In our roles as design researchers at AnswerLab, we spend all day every day discovering problems, gaps, and unmet user needs for the world’s most iconic brands. And although the world has reached a point of exponential growth and continued maturity in all things digital, we continue to see that the opportunity to improve customer experiences remains massive.
The explosion of digital has fundamentally changed the way people interact with the world. What were for thousands of years human-to-human interactions are now human-to-technology interactions.
Consider Eatsa. Unlike any fast-food chain you’ve seen before, the restaurant is almost fully automated, functioning like a vending machine that churns out freshly-prepared quinoa bowls. In this consumer experience, transactions like ordering through the register and processing the payment have shifted entirely to the customer rather than being handled by a server. This is one of countless examples of brands asking consumers to do more work.
While the explosion of digital has given us unlimited speed, choice, and power, it has also placed an enormous burden on all of us. Digital product managers, marketers, designers and researchers have a unique opportunity to set their brands apart by removing these burdens.
Digital experience burdens manifest in three ways.
1) Cognitive load
Our working memories are maxed out. Companies and colleagues expect 24/7 availability from us – especially as social media like Slack has entered the workplace. The media expects us to be news consumption machines, where hyperbolic headlines scream for our attention. Now we must figure out what’s real and what’s fake. In-car digital experiences require us to dual process - doing two tasks at once, like driving and attempting to navigate the GPS interface. The world has shifted to a self-service economy where retailers ask us to scan and bag our own groceries, and airlines want us to tag our own bags. These experiences pile up, compound, and exhaust – our brains are overloaded.
The burden of cognitive load comes with a side order of micro-annoyances that build up over time. We are tasked with recalling dozens of passwords, entering wrong ones, resetting them, and forgetting them again. Brands play hide-n-seek with their customer service phone numbers, requiring us to click endlessly through screens online, hoping we’ll eventually spend hours resolving problems on our own. We receive error messages after erroneously missing something in a poorly designed form and often complete the form five times before getting it right. Most digital transactions are composed of hundreds of micro interactions that fail to make life easy for customers.
3) Decision fatigue
Lastly, the burden of the digital transaction is leaving us all with decision fatigue. Consider shopping online. When we search on Amazon for an iPhone 7 case, guess how many results we’ll receive. 2.5 million. That’s right, 2.5 million. Then we must decide, is this the best deal? Which one meets our needs best? When shopping online, we now have countless delivery options and decisions. How soon do we need it? Which fulfillment option is cheapest? Which is fastest? Should we ship to home or pick-up in store? Is it worth it to pay for shipping? Even selecting a credit card online results in endless options. Which bank is more reliable? Should we focus on cash back, or points, or airline miles? Will this ding our credit score? Will we get a better rate if we wait for an email offer? Consider this quote from Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism:
"The preponderance of choice has overwhelmed our ability to manage it. We have lost our ability to filter what is important and what isn’t...the more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.”
Okay, I just unpacked a lot of burden and perhaps you feel overwhelmed. Take a breath, and now use this as an opportunity to step into your customers’ shoes. When your customers interact with your brand for any reason, they are coming to you already completely overloaded, with little time, little patience, and little capacity for things to go wrong. They’re maxed out – and so are you.
But, don’t despair. Where there are challenges and pain, there is always huge opportunity.
Remove the digital experience burden - delight by design
You have a grand opportunity to be the digital leader who elevates your brand by relieving customers of the burden of the digital transaction. You can:
- Instead of cognitive load, deliver ease of mind
- Instead of micro-annoyances, deliver delight
- Instead of contributing to decision fatigue, anticipate customer need
I’d like to challenge you to use this framework when designing and planning your next feature, product, or customer interaction. Next week, I’ll share strategies for building burden-free digital experiences that will make your brand indispensable. In the meantime, share your UX burden examples or UX burden solutions with me on twitter @amybuckner.