Lessons in UX: The baseline is shifting

I had a great meeting with my team this week discussing customer expectations and needs. As part of the discussion the Kano model, which I was only slightly familiar with, came up. Created in the 1980s, the Kano model explores how customers perceive aspects/features of a product or service. These features can be perceived as “hygiene” (a feature has to and is expected to be there) to “delighters” (features that WOW customers) and as a company you want to provide as many “delighters” as possible.

What got me intrigued when about this model is that a core aspect of the idea is that, over time, customer’s expectations shift. What was once “delighters” become expected, and the baseline shifts. The challenge is if you are creating a product that will be delivered a year from now, you have to target the “new baseline” (which is exactly what I am facing on my project).

The idea that the baseline is shifting is exactly right, and is a real challenge that businesses are facing. What was acceptable practice and offerings five years ago just isn’t anymore, and some businesses will have to adjust to the new baseline or fail.

Let’s look at how the baseline has shifted, in some obvious ways:

The stock market. Want to buy or sell stocks? Fifteen years ago you would have had to have a broking account or a dedicated broker who you would call to buy shares. Or your accountant would do it for you. Now? Well, I just bought more Apple stock on my computer about five minutes ago, without any of the friction that the previous process had. I can also do the same thing on my mobile phone. Which brings me to:

Mobile phones. Again, just a few years ago the idea that I could compose e-mail, browse web pages, or play high-resolution games on my phone would have been considered science fiction. Now, thanks to Apple, Google, RIM and many other companies, this is now the new norm.

Home-video editing. Need to edit a video? The first video editing setup I had was an Amiga, with a very very expensive hardware add-on card called the Video Toaster (and yes, I am that old). It brought me the ability to do video production and editing in ways that were previously reserved to television stations. Now I can edit video at a higher resolution much more quicker on my Ipad, a piece of hardware thinner than the majority of magazines you can buy.

Now let’s look at how the baseline is shifting today:

Magazines (and the publishing industry). Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, recently stated in an interview that magazines will be around for “decades.” The fact that he was so confident and certain of that fact… well, let me just state that the baseline is shifting dramatically in the publishing industry, and some people aren’t quite ready to adjust to a new quickly-coming reality. Customers are consuming content differently, and paper for many is no longer the preferred medium.

The service industry. Customers expectations are increasing, and companies that do not service these new expectations will lose customers and money. The Zappos company understands this, and continuously focus on providing delightful experiences to their customers. Apple, with the hands-on support it provides with its Apple stores, acknowledge this new reality. Companies that don’t accept and embrace the new baseline face tough times in an even tougher economy.

The entertainment industry. Customers have lot of choices in the way they consume their entertainment, and the smart companies are embracing the new digital mediums. Blockbuster Video was stuck in the old delivery mechanism of physical media, and they are all but defunct against the cheap streaming offering Netflix provides.

So, the main thing to take away is simply this: Understand, as much as you can, how people think today… but plan for that thinking to change.

A final thought: I went to a book sale a while back and saw the book “The End of Marketing As we Know it” Sergio Zyman. It was incredibly popular at the time of publication (1999), but now? It was selling for $1, and nobody was buying it. What happened? The ideas that was in that book was based on the old baseline, and, at the time, were perceived as forward-thinking and revolutionary. Now? Old ideas… old news. Again, the baseline had shifted.

This century is going to be ALL ABOUT shifting baselines – the old ways of marketing, customer support, product design, development, production… it’s going to go away. Or change, dramatically. And the new ideas – some if which are represented on this very website – well, those have an unknown “use by” date. And that’s fine by me. Because when that happens, I will have (hopefully) adjusted to the new baseline.

Start adjusting now.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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