Tuesday, 2 July 2013

How to communicate the power of empathy?

This post is a little bit different to the other posts on this blog.  I'd be interested in your feedback.

More and more, in the User Experience (UX) / Customer Experience (CX) field I am seeing and hearing references to empathy.  From peers, yes.  But also from product managers and people involved in customer service functions.  If you want to be able to develop great experiences, you need to be able to practise empathy.

em-pa-thy \ˈem-pə-thē\: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this

Who needs to practise empathy?  I would argue, that to be a successful UX / CX practitioner, you need to practise it.  (I'm not really talking about them in this article - I think they get it.)  But I would also argue that anyone who is creating things for end users, or who has 'customer' in their job title should also be practising it.

And in some cases, these people are practising it.  They are observing their end users.  They are spending time with them, in the user's environment.  They are having conversations with their end users; really listening to what they're saying and probing to find out more.

But in other cases, people are just practising lip service.  They talk about empathy.  But they are not practising it.


I suspect, that for people who don't have 'interact with your end users' as part of their job description, there is an element of fear.  Or maybe I'm being too kind.  It could just be a 'it's not my job' mentality.  A sort of 'aren't there other people in this organisation who are paid to understand our end users?' type attitude.

And maybe there are those types of people in the organisation.  But nothing can replace actually experiencing that empathy first hand.

So maybe they just don't really understand what empathy is.  Or just how to practise it?

This has made me think.  How can those of us, who understand and practise empathy, share this skill?

A few years ago I visited the excellent Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.  On the reverse of your entrance ticket are the words "White" or "Non-White".  I was with 2 friends.  Both of them had tickets with "White" on them, and I had a ticket with "Non-White" on it.  Depending on whether you are "White" or "Non-White" determines which museum entrance you use.  As we entered the museum and followed the pathway through the early parts of the museum, we were separated by jail-type bars.  We could see, hear and touch each other through the bars, but we couldn't cross onto the same path.  It wasn't obvious how long you would be in this situation for, because of how the path was designed.  You couldn't quite see the end.

There is no way I can claim to fully understand what it must have been like for a "Non-White" living in Apartheid South Africa.  But to feel so separate from, in this case, my friends, really made me feel isolated and inferior.  A very effective way of eliciting empathy in their museum visitors.

Another empathy tool I've come across is smearing vaseline across a pair of eye-glasses to simulate what it's like not being able to see things properly.

Have you come across other tools that can be used in training sessions or workshops to really make people understand empathy?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Where am I?

Photo of the Hong Kong MTR in-carriage map
So you're on an underground/metro/subway/other urban rail transport system.  You know where you got on (probably) and you know where you need to get off or change (hopefully).  But do you know where you are whilst en-route?  Probably not.

Hong Kong's MTR has a lot going for it.  It's efficient, the ticketing system (Octopus cards) is incredible (more on that another time perhaps), and it gets you to places in Hong Kong faster than you might otherwise be able to get there.  What I found particularly fantastic though was the in-carriage maps.

So often, especially in cities I'm not familiar with, I have absolutely no idea where I am when travelling on public transport.  And this is not because of a lack of cognitive mapping skills.  Like on many other train systems, Hong Kong's MTR provides a route map within the carriage.  This route map goes one step further though.  It is not a static, sticker on the wall.  It has lights to indicate which stops you have passed, and which stop is coming up next.  It goes one step further still.  It lets you know whether you need to get out on the left side or the right side.  Genius.

No more standing in the middle of a crowd of people, deciding on your exit strategy, wandering which people you will have to elbow out the way to get off the train.  You can gently start making your way towards the correct door in plenty of time.  And no more having to enquire, sometimes in a foreign language, "Which stop is next?".  The map highlights it for you.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Deceptive download

I was just sent a large file - ironically by a usability supplier.  I recieved the email saying "you have been sent a large file - click here to download it".  With services like YouSendIt or WeTransfer, what follow is a pretty simple experience.  But with Sendspace, I was faced with one of the most deceptive interfaces I've seen: 

 Take a look at the interface above and guess which link needs to be clicked to download the large file I've been sent...

Nope, it's not the black "Download" button...


Nope, it's not the yellow "Download" button...

Nope, it's not even the link that says, "Click here to start download".

It's the little blue link low on the page stating "Chlick here to start download from Sendspace"


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The ultimate bad experience

So far, this has been the ultimate bad experience.  My purse was stolen on Saturday.  I only have (well, had) one purse, and in it was everything credit-card sized.  This included 4 bank cards, driving licence and numerous loyalty cards.  There was also some money, but as I am notoriously badly organised when it comes to carrying cash around (fortuitously in this case) I only lost about £15.

As soon as I realised it had been swiped, I got hold of all the numbers I needed to ring to cancel my cards.  First call, Nationwide (the building society, not the insurance company).  It was all going well until the man on the other end of the phone asked me whether I wanted to receive marketing materials from them.  Are you kidding me?  You're asking me whether I want to receive marketing materials from you when all I can really think about right now is the fact that I have no money, no access to money and someone has run off with quite a personal possession of mine.  He then went on to say 'Have a nice day'.  Have a nice day?!  Really?  Are you a monkey or a human?  I might expect something like this from a website, but from an actual living and breathing human?  No, I expect a little empathy.

Next call was to the Royal Bank of Scotland.  They were highly efficient, putting me through to their credit card cancellation department in the same call.  I was feeling a bit less worse now.  The lady I spoke to about cancelling my credit card was a real live human.  She did empathise with me.  Which made me feel a little better.  And she immediately checked my account to reassure me that no transactions had been carried out.  Yay, you've made some effort to understand your customers.

And then the pendulum swung the other way again.  This time I was trying to get hold of someone at MBNA (after mistakenly calling American Express, as that is what I recall seeing on my credit card, not MBNA).  They have a voice recognition phone system.  Problem number 1 - I'm in a public space, there is a lot of background noise, and I don't particularly want to shout my personal details to an automatic voice at the other end of the phone.  Problem 2 - after telling the automated voice that I've had my card stolen, it asks me to read out the long number on the front of the card.  Maybe it's just me, but I don't know the long number along the front of my card.  And then, because I couldn't read out the number they asked me to enter it using my keypad.  Just let me speak to someone already please.

Why is it so difficult to think about your customer when designing a service?  Who's using the service?  Yes, that's right, it's your customers.  Who pays your wages?  Yes, that's right, it's your customers.  Now, please think about how they would like to be treated and start your service design from there.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Augmenting reality. Using digital to make reality cool again.

When I told someone I worked in digital marketing they replied, "What? You sell fingers?" (boom, boom)

No, I don't sell fingers. In fact, whilst a lot of the work I produce digitally does eventually manifest in something real (like a product or an experience) much of what I do is very unreal. Perceptions are the original virtual currency, and much of the work I've done for Pepsi, Bacardi, Danone, Carlsberg and the like has traded in that currency alone.

How refreshing then to experience a site that connects the real and the virtual seamlessly.

Made.com allows one to buy furniture, not unlike any other online retailer. But in every other way, they are vastly different from other online retailers. And for that reason, I love them.
At this stage it's worth noting that I still haven't actually taken delivery of anything from Made.com. Yet even before fulfillment, I'm already a massive fan. How amazing is that? :-)
So how are Made.com different?

They use time as a currency

Their business model means there's significant time between order and fulfillment. Other companies find this a problem and see long delivery times as an embarrassment, hiding them away. But instead Made.com use this lag to their advantage: building drama, anticipation, affinity, connection and loyalty. They provide a countdown to delivery date and visual cues that help you to picture your actual product on its way to your door. A map and a nice description shows the path the product has gone through and it's current position. I like this.

They're are good value for money

We've got used to an Amazon.com next day delivery culture. We've got used to not having to wait for things. As a result, we inevitably pay a premium for this near-instant gratification. What Made.com have done is remind me that I don't, in fact, need everything by tomorrow. And by helping me realise that, they've helped me stop paying that premium. As a result, I've bought a product for a third of what it would cost in John Lewis. That's good value.

I find this really exciting. By merging real and virtual in a way that adds to reality, makes reality more tangible and more fun, the creators of Made.com have made reality cool again. And digital marketing that little bit more real. And my job just a bit more meaningful as a result. And that's a very good thing.