Differentiating through experience and perceived value

Rory Sutherland must be one of the finest raconteurs we have.

On a recent appearance on the Diaries of a CEO podcast he talks about the importance of customer experience and perceived value as a key differentiator for brands today.

He argues that if Eurostar wanted to improve the experience of its service for its passengers one option would be to make their trains go faster.

This feels like the best thing to do that will result in the highest levels of passenger satisfaction.

This sounds great in principle, but to achieve it would require huge capital investment, engineering innovation and lengthy timescales.

Another option to improve the passenger experience would be provide great food, free wifi, comfortable seats, clean toilets, excellent service etc.

The latter would be much more achievable than the former and would probably yield similar results from the perspective of reported passenger satisfaction and loyalty.

So following that logic perhaps customer experience is one of the most cost effective strategic areas of focus for organisations because it provides a relatively fast and cost effective way of directly improving customers perceptions of the value that products and services provide them.

Sutherland also argues this has an environmental benefit too.

By improving their perceived value of an experience we are improving something through intangible means that manifest as how someone thinks about something – so it doesn’t exist per se and thus generates no detrimental environmental impact to create, maintain and dispose of.

Perceived value is a hugely interesting area.

Trying to get to the bottom of what people perceive to be the value that they will get from a product or service helps you to focus your marketing on the things that matter the most to people.

So much of this comes from the nuance of communication, the language and imagery that is chosen and the story that is told that creates the narrative around the value of products and services.

I see this a lot in my work.

Peoples behaviours and actions are hugely influenced by what they believe to be true and how they perceive things as opposed to what the actual truth might be.

I remember a research session where a customer of a food delivery service noticed a photo of a delivery van driving in the snow and said “They look great, they will deliver to my elderly mother whatever the weather’ – the truth was quite possibly a different story.

In a recent research session I asked someone how they wanted a financial report to make them feel.

They talked about wanting to feel like their life savings were in safe hands, that they could trust the company and feel like it was something that they no longer needed to worry about.

A well designed report will reinforce these feelings and beliefs whereas a poorly designed report will quickly raise questions, unease and possibly a loss of custom.

In order to design successful things we have to develop a deep understanding of the way that people perceive the world around them, their preconceptions and beliefs as these are the things that will ultimately drive their behaviours.

Once we uncover these sorts of beliefs we can get to the bottom of what people really care about, the questions they have and what they need from the products and services they use to meet their real needs.

Managing product risks

When you create and manage products and services you face a number of risks that could result in undesirable outcomes such as:

  • Customers don’t value them enough to pay for or use them
  • Customers can’t use them
  • Your organisation doesn’t have the resources or skills to deliver them
  • They don’t result in the outcomes for your business that you need them to
  • They may cause harm and have unintended consequences
  • They may break the law

I like this idea of framing these as risks as much of the work we do in product discovery is about trying to reduce risk of failure.

It would be interesting to give stakeholders £100 each and asking them to tell you how much they want to invest in exploring each of the areas of risk.

This would to help to uncover what they are most uncertain about and where to focus you efforts in exploring further..

In Marty Cagan’s book ‘Inspired‘ he discusses how important it is to explore the threats posed by each of these risks in order to create a product that your customers will love and that also works for your business.

He identifies these as what he sees as the four biggest risks.

Viability riskHow confident are we that this product/ service will deliver what the business needs it to?

Value riskHow confident are we that people will value the benefits it provides enough to buy it or choose to use it instead of alternatives?

Usability riskHow confident are we that people will be able to figure out how to use it ?

Feasibility riskHow confident are we that we can build and deliver it with the resources and skills that we have ?

There are many other kinds of risks you may choose to explore but I think these two are really important additions:

Ethical riskHow confident are we that it will have no harmful unintended consequences for people, the economy or our planet?

Compliance riskHow confident are we that we are not breaking the law in any way?

The best time to start exploring risks such as these is as early as possible during your product discovery where you can begin to get a feel for what represents the biggest potential threats to the success of your new product ideas.

Interestingly, Marty identifies ‘value risk’ as the toughest risk to mitigate, which highlights the importance of getting ideas in front of potential customers as early as possible to understand if they solve real problems for people in ways that people value enough to find them useful and are willing to pay for them.

100 ways to make your working life a little easier

Over lockdown I had an idea for a book that was all about sharing the tips and tricks that I’ve found useful on UX projects over the years.

Survival skills for UX projects if you like.

It felt really relevant due to the difficulties we were all facing trying to work from home, while home schooling the kids and trying to avoid catching COVID.

I compiled a list of ideas in Miro and forgot all about it until I read a great article in the Guardian that both reminded me that I had created it and prompted me to do something with it!

The final list is not just relevant to UX’ers, I hope that people working in all sorts of professionals will find it useful.

The resulting article is now available on the cxpartners blog ‘100 ways to make your working life a little easier‘.

Evaluate the effectiveness of your photos

Photos are the unsung heroes of effective communication.

If a picture paints a thousand words you need to be sure that they are painting the right words in the minds of the people who view them.

Particularly if those people are your potential customers.

I’ve been on a mission to improve the effectiveness of photos since I wrote ‘Usability of Web Photos‘ in 2016.

When writing the book I created an evaluation framework for people to use to evaluate the effectiveness of their own photos.

The framework is based on the theory of rhetoric, the art of effective and persuasive communication.

It is designed to help you work out if your photos are helping to elicit the response you intended them to from the people who view them.

You can use it like a heuristic evaluation or to help guide qualitative research sessions.

Here’s an example from UXMagazine where I use it to evaluate some holiday accommodation photos.

Best of luck with it and let me know how you get on via @chudders


Photo Evaluation Framework

1. Legibility and credibility

Can you clearly see the content of the photo? (e.g. Focus, size, composition, exposure, crop etc)

  • Focus : Are the important elements of the photo in focus? Does all of the photo need to be in focus to communicate its message?
  • Composition: Has the composition been used effectively to draw attention to the relevant part of the photo and to create an aesthetically pleasing image? Would the photo be more effective if it was cropped in a different way?
  • Exposure: Is the exposure appropriate and are the key subjects of the photo correctly exposed?
  • Quality: Is the photo legible enough to see the important details?
  • Size: Is the physical size of the photo appropriate? Does the size make the subject of the photo clear enough? 

Do the photos look credible? – (e.g.  Does they look professional? Do they suit the brand? Are they appropriate and relevant? 

  • Professionally shot: Do the photos look like they have been taken by a professional? Is this important given the context of what you are evaluating?
  • Brand alignment: Are they the kind of photos you would expect to see from this brand?
  • Appropriateness: Are the photos appropriate given the context within which they will be viewed? 
  • Believable: To what extent have the photos been manipulated? Does this affect the credibility of what they depict or the message they convey?
  • Relevance: is the photo relevant to the content that it accompanies?

2. What message/s do the photos communicate?

What does the business or product owner want the photo/s to communicate? e.g. ‘Look how spacious our hotel rooms are’

What messages should the photo/s communicate to meet user needs?  e.g. ‘I wonder if that hotel room is worth £150 per night?’

What messages do the photo/s actually communicate to users?  e.g. ‘That room looks tiny, it’s not worth £150 per night!’

3. Usefulness and effectiveness

Do the photo/s result in the desired emotional response? e.g. Is the photo funny? Does it make me want that thing? Does it have a calming effect? 

  • Desire: Does the photo represent something in an attractive way?
  • Aspiration: Does the photo communicate how a product may fit into someone’s life or help them to live the lifestyle they aspire to?
  • Aesthetics: Is it pleasing to look at?
  • Calm: Does the photo create a calming effect? 
  • Others’ emotions: Does the content of the photo result in a direct emotional response from the viewer (for example, are people in the photo smiling, frowning or angry)?
  • Entertainment: Is the photo funny? Is it intended to entertain the viewer?

Do the photo/s help the user with their task? e.g. Does the photo serve a purpose or is it really just ornamental? 

  • Useful: Does the photo serve a purpose or is it just ornamental?
  • Educational: Does the photo teach something or provoke thought about a subject in a different way?
  • Helpful: Does the photo help users with their tasks? Does it prevent them getting lost? Does it answer their questions or help them to make the right choice?
  • Instructional: Does the photo show someone how to do something?
  • Constructive: Does the photo help to mitigate a user anxiety? Does it answer a typical question or concern?
  • Prevent errors: Does the photo help users to avoid making mistakes?
  • Recognition over recall: Does the photo aid recognition to save people having to remember things?
  • Communicative: Does the photo communicate its intended message effectively? 
  • Global suitability: Will the photo mean the same in different countries or cultures? Might it offend people from other cultures?
  • Complexity: Does the photo effectively convey something that would be difficult to put into words?

Will the photo/s influence the behaviour of the user in the way you intended?  e.g. Does the photo have the desired effect it was designed to have? 

  • Gaze direction: Should the people in the photos be looking towards other elements on the page or is it more appropriate for them to be looking back at the user? Service related websites benefit from eye contact with users, whereas product sites may benefit from gaze being diverted towards specific offers or buy buttons.
  • Prompting an action: Is the photo designed to prompt action such as to donate to a worthy cause? Do the contents of the photo encourage this behaviour? Does the photo encourage users to buy or to make a decision?
  • Changing opinions: Will the photo help to change our point of view?
  • Creating desire: Does the photo make its contents (and thereby the site’s products and services) desirable?
  • Sharing with others: Will the photo encourage the sharing of content with others? 
  • Perception: Will the user attribute a particular quality to a brand having seen the image, such as quality, craftsmanship and heritage?
  • Message: Does the photo communicate the message to people that is intended?

More photo UX related goodness :

Questions are the answer

Ben Holliday’s UXBristol talk about ‘Asking Design Questions‘ really resonated with me.

As a consultant, you can often feel like you are supposed to have all of the answers.

I think it’s more about having all of the questions.

Every challenge presents a problem to solve.

You can’t understand the problem without asking good questions.

They are fundamentally important throughout the entire process.

You need to question your brief in order to understand it properly such as…

  • Why are you doing this?
  • Why are you doing this now?
  • What do you think are the reasons behind the problem you are seeing?
  • What is the cost of the problem to the organisation today?

Successful early meetings are grounded on asking questions such as…

  • What problem are you really trying to solve?
  • How will we know if we have succeeded?
  • Who should we involve?
  • What should we know at the end that we do not know today?

Questions, questions, questions.

Our research starts with identifying the big questions that are on our clients minds such as…

  • Why has our conversion rate dropped?
  • Do people understand and value our proposition?
  • What are the most challenging aspects of choosing a university course?
  • Why do people choose our competitors over us?

We explore the business context of our work by interviewing senior stakeholders and asking questions such as…

  • What are you trying to achieve as an organisation?
  • How does this piece of work contribute towards your vision?
  • What is the impact of this problem?
  • What do you want to get from this project?

Questions, questions, questions.

We explore these within our research with people by asking them questions such as…

  • When did you book your last holiday?
  • What are you looking for in a new car?
  • How do you go about choosing a new savings account?
  • How do you find out about planned changes to your local area?

Once we’ve completed our research we’re still asking questions such as…

  • What have we learned?
  • How can we communicate our learnings in the most effective way to the people who need to hear them the most?
  • How can we apply what we have learnt to improve what we are working on?
  • Which problems should we tackle first?

Questions, questions, questions.

When our work comes to an end we’re still asking questions such as…

  • What went well?
  • What would we do differently next time?
  • What have we learned?
  • Which of our initial assumptions and hypotheses proved to be true?

But it’s not just the project team who are asking questions.

Our customers are full of questions that they need answers to before they can complete their everyday tasks such as…

  • Is it good quality?
  • Do I like the look of it?
  • Do I trust them?
  • Can I return it if I don’t like it?

The best products and services second guess (and then answer) the questions of the people who use them.

What’s the most important question you need to answer to improve your own project, career, product or service?

Questions are the answer.

Join us at UXBristol on 16th July!

The 11th UXBristol will be taking place, live on YouTube on Friday 16th July from 09:30 – 15:30 (BST).

The event is free, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors.

We hope to return to the MShed next year, but in the meantime are glad that we can keep the event running and reach a global audience!

We have a great line up of speakers covering a great range of topics in their 20 minute talks.

To get access to the conference slack channel and be entered into the tombola you will need to register for the event.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Master the basics of your business

Recently I listened to a the ex-England rugby player Will Carling talk about his time as captain.

He described a time when his team were experiencing a poor run of form.

He decided the team needed to reset by focussing on doing the basics well.

His thinking was sound.

His plan was to go back to basics and become better at them than anyone else in order to win more games.

First he asked his team to identify the basics.

Some argued for the line out, some for kicking, some for scrummaging.

They quickly realised they all had a completely different view on what the basics of a relatively simple game are!

What chance do you have of success if you can’t agree on what the basics are that you need to get right!

Every business has a set of ‘basics’ that it needs to master in order to succeed.

An airline has to have access to a fleet of well maintained planes.

An ecommerce business must offer a great delivery & returns service.

A photographer must have mastered the technical aspects of their equipment.

A business consultant must be able to build excellent relationships and trust with their clients.

Consider your own business.

What do you think are the basics that you need do brilliantly in order to succeed?

I bet you think it’s obvious but then when you give it some thought it becomes less unclear.

Ask your colleagues to do the same thing and compare your ideas.

If you all agree it’s good, you’re aligned.

If you all disagree then it gets really interesting!

Without this thinking and alignment how can you know where to focus your finite time and effort?

You can’t do everything, but you have to get the basics right to stand any chance of success.

Learn about the UX of Photography from optimisation legend Craig Sullivan

As a keen photographer I’ve always been keen to work out how I can crowbar my hobby into my day job.

An ideal opportunity arose many years ago when I noticed major usability issues resulting from the choice of photography on all of my design projects.

I realised just how hugely important photos were to how people made buying decisions and how they responded emotionally to what they were seeing and how that then influenced what they thought and how they behaved.

It felt like photos were the unsung heroes of experience design.

At this point I realised I was onto something and set about trying to improve the effectiveness of online photography and ‘photo UX’ was born.

This mission resulted in many articles, talks and even a book to provide help and guidance to improve the situation given that there was a surprising lack of information on the topic available online.

One person who has always done some really pioneering work in this area is optimisation guru Craig Sullivan.

I loved reading his work on measuring the impact that using different photos had on conversion rates and it was a joy to see someone else (who actually had some data!) was also highlighting the impact that photos can have.

I was delighted to see recently that Craig has shared one of his excellent talks on optimising photography during which he shares some great advice from years of experience and what he’s learned from having run over 20 million tests!

@optimiseordie insights from split testing with different images of people

In his talk you’ll learn more about :

  • What the “Rule of 3” for images is
  • Why stock photography performs badly
  • How to shoot photos of people
  • Why you should experiment with photography
  • How to challenge bad thinking or photos
  • How to make your own photography guidelines
  • About the only book on this topic
  • Why iconography generally doesn’t work

Craig’s talk on the UX of Photography is available on YouTube

Optimise your ‘key service moments’

Within any service there are critically important ‘key service moments’ (for both the service user and provider) that result in significant problems if they are broken in some way.

I recently worked on a project investigating why the physical health check service for people with severe mental illness was underperforming.

This is a really complex service that consists of many individual touch points, interactions and activities on the part of the service user and provider and what became clear was that some were much more important than others.

One example of a key service moment was when patients had a doctors appointments.

Appointments made people feel really anxious.

Will I be feeling well enough to attend?

What if I bump into someone I know in the surgery and have to explain why I’m there?

How will I get to the appointment?

What if I get that unsympathetic doctor again?

What if I have to discuss my recent breakdown?

The experience that service users had at these key moments had a huge impact on their experience of it as a whole.

Their anxieties around them often resulted in them not attending appointment which had a huge impact upon the medical professionals ability to deliver a successful physical health check service.

It became very clear that in order to design a successful service you have to ensure that these moments work really well.

I recently bought a second hand car.

This process was unbelievably complicated and had a few key moments that stick in my mind.

Trying to negotiate a good price for something I know very little about was really difficult and not at all enjoyable. Sorting out the money for it was tricky and something I haven’t done before.

There were also ‘key moments’ from the perspective of the dealer too. It became clear that it was really important for them to sell me add on products such as gap insurance, alloy wheel protection, paint protection, service plans etc in order to maximise their revenue.

In this instance my ‘key moments’ and theirs did not match but in some services this might be the case, presenting an obvious sweet spot to optimise, resulting in benefits for everyone.

When designing services it’s critical to identify and focus on optimising these ‘key moments’.

By focussing on them you benefit from ‘gearing’ in terms of the impact from optimising these things over others.

There are always too many problems to address at once so this approach also gives you a pragmatic method to prioritise where you spend your time and money in order to maximise your returns.

‘Every Mind Matters’ is live!

Last year during lockdown I had the pleasure of working with a great team at Public Health England to redesign the information architecture for their flagship mental health site, ‘Every Mind Matters‘.

The new Every Mind Matters Website

The new site redesign went live recently to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, 2021.

The objective of the redesign work was to make it easier to help people find information that would encourage them to take action to help improve their own mental health.

It was a real privilege to work on such an important site that is receiving such huge volumes of traffic during the pandemic.

Find out more about the approach I took to the redesign over at the cxpartners blog.