Integrating Experience Across Touchpoints

Managing user experience across touchpoints can have a profound effect on your business. There is a “1+1=3″ effect that takes place when you align touchpoints, such that the whole becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts. This idea has been championed by the artist Joseph Albers who explored chromatic interactions with flat colored squares arranged concentrically on the canvas. It’s also been promoted by Edward Tufte, who comments on information design:

“Visual activation of negative areas of white space in these exhibits illustrates the endlessly contextual and interactive nature of visual elements. This idea is captured in a fundamental principle of information design: 1 + 1 = 3 or more. In the simplest case, when we draw two black lines, a third visual activity results, a bright white path between the lines … Most of the time, that surplus visual activity is non-information, noise, and clutter.” – Envisioning Information

gestalt

While Tufte states that the extra information is often clutter, this does not have to be the case. In fact, we can use this effect to construct powerful experiences, thus amplifying the effect of our designs. Here are some playful examples of the Gestalt Theory of Visaul Perception.

How does the theory work in the real world?

In an earlier post, I spoke about the research that Dan Ariely conducted for his book Predictably Irrational; he demonstrated how the way we set up experiences can have a profound effect on how we respond to them. In one study, Ariely placed the same quantity of food on two plates, one large  and one small. He then gave 50% of his research participants the large plate and the other 50% the small plate. After eating from their respective plates, the subjects were asked about how full they were. The participants who received the smaller plates stated that they were more satiated, though they were given the same amount of food. Thus, the visual experience of gestalt connects with the real world experience of the research subjects.

gestal-image

In the above image, which of the dots at the center is larger?
As you’ve probably guessed by now, they are the same size.

So, how does this work in a marketing context?

The experiences we have with products and services across touchpoints are also effected by the above phenomena. Creating a consistent experience across touchpoints creates an over-arching experience that is greater than sum of its parts. For this reason, marketers can deliver significant value simply by aligning experience across touchpoints. Here’s a diagram that I created to explain the benefits of integrating the experience across six touchpoints. Click on it for a larger image:

Touchpoints Diagram

Of course, this may be easier said than done. One reason that touchpoints become fragmented is because they are often managed by different silos within an organization. In order to align these silos, marketers must construct connections. This means opening windows between them, working collaboratively, and establishing standards. For marketers, these standards are often presented in the form of style guides and communication guides, though they are adopted more readily when positioned as knowledge resources. I talk more about the importance of marketing as knowledge management here. One key to success is to create resources that are as light weight as possible, which supports adoption, but robust enough to keep the touchpoints aligned.

The challenging part is assimilating the intelligence that bubbles up from each silo, integrating the sum of learning, and re-articulating it such that each silo understands the compromises and opportunities associated with the effort. When it comes down to it, the marketer must often play the role of negotiator. This can be a thankless job, because the negotiator rarely gets the credit, or the benefit of social capital, for a successful agreement. There are ways to manage this, but that’s a topic for a future blog post.

All this effort is made because experience isn’t just about how we interact with a product or service, it’s about the experience a customer has with a brand across touchpoints. Consider this thought, If a customer has a great experience at one touchpoint, but a poor experience at another, the net result may be less than the average of the two. How so?

The Peak-end Rule

The above argument is supported by a concept called The Peak-end Rule, that was developed by the Nobel Prize winning economist and psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, to explain how people judge past experiences. You can imagine how this would be relevant to consider when managing the different touchpoints a customer might experience.

“According to the peak-end rule, we judge our past experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak (pleasant or unpleasant) and how they ended. Other information is not lost, but it is not used. This includes net pleasantness or unpleasantness and how long the experience lasted.” - Wikipedia

impressionplusminus

The diagram above shows two scenarios, one in which the peak experience is pleasant and one in which it is unpleasant. Though the average experience (total shaded area) is the same for all but two periods, the perceived experience is much greater in the top example. Even if you were to adjust the baseline of the bottom graph upwards to accommodate for the shaded area lost in the unpleasant peak, the top graph would still come out way ahead.  Here’s another example:

impressionplusplus

In this case, two positive peaks are contrasted. All points are the same except from the peak, which is higher for the bottom chart. Simply increasing the value of this one experience has a significant and lasting effect on the overall experience.

What does this mean for managing you experience across touchpoints?

Based on this research, you can offer an average, or even slightly below average, experience so long as you offer your customers one truly great experience. If however, you allow even one unpleasant peak experience to take place across your touchpoints, it’ll cost your dearly. This brings us back to the idea of aligning touchpoints and creating consistency. Integrating experience across touchpoints is an effective means of ensuring that you don’t have an unpleasant peak. It’s also an excellent means of identifying the touchpoints that represent opportunities where you can really shine by creating a pleasant peak experience. My former colleague, Brandon Schaeur, refers to these as “moments of wow” in his Long Wow presentation.

If you found the ideas in this post interesting, you’ll probably enjoy Brandon’s presentation below. It speaks to the issues I’ve addressed here, but more broadly explores how to do product/service development that strings together moments of wow over time. He also provides some great examples of companies that have gotten it right. His presentation also touches on some of the issues I discuss in my earler post Where Marketers Art Today. Enjoy!