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Giving some thought to your visitors' experience is important no
matter your industry, and no matter if you're talking about a digital or
physical space. Whether it's a website, an app, a storefront, or a
church foyer, we are playing host to real live humans. Taking the time
to anticipate what a visitor needs to do will help to make their visit a
memorable one for the right reasons.
A few years ago, Moose Jaw got a new Royal Bank branch, replacing the older, smaller ones. My old branch was pretty typical as bank branches go: double doors opening into a little hallway that leads into an open area where you can pick a queue and wait to speak to a teller. Standing there beneath the low ceiling and its grid-hashed fluorescent lights, I'd self-consciously thumb my papers and ID, triple-checking that I hadn't forgotten what I needed for this visit, and making stiff and stunted steps to keep pace with the slow-pokey queue ahead of me. Finally I'd get to the desk, do what I can for, and skulk out around the lines of cramped people standing in pale blue-white overhead light.
The design of that old branch seemed catered to the staff. The entrance and queue areas were small with dim lighting, but the area behind the desk was better lit with lots of room for walking to and fro as clerks served their customers. In retrospect, the design was quite utilitarian, and gave off an 'approach the bench' sort of vibe. I banked there for years without giving it much thought — that is, until the new branch opened and revealed how breezy a visit to a bank could be.
Take the stress out of the situation by taking the lead
Following modern style, the new branch had a bold, uncluttered look — sandstone and glass, floor to ceiling — but the greatest 'redesign' was what they had accomplished on the inside.
Rather than slinking in though a dim hallway and looking for the right line, the service area is a large, high-ceilinged, brightly-lit space that is completely focused on what a customer might need to do. Writing kiosks to the side for filling out paperwork before a meeting, quick-access automatic tellers near the door, a friendly waiting area in the middle of the circular room, window-lined offices for private meetings, and teller desks whose layout prioritizes easy access instead of queue-formation.
All of this I took in within a few seconds. But the greatest element of good user experience is the personal greeting. Upon my first visit, I was immediately approached by a staff person who seemed to have memorized the afternoon's appointments. "Luke Johnson? Come right this way. Jordan is ready for you." Uh... what? Oh, okay...!
I've been there several times over the past couple of years, and each time I am greeted within seconds and directed to the person who can make quick work of whatever I've come to do.
This redesigned space flips their previous model. Rather than 'approach the bench', which places the weight of the interaction on the customer, it has become 'approach the customer'.
Empathy is the path to loyalty
The best way to design a good user experience is to think through the work a user needs to complete, and to automate whatever you can. If you can demonstrate that you are aware of a user's concerns or workload, you will have made some important steps toward establishing trust and loyalty.
At the bank, they are aware of how their internal processes work, and they know which of their people is the best to answer a particular question. By meeting a customer at the door, they take the work out of it by owning the interaction. ("Let me guide you" vs. "Find a line".)
In the context of an app or a website, your users don't need to understand how your back office functions. All they need is to be able to perform meaningful actions. How easy is it to add items to a cart and submit an order? How quickly can you find the information you need about the church's youth ministry? How much effort is required to unsubscribe from notification emails?
The way to 'owning the interaction' on an app or website is to run through each user action, and to automate whatever you can. You will cause delight for your users if they can tell you have provided an easy way for them to complete their tasks.
Analyze your own spaces
If you are in a decision-making role in your organization, it is worth spending some time investigating how your users experience your digital and physical spaces. Where are the obstacles? Where does uncertainty or potential frustration occur?
If you don't have decision-making power in your organization but are nonetheless aware of a need for improvement, you might consider building a case by gathering the some visitor stories and presenting them to a decision-maker. Or if it won't put you in hot water, you could do some experimenting of your own and share the results. Ideas are easy to shoot down; results are not.
Spot the UX
Here's a fun game you can play during the shopping bustle of December: put on your User Experience goggles and see how well the places you spend your time have thought through the pain of shopping. See if you can pick up on the principles that guided their planning. Whom is the space designed to serve? What are you meant to notice? What is meant to go unnoticed?