Mind the Gap: The Importance of Cross Platform Design for Attracting and Retaining Customers

By yleAugust 31, 2012

Here’s a scenario: You’re reading the newspaper (the old-school paper kind) and you see an ad for a 50 percent discount on a product you like. You’re so hyped up about this sale that you hop onto the vendor’s website to buy the product, but you don’t see the same ad or discount there. Then you go to the product’s mobile app, but the sale isn’t there either. You want this product so badly, you drive to the store location where it’s sold, but the same sale offered in the paper isn’t available there either. The employees selling the product also don’t know what you’re talking about, and they’re not willing to honor the sale promoted in the newspaper ad. Wiggity whattt?

You go home empty-handed, feeling deflated, frustrated and bummed about missing the opportunity to acquire the product you like so much at the price about which you were so excited. What did you do wrong? Nothing.

What happened? You experienced a broken process.

Cross platform design should attract, retain and delight customers. No breaking points should exist across your digital presence (website, apps, videos, digital signage, banner ads, etc.), as well as your print and other collateral.

Connecting the dots between design and where it ends up

The how and why the “digital and physical are colliding, but integrated experiences across channels are few and far between,” were explored at the Design for Cross Channel Delight at UX week 2012 by presenter Samantha Starmer, Director of eCommerce Customer Experience at REI, a national outdoor goods retailer.

Starmer recognizes it’s “difficult to start herding cats and slaying dragons,” but the need for cross-channel design is transferable to any organization and industry.

Cross channel design is a holistic, integrated approach to creating an consumer’s experience across all platforms and channels where your brand, products and company assets exist.

Customers don’t think in terms of channels or design devices – that’s the purview of marketers and designers – but they do think about all of their experiences with a brand across time and across touch points, devices and channels. When there’s a broken process, missed connection or something goes wrong, we notice it—and remember it.

The central theme of Starmer’s workshop was creating value for end users by doing more than just designing websites, mobile devices, apps, etc., separately one at a time. Cross channel design entails carefully thinking about the end user’s holistic experience and listening to audience needs, thereby taking into account the bigger picture. This bigger picture is sometimes referred to as service design thinking. Service design thinking is where design truly takes its entire target audience and set of users into consideration, ensuring there are no breaking points in the customer experience. This elevates design into an important customer service function and a critical part of the selling process.

Below are some key takeaways from the workshop about best practices for cross channel design.

Cross channel design must map to the five C’s, below, to create an integrated experience for end users across all platforms. These are key points from Starmer’s presentation about optimizing cross platform design.

The above image illustrates different areas of the web from which the REI website received traffic during this campaign. It maps the flow starting from when the customers entered the site to when they exited, so that all touchpoints are considered. A process for successfully mapping cross channel design is outlined below. Image credit: Samantha Starmer’s presentation

• All design needs to be easily recognizable, understood and available.
— Example: Signage should be easy to spot and follow.

• Mind any gaps between all company assets and smooth the transitions between these gaps, so that all brand collateral is in alignment from platform-to-platform. This includes websites, print collateral, mobile devices, etc.
— Example: The disconnect between the branding for Encore, a plus size department in Nordstrom stores, and the plain “Plus Size” branding on their website (with no mention of the Encore brand) has been perceived as confusing by some consumers. The disconnected sentiment between “Encore” and “Plus Size” led users to think they are not the same thing. This disconnect deterred them from shopping online, explained Starmer.

• Messaging and content must be the same across all platforms, so that the experience is consistent across all devices.
• This includes details such as making sure search terms on your website align with key phrases in your messaging and collateral.
— Example: As a user, it’s frustrating when you see “blue sneakers” written on a print or online banner ad, but then can’t find “blue sneakers” searching in a site’s search engine. Mass retailer Target does a good job of ensuring a seamless experience from store to website, down to the minute detail of search terms.

• The design and information presented to the end user must relate to what they want. Don’t make assumptions about what they want; create avenues for your users to tell you what they need, so that you can listen and give them what they want.
• Think about the end user’s geographical location and context in which they’re buying (e.g., purchasing for the holidays).

Cross time
• “Cross time” refers to designing for the whole customer lifecycle and remembering that each interaction has lasting effects.
• Make sure that at any point in time, all channels are updated with the same information.
— Example: Alaska Airlines cancelled a flight and delayed passengers for several days. The airline waited to send a follow-up apology until everyone was home instead of sending a note immediately, so that the affected customers didn’t get an apology while
they were still uncomfortable at the airport.

The five C’s above are the key components that cross channel design should entail. Below is a process Starmer described for optimizing design across all platforms.

<em>Image credit: Samantha Starmer's presentation</em>

Image credit: Samantha Starmer’s presentation

Create a touch point inventory
• A touch point inventory is a repository that documents all the touch points between a company and its end users. Experience mapping and journey mapping are two ways to describe how to connect these points.

• Experience mapping creates a visual plan of the entire customer experience, so you can identify all the interaction points a customer can have with your company or brand while they are in the sales cycle. This allows you to identify make or break moments across all platforms, so you can see areas that are working and ones that need to be improved. An example is shown below.

Image credit: http://mitchmaloneonline.com/blog/mapping-an-experience/

• Journey mapping details the customer’s needs, so that a company has a better idea of the interaction points necessary to fulfill those needs. These are usually persona-based to clearly define a company’s audience and outline the steps they’ll take to make a purchase. One of Starmer’s examples is shown below.

Image credit: Samantha Starmer’s presentation

Write a narrative
• This is the process or order of operations your end user will follow.
• Write a sequential list of the end users’ steps or interactions.
• Document data for each step (e.g., how the end user will go about getting information).
• Specify details about the interaction points (e.g., location) and anticipate next steps the end user will take.

Image credit: Samantha Starmer’s presentation

Make a service inventory
• A service inventory defines the steps end users will take and what devices will be available to be used in this process.
• This gives you an idea of the who, what, where and how that are involved in the process. Then you can start to think about the why.

Credit: Samantha Starmer's presentation

Image credit: Samantha Starmer’s presentation

Conduct user studies
• Do user research with an adequate sample of your audience.
• Get employee input.
• Cross train your departments.
• Co-design with other people; don’t silo yourself.

Summing things up: Great design puts customer first

Since customers interact with all of a company’s assets, those pieces of collateral should center around the customer, and design should structure itself around the findings from user experience research. Listen to your audiences. Cross-train departments within an organization, talk to your employees and conduct studies about what your customers want. This shouldn’t be one person’s responsibility, but the entire company’s responsibility.

If you appreciate impeccable customer service anywhere you go, give it back in the experiences you create everywhere. Giving and taking is what makes the world a better place to experience … no matter what the platform.