and creepy stalking behavior. I want people to make the connection and address me by name, but I don’t really want someone plying through my Facebook timeline and asking me about a vacation I took five years ago. I don’t want artificially generated familiarity created by randomly assembling a few facts from cyberspace. If you want to make contact personal, your attempt has to be based on personal experience. If you have personal experience and you don’t use it, you have wasted an amazing opportunity.