This is #7 of 9 Characteristics of Great Customer Experiences. Read the entire list!
What does it t mean to have a pleasant experience with a company - online or offline. Pleasant experiences are very memorable - and there is a reason for that. Part of it involves the peak-end rule (one of my favorite psychology insights).
I wrote about this rule in another blog post: Why do memorable experiences happen during support calls? Here is a excerpt of the definition:
I learned about peak-end rule at the Giant UX Conference in South Carolina. I attended a presentation by Curt Arledge titled: User Memory Design: You Can’t Take Experiences With You.
The peak-end rule claims people remember the most extreme and the ending of an experience. Most aspects of an experience aren't particularly memorable; it's rare to experience something extreme. Typically, extreme experiences center around problems and challenges; we often don't associate extreme experiences around something positive, unless it is extreme winnings or a prize of some sort.
But there is a catch to this when it comes to enjoyable experiences: one needs to consider the expectations a user has going into an experience. If the expectation is met and the ending is successful, then the user will remember a success. If the expectation is NOT met, then the memory of the event will be unpleasant and the user will remember that it was a failure.
Usability Tests with Prototypes: Wireframes vs Designed Screens
There is often a debate around usability tests and if it makes more sense to test with a final, designed product or to test early and often during the process, starting with wireframes, or even sketches.
In keeping with Agile methodologies, I prefer to test interfaces early and often, especially using sketches. The main reason: users don't really like interacting with a sketch. That sounds odd, doesn't it? Well, look at it this way - if a user likes the interaction described on a sketch, imagine what he will feel like when the screen is fully designed?
Most users are familiar with designed screens with colors. They aren't used to looking at a black and white and grey screen. Users looking at a blank-ish screen don't have the ability to choose a button because it is the right color as defined by the branded screen environment. Or have the ability to select something because it is pretty.
On a black and white screen, a user chooses items because they make sense to select. Or they read the copy because they can - there isn't much else to distract them, like cool icons or other design novelties. Testing with a wireframe or black and white screen helps you - and users - identify what is important to them in the process as well as where they get lost, and where there needs to be more assistance.
There were times, though, after testing wireframes I'd wonder: if they like this unfinished screen, what would they think about something more finished? More designed?
In fact, presenting a well-designed, visually appealing screen will, but it's nature, support the underlying interaction design and almost MAKE IT WORK. This happens whether the interaction design is solid or just flawed thinking. I saw this happen time and time again. A user would be told to complete a task on a visually appealing, beautiful screen that frankly, didn't make much sense, but the users would accept the flawed screen as a great solution. Sure, a visually appealing screen implies that the design is done and users then decide that they will just accept it as the way it is.
People will rationalize physical beauty as being the same as being functional. They will forgive the challenges of the UI because it is attractive. They may be searching for functionality, not understanding the interface, but they make it work in their own minds because it is attractive. And attractive things must work well, right?
How peak-end rule applies
The extreme experience in a usability study can occur when a participant is very confused or pleased with the outcome. I think in the case of the black and white screens or sketches, a user is pleased when he walks away from that type of experience and realized he could complete a task. That's a great sense of accomplishment! Especially since the screen looked meh and it still worked...
Conversely, if he fails, something similar happens but in the other end of the emotional scale. If the participant didn't feel like he was able to complete any tasks, there is a slight feeling of failure (why it is so important to tell participants that success or failure are both right answers). But the failure isn't all that bad because the screen was meh, so the anticipated experience was meh to start.
When a user sees a beautiful screen, already his expectations are set higher. He will remember the beauty of the screen; he won't remember how he didn't understand how to complete tasks. However, this won't impact his experience as much because the high point of the experience - the most extreme point - was seeing the pretty screen. If the user can't complete tasks that's not an extreme event (unless it is ongoing and the user gets frustrated) - he was already rewarded with a pretty screen and won't remember the problems.
That's why a great UI really does matter.
Finding bargains and curiosities in a disorganized store can be a great experience
I remember going to Building #19 as a kid. The charm of the store was the bargains you could find in it. It was pretty incredible to learn what was on sale because a warehouse was on fire and items in it had fire damange or something like that. But the challenge of the store was that it really wasn't the prettiest around. In fact, it was kinda grungy. I don't think it even had a real floor to speak of; it was concrete with tiles here and there. The staff didn't clean it often. But they had great deals - that's why people went there. And you went to rummage - as these videos illustrate.
How peak-end rule applied
In the experience of Building #19, you remembered the deal (or steal) you got. And you remember the fun you had looking at random stuff everywhere. An extreme emotional experience could come from the hilarity of finding a toilet in the middle of the store. Or extreme disgust at finding something so old and rotten it should be discarded. Or disgust at finding something so old it needs dusting (like a pattina of dust!). Or a deal on a rug that was from Building #19 that was so incredible because there were a few random threads out of place that someone at the store had to show you.
Finding the bargain was always the pleasant customer experience. Secondly, the experience was fun because you could rummage thru random stuff and have an interesting life experience.
Phone calls about unpleasant subjects with nice people
I've been on calls about unpleasant subjects like billing. There was one call sequence with AmEx where the person calling insulted me, accusing me of not wanting to pay my bill (yes, I reported him and cancelled cards and never had the same perspective of American Express again. Talk about peak-end rule for a bad experience!).
When I think about banks and good experiences, I fondly recall my experiences with Citibank - especially when they helped fix an ongoing issue I had with an auto-payment. To sum it up: I made an early payment for a loan, but an autopay option kicked in shortly after that payment so I paid twice. The system didn't realize it and I was in an infinite loop of payment and cancellations.
Sure, I complained through social media to get their attention. However, I went into the experience with extremely low expectations. I was already highly annoyed at the fact that they couldn't fix this circular problem that their systems created and that humans found insane. I was also annoyed that I needed to keep calling them to get any attention whatsoever.
How does peak-end rule apply
I was so upset with Citibank and it's automated processes that made no sense that my expectations for any type of experience were low. I wanted a single result: resolution of the circular billing problem.
When someone helped me and resolved the issue in a day - I was thrilled! And the person who helped me being nice was such an added bonus. On top of that, the end result was a successful resolution. Between my low expectations and being able to achieve my goal, of course I had a great experience!
What does this all mean?
Pleasant experiences don't always include carefully designed stores that are highly maintained. A pleasant experience is about satisfying a customer's need and expectation. Either the customer is able to complete a task he couldn't complete previously or he is able to find a tremendous deal or he has successful resolution.
Sure, it helps to have a great experience when staff is neat looking and polite. However, the pleasant experience is a result of the peak-end rule combined with user expectations of what the experience should be and his goal for that experience. The success or failure of the experience happens during extreme events or meeting expectations and goals. If the goals and expectations are met, that's great! If the experience and goals exceeds expectations - even better!
You lose if the expectations and goals aren't met at all.
When creating a pleasant experience, consider:
- What does the user want to do? What are his goals when he comes to your site, uses your product, or goes to your store? What will make him happy?
- What are his expectations when he comes to your site, uses your product, or goes to your store?
- What would make an experience considered to be a failure for the user?
- What can I do to ensure that the failure experience won't happen? How can I make a successful experience all the time?
- What's needed to have a peak experience for the user? Should I incorporate a peak experience?