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Picture: Steve Jobs Customer Experience Quote

Having worked in technology for almost 20 years (yikes, I'm dating myself again!), I have witnessed many companies that were so focused on creating cool technology, that they forgot about the most important thing in any technology project. How will this technology actually benefit the user? In the 90's and 2000's, it was all about automation. How can we create applications that will replace the need for people? But, in the name of automation, we often forgot that our customers still wanted a "personal touch". Case in point: complex IVRs were implemented with the goal of reducing the number of calls that needed to be handled by customer service representatives. These systems were mechanical and static, and often times very frustrating for the caller. This lead to an overwhelming sentiment that IVRs were evil and callers quickly learned to press 0 just to get to a live person. Fortunately, best practices and trends for IVR design today take a much more user centered design approach, and utilize data about the caller from a CRM system to generate customized menu options based upon what we know about the caller (without asking them to enter an account number), and utilize natural language speech recognition and conversational prompting to get the caller where they need to go quickly and painlessly.

User centered design and customer experience go hand in hand! With any application, it is vital that we consider the benefits it will have to the user and the experience they will have when using it. Some companies have done this very well, like Apple with the iPhone and iPad; or Zappos which has managed to personalize the online shopping experience. Others have not done so well, like retail store self checkout lanes, which invariably will require you to wait for assistance from an employee even with the most simple of transactions. The truly innovative and most widely used technology today all started with a user centered design approach.

What technology initiatives do you have underway or are planning in your organization? Did you start with designing the customer experience, or did you start with building the technology? How can you incorporate user centered design into your technology projects?