By Tony Ambrozie, SVP & Chief Digital and Information Officer, Baptist Health South Florida
We know great digital experiences when we see them but creating them is very difficult. The moment we lower expectations, the risk of incomprehensible and exasperating experiences increases. Avoiding that sorry situation requires a maniacal effort and requires constant adjustments.
Below are several important guidelines to follow when creating digital experiences.
The Consumer reigns supreme
There is no perfect user experience, but we can get close. After all, users pay our salaries. Through design thinking elements — empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test — the product team becomes the proxy for the non-present consumer and gains a theory around their needs. Consumer’s actual needs only come across through usage data, so instrumentation, metrics, constant evaluation, and tuning are critical.
Digital professionals must evaluate the experience themselves rather than relying on business-driven decisions. For example, great chefs always taste their food themselves before serving diners.
Consumers want to be in control of the experience and at the center of it.
Consumers want digital to follow, guide and support them throughout their entire journey, without gaps or dead ends. They hate disconnected, unintegrated systems and features, and not knowing what they should or could do next. Also, they abhor being asked for information they already provided — sometimes multiple times. As such, we must absolutely resist the temptation of the easy path of disconnected experiences from a hodgepodge of unintegrated products, with redundant forms.
Getting digital experience right is critical not for the success of the actual technology involved, but for the success of the businesses that stand behind digital experiences.
Timing of releases
Technical delivery and solutions must meet consumer experience needs, not the other way around. Organizations will achieve their goals from great consumers experiences; thus releases should be based on those rather than company goals.
Digital teams must also resist the urge to measure progress strictly by operational speed (i.e., frequency of release or lines of code). Instead, consider your customer’s point of view — is the digital experience helping them achieve what they need quickly and easily?
Features and Capabilities
The overall experience is far more important than individual features; however, the experience is built brick by brick at times. Digital experiences cannot be presented to consumers as an endless set of a’la carte menu options that they must navigate and wrestle with.
Bots, chats, and voice assistants could help simplify. Intelligent personalization based on consumer/time/place must be employed, likely based on proactive machine capabilities. This ensures the consumers first see what is truly relevant to them at the time, place or situation at hand.
Teams must remember that each new item put in front of the customers comes at a cost to their time and attention.
The role on an MVP
A Minimal Viable Product is usually critical at the beginning of defining the experience journey. However, it’s usually understood as the minimal first iteration of the final product. It is not. It’s merely the simplest product which enables learning.
It should have minimal cost and produce the maximum learning needed. If the learning is negative, it should be discarded, hoping that some technical pieces could be reused later.
It can be better understood as the Minimum Viable Prototype.
Qualities of successful digital experiences
Usable — This needs no explanation!
Fully self-service. Consumers having to switch from self-service to agent-assisted services is not only awkward, but frustrating and counterproductive.
Simple and naturally intuitive. Digital cannot resemble programming of the 1980’s VCRs — nobody read the user manuals anyway. Designing a UX consistent with industry norms goes a long way.
Convenient and ubiquitous – Suited for the place and moment they’re needed.
Highly available and low response time — Nobody has time or patience for slow, buggy experiences. Prioritize high availability and low-response time over cramming yet another feature into a failing product.
Eminently useful — Only provide easy-to-find, useful features which build-up the overall product purpose.
Multichannel and multi-platform
While multichannel and multi-platform parity is eventually important, the focus should first be on where the majority or the most important customers are.
There are usually several technical victims in a rush to build digital experiences, namely insufficiently thought-through product features, security gaps and inconsistent architecture that can’t evolve.
Some technical debt, which the exception of security, is usually unavoidable and acceptable. While it’s tempting for successful, quick-iteration prototypes to become to be deemed full-fledged production, accumulating technical debt will eventually make the experience and the solution crumble, sometimes compromising the very idea behind the product.
As such, it must be addressed strategically and timely — sooner rather than later, either in subsequent iterations or, less preferably, in so-called hardening iterations.
The role of realistically and practical Agile processes
Agile is crucial for developing digital experiences in no small part because it allows fast iterations of try-learn-repeat when it is not clear what the consumer really needs.
Small, autonomous teams operating at lightning speed are critical for both the speed and agility of digital. However, the teams must work together to ensure the product isn’t stacked with incoherent features developed by uncoordinated autonomous teams.
From a customer’s perspective, the most important part of a product is often not its features, but rather how those features come together to create a seamless and cohesive experience.
Operational processes supporting digital
Finally, the experience is not just about the technical and experiential manifestation of it — a great mobile app, for example — but all the operational processes and systems in the back that make that front experience meaningful.
Often, those operational processes were developed organically to suit other needs, most likely internal. Thus, to be valuable in a digital world, they must evolve and adapt beyond historical constraints. That is why just digitizing existing processes doesn’t make much of a difference — the process is still slow, cumbersome, and inefficient and digital is impacted.
Getting digital experience right is critical not for the success of the actual technology involved, but for the success of the businesses that stand behind digital experiences. Ultimately, the only thing users want is to benefit from the service provided. We owe them that and more.