#UX101: A few words on Content Strategy and Service Design

User experience design is a pretty broad discipline, with many different areas of focus you can align your career to. There’s information architecture, user research, usability testing, requirements modeling, wireframing, prototyping… each with a different focus, approach and outcome.

I personally don’t like to specialize on one particular area. I like variety, and I also think that specialization can lead to lost opportunities and less chances for learning and advancement. However there are two UX specialties that are increasingly in demand, with lots of opportunities for professional growth.

These two disciplines, service design and content strategy, are considered by some as an extension or separate from UX altogether. I disagree, but I can also see the demand for these services resulting in them becoming as “big” as UX is now.

Because of this potential, focusing your attention on either one is a good idea, so it’s worth spending some time discussing them here.

Service Design

When we engage with a company, we want the experience to be a positive one. We don’t want to have to jump through hoops to get what we want/need/desire, and (most of us) want’s it to be equitable for both parties. How does an organization make sure this happens every time they interact with their customers? They spend time, effort and energy planning out the best way to service their customers… a process called service design.

The service design discipline is about organizing people, processes, and technology to make sure the interaction between a company and its customers are as efficient and “positive” as possible. It is more than process design, in that it takes a user-centric look at everyone involved in the equation – the customers and the employees who are engaging them.

Service designers plot out interactions in “service blueprints” – maps that track all the moving parts in a way that gives you a “big picture” view of how complex even simple interactions are. What infrastructure needs to exist to support the employee? What information does he/she need to access? What information does the customer bring or need? How many “touchpoints” does the employee have with his colleagues? What training or skills does the employee need to help the customer? Etc.

Service design has been around for years, in various forms – McDonalds and many other fast food restaurants looked at service design long before the term or discipline was formalized in the early 1980s. It has become an area of focus for many companies as well as many governments, who are doing service design to improve the way citizens engage with government works.

In a way, service design is user experience design writ large… it’s about defining and optimizing all experiences a company provides, not just one app or website. It also requires a deep skill set and a lot of experience in multiple disciplines. But if you’re like me, and have a lot of interest and/or experience doing different things, it may be a good fit.

Content Strategy

What content do you need to create for your website, application or marketing materials? How do you write this content to make sure it makes sense to users, supports their needs, and gives them the information you want them to have? All this and more is covered in the domain of content strategy.

Content strategy is a key focus when it comes to providing users the best experience possible. If you have a great product but lousy “copy” that defines and supports it, you impact the potential success of that product.

It’s not just about writing, it’s about setting standards and planning out when and what type of content is produced. It aligns with information architecture, interaction design, and more. Good content means a good experience, and a focus on content strategy would be a good career for aspiring writers out there.

Closing

The great thing about the user experience domain is that it contains multitudes, different areas that you can focus on. Because of this variety, you can engage and add value based on your specific interests and talents. And whether it’s service design, content strategy or another sub (or related) discipline, they all have one thing in common: creating good experiences for people that makes their lives better.

Next: Notes on project management and SDLC

How could bank branches be improved?

As someone who has designed software for many a bank, as well as done ethnographic research in and around branches, I have some very direct ideas on how the banking experience at branches can be improved. 

Have express lanes. If someone is coming in to just do one thing, like cash or deposit a check, then have dedicated lines to support those "fast" transactions.

Have a "genius bar." A dedicated customer support area will allow the tellers to take care of the simple transactions and the customers with problems and/or questions can have their own place to go.

Have smarter ATMs. There is no reason that ATMs can't let customers see their last 10 transactions, or print out a statement. Basically, make ATMs self-service kiosks with better software and more features.

Have a change-making/conversion machine. Have a lot of change that you want to change into "folding money?" There is no reason anyone needs to stand in line to talk to a teller to do this. 

Seminars. Banks should offer free seminars to customers on money management, budgeting, etc. It helps customers, it helps the banks increase deposits when customers save more… it's a win-win.

Change the bank's operating hours. 9 to 5? Really? Have hours that make sense for customers, not for bankers.

Increase staff at peak times/days. Many banks already do this, but a surprisng number do not. Banks need to analyze/take advantage of their analytical data to refine thier staffing plans. Have more people on hand during lunch hours and on days when the majority of people get paid (usually every other Friday or the 15th or 30th of the month). This is customer service 101 stuff.

See question on Quora

Lessons in Service Design: How to Avoid “Showrooming”

Retailers have noticed a disturbing trend of the past few months. Many of the people visiting their stores are browsing but not spending any money… At least, not at your store. They’re still spending their money… just online. These customers go to shops and then whip out thier smart phones to find cheaper prices for items they discover there. The nickname for this behavior is “showrooming,” where the store is a place for picking out items… just not for buying them.

This has become an especially painful phenomenon for booksellers, made worse when online retailer Amazon added a barcode scanner to thier mobile app last fall. This addition, combined with one-click checkout, zero sales tax and low shipping prices (or, in the case of Amazon Prime customers, free shipping), made it almost effortless for customers to save money and order items from Amazon and not the bookstore. A recent study stated that 4 out of 10 Amazon customers have browsed retailers to look at an item before buying it from Amazon. It’s not just books, either – Best Buy is seeing the same phenomenon for consumer electronics, and even the big box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart are seeing customers comparison shop with thier mobile phones.

This is not just a problem for retailers – it’s also an problem websites have long faced, where the offerings or products sold there that can easily and quickly be compared with others at the click of the mouse. So, whether you sell a physical good or software, have a store or a storefront, here’s some ways you can avoid “showrooming” and keep

Technology doesn’t care. Don’t complain about “showrooming”, it is not going away. The technology will, if anything, be more and more ubiquitous in the years to come. Man up and realize that you can’t change this.

Empasize the “now” and “quick checkout”. No matter what your “storefront” is, emphasize the fact that you can get the item RIGHT NOW, and with no waiting. Make sure your “checkout” process is streamlined and quick (which means if you own a retail store you have enough staff on hand to ensure purchases are quick and with no waiting).

Reward loyalty, forever. The whole idea of a “loyalty program” is so simple we forget how effective it is: Reward repeat customers. Get a free coffee or donut with your nth purchase. Get free perks like no bag fees and free upgrades. Get faster “check-ins.” And so on. It costs a lot more to aquire a new customer than to retain an old one. Loyalty programs not only help retain customers, but also influence behavior in many individuals (paying more to retain earned “status,” for example). And once you set up a loyalty program, never take perks away… you’ll upset the most loyal customers by doing so.

Focus on what you are really “selling.” I did a large research project many years ago for a cellular phone company who was looking to roll out a new point of sale system in their stores. I went to several of these stores to study the inetractions customers had with people who came in the stores, and quickly found out that stores weren’t selling phones at all – they were customer support centers, and what they really needed was a better designed account lookup program and knowledge base. You may be trying to sell the wrong thing… Case in point: staff at Apple stores don’t really “sell” thier computers or ipods, they are trained to solve customer problems… and that often ends up in a sale.