Optimizing everything about the customer experience – whether it’s print, voice/video, or the Internet – comes down to these 3 things.
I don’t recall any other website getting as much public exposure – particularly about the design and development – as Healthcare.gov. As the keystone of the rollout of the Obamacare program, it should come as no surprise that any misstep would be highly publicized. In this case, the blunders were indeed huge, exposing to us all how greatly reliant we are on the Internet, and how sensitive we are to promises and expectations (as we rightly should be) as they are delivered to us. (And certainly, lots of promises were made on Obamacare!)
So much has been written already about the botched technology (this one I highly recommend for those who appreciate the technical development process) and a few entrepreneurial programmers have even built an alternative site that focuses on resolving one of these issues related to the consumers desire for pricing rather than pushing through a convoluted, bureaucratically-driven registration process first (certainly easier to build than the entire site). While understanding how infrastructure, traffic, load, and QA are all important, key factors of success, the single most important consideration remains the USER.
Because at the end of the day, even if the site is up and running, if the user/customer is confused, you’ve failed on the customer experience. And Healthcare.gov isn’t the first to fail in this aspect; they’ve just done so in a very public way, especially in the case of failed expectations and broken promises made by the President and his staff. So much of this even begs the question: why was there no real public instruction on accessing the program beyond the website?
Look, it’s not easy to build a website, especially one as complex as Healthcare.gov, however it’s certainly not impossible to have done better. We are all so accustomed to the ease of use and immediate delivery the Internet provides us; our expectations are already far higher than they’ve ever been. We rely on the Internet. We carry it with us wherever we go. We are no longer afraid to insert our private or financial information into forms or to make purchases. Our expectation is that it all just works. And most of the time, it does.
Here’s another example: I deposited a check with a mobile app the other day. I do this all the time—one of my favorite time savers. I’ve become too busy (overwhelmed?) to go to the bank, even though they’re open 7 days a week and I can walk there. Something went wrong: they say I deposited it to the wrong account (and that’s highly possible, although I would bet the amount of the check that was not the case). And here’s where paying attention to the user is a wildly important exercise in customer service delivery both online and offline…
- Deposit made and a small on-screen message stated the check was being held for 10 days. Really?
- Called the bank, “No, there’s no hold, disregard that message. It’s just after the close time.” OK, sounds good.
- Email arrives noting the deposit went through. It’s a fairly long email. I read the first couple lines and the notation that it all worked as planned. Again, all good.
- 2 days later, the money isn’t there; not even a pending transaction. Hmmm…
- Called the bank, spent one hour on the phone, talked to 4 individuals. The third person told me the money was “floating around” and that I didn’t lose it. (Oh yea, I lost it all right!) The last representative told me the previous individuals didn’t know the system and therefore did not have the right answer, but she did. (Did you even hear the statement, “Anything that follows ‘but’ is bullshit”?) Why should I believe her at this point?
- I was eventually directed to either retry the mobile deposit, or to take the check to the bank and deposit it. I had already written on the check that it was deposited and the date, so there may be a delay due to that; they’re unsure. “Can you make a note on my account of this event?” The answer, “No, we don’t have that capability within our system.” Ugh.
Ultimately what happened was this: the check was deposited into my personal account, then retracted as an “adjustment” by the bank. I was never notified of the change. (I was told I should understand what that means.)
Sadly, the misses here have less to do with the technology (although quite a few pieces do) than the messaging and processes related to it. Had I gotten an email saying there was an issue with my deposit my call over there would have been a little less heated. I’ll accept the blame for user error; unfortunately their system failed on the customer service side by a lack of messaging that resonates with the user, internal customer service processes, and an inefficient way of contacting and connecting with users throughout the experience resulting in a big loss for the bank: TRUST.
The Internet has afforded us all an incredible opportunity to engage and connect with customers; it has also set those very same customers with much higher expectations on delivery of products and services, and the messages that come along with them. In an instant, we can build trust, and likewise break it down.
We – as users and customers – do have to recognize that it is an AMAZING thing to be able to send a check to the bank with your cell phone, or to order products, services…practically anything online in an instant. We are incredibly spoiled with instant gratification. All the more reason that designers, Internet architects, advertisers, the media – anyone involved in customer service and communication – do our jobs to focus on the customer experience their needs, processes, and messaging. Testing and evolving to ensure everything works in the best possible way with each and every interaction is key.
So how do you deliver what works for a customer? How do you build and enhance trust? It comes down to 3 overarching requirements:
- Simplify – If you are not building for the lowest common denominator of your target audience, you will fail. Be sure you understand the goals and create the simplest paths. Make sure that error messages make sense, and provide users with clear next steps. And by all means, be sure the messages – on-screen and off – are messages the users/customers will understand; otherwise you will fail. Keep it simple; stop talking over their head using techno/industrial/we-understand-why-don’t-you language.
- Learn – You may not get it right the first time; trial and error allow us a chance to improve. Logging customer engagement and interactions, and testing new processes will give you the best possible paths to engagement on their level. Having a real plan to revise and act on the failures is key. If you simply let the failures happen, the system will never improve. The great thing about the Internet is that it gives you a variety of data that you can use. So in addition to customer complaints, you can see the paths they took, and make changes based upon that analysis—provided you are prepared to do so.
- Listen – Customers have a lot of ways to voice their opinions: email, social media, and that voice over the phone. Much like #2, if you allow the fails to happen without review of why, you are missing your best possible way to learn about your customer and how they interact with your systems. If they say they don’t understand, then they probably don’t. You won’t know that unless you’re listening.
All three of these requirements fit any marketing communications on any medium. Your business exists to serve customers. Everything you do needs to revolve around that premise to succeed. Make the customer experience your priority.