Everything that happens when someone interacts with your business, product, or organization makes a lasting impression. These interactions can be a website visit, app download, or any other online touch point—email read, social media post, search result—but also include the "old school" experience, be it over the phone or in person. In our hyper-connected world, everything a customer sees, hears and does, as well as the prompted emotional reaction to the experience, creates a combined user experience. When that first impression is a good one, you gain trust. Do this well enough and you enter into a relationship of trust with said customer.

The first impression

When the initial impression is formed on the web, the design of your online experience is critical. At the center of most organizations' online experience is the website.

Audiences are influenced by a combination of how a website looks, how it works, how it communicates. A website should to be beautiful, but not without a clear purpose—each interaction should hold a primary objective. The process should be smooth and uncomplicated. When done extremely well, it should be delightful. If an experience is designed that way, with clear purpose and benchmarks in place, you exert a certain amount of control over what that first impression can be: a positive one.

Getting there: The Outside In approach

The insight gathered from users (call them audiences, customers, constituents... in short, your people) is a powerful tool in elevating your organization. Direct user feedback can help inform how to improve an online experience, process, and overall brand.

Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, authors of the book Outside In, discuss the importance of putting the user at the center of any business in order to achieve success.

The book is a fantastic resource. The authors explore the notion that most often companies need their customers more than the customers need them. To support this concept, it is imperative that a customer experience program is designed around six principles:

  • STRATEGY - Are you meeting specific customer needs?
  • UNDERSTANDING - Fully understand what customer expectations are and observe practices.
  • DESIGN - Processes in a company need to be purposefully designed. Companies should create customer interaction models, then test the solutions.
  • MEASUREMENT - Companies should capture all customer touch points, then chose which to focus on.
  • GOVERNANCE - The customer experience has to be a defined part of everyone’s job.
  • CULTURE - This customer-centered philosophy should be engrained in the company. When each employee cares about the customer, the power of empathy makes all the difference.

The authors recommend a three-phase approach to achieving the above:

First, focus on fixing the problems. Then transform the organization by implementing the six disciplines. Finally, routinely check the process to keep it sustainable.

Here's a handy summary of the book:

Now go read it (it's worth it!)

The Impact

With a thorough understanding of customer practices, you can:

  • Gain accurate information regarding how your users view their experiences
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Develop a plan to target problems
  • Measure performance using real-world data
  • Continually improve
  • Drive profitability
  • It all begins with listening to your users.

You can listen by collecting feedback (via surveys, interviews, social media), gathering input from employees about their experiences with customers and their role in delivering the experience, conducting observational research, among many other channels and exercises.

When that research is shared throughout an organization, it can produce magic: pain points in the user experience can be identified and remedied, product development can focus on actual (instead of imagined) user needs, and—the most powerful of effects—customers and employees become brand ambassadors.

Fully understanding your customers and mapping out your user experience requires time and resources, but the end result is always worth the effort.