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Creating magical user experiences

Tuesday, July 12th, 2022

Any interaction with a service or a product, tech or otherwise, starts with a need. Catching an Uber ride? That is because you want to move from A to B. Opening the Spotify app? You probably need some good music playing in the background. The To-Do app on your phone? Ditto. We do not think about every single activity in terms of needs, but when you look closely, there is always a reason behind what we are doing and why we chose one service or product among the many alternatives.

People typically have some minimum expectations for every service, especially if the service or product is paid. For people to use a service and return, their minimum expectations must be met. For example, a restaurant should bring the requested meal in a reasonable time, and the food should feel well prepared for an average target customer. There is, however, an enormous gap between minimum expectations and a truly fantastic experience. In fact, for a service to be truly great, it has to go beyond minimum expectations and ALL other expectations. The person should think, "the food was truly delicious, the background music was perfect, the place is so clean and well decorated; this is much better than I expected." They are not saying that because they had low expectations but because the experience exceeded everything they imagined.

At Vanoma, we understand that our customers use our services to address specific needs. We also know that every tiny aspect of our product is there for a reason (otherwise, it should not be there!). We want our customers to always think, "wow, this is truly smooth!" Unfortunately, providing a truly fantastic experience consistently is challenging because time and other resources present limitations; we always have to force ourselves to be scrappy and ingenious. Moreover, we have to understand the needs of our customers more than they understand them. If we rely on customer feedback and only that, we can only create a "good" product at best.

Truly great products provide an experience that is beyond the imagination of customers. And, naturally, customers cannot articulate or imply something they cannot imagine. As Jeff Bezos said, "It's not customers' job to invent for themselves. It's your job to invent on their behalf. You need to listen to customers; they won't tell you everything. You need to invent on their behalf." This statement makes a lot more sense when you consider that users often do not understand what current technologies can or cannot do and the many business constraints. To truly understand our users and invent on their behalf, we need to talk to them as much as possible (asking the right questions), meet in person, observe how they use our product, and finally understand their ultimate goals. That is to say, we must go beyond what they want to do and know why they want to do it. It is also equally important to understand the central value proposition of the product and how that will change over time. Using another Amazon example, Jeff Bezos would emphasize that customers always want lower prices, fast delivery, and a vast selection. As such, any invention that improved those three things was unequivocally good for business in the short and long term.

Great designers strive to consistently create magical user experiences; they always look for innovative designs that make the user's journey as seamless as possible. Great designers understand that great user experiences result from a thorough and thoughtful design process. Every need of customers presents an opportunity for another "wow" moment.

Creating magical user experiences can be contentious. There will always be someone skeptical about the suggested design — the more unconventional it is, the more skepticism it faces. Fortunately, for every product decision, it should be possible to measure the impact on user experience, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The qualitative part is often as simple as realizing that a particular approach saves time or reduces the likelihood of human error. Quantitative analysis can use telemetry to monitor the relevant metrics and how those metrics correlate with key performance indicators. In most cases, however, trade-offs need to be made, so it is imperative to clearly understand your target users and their ultimate goals. The trade-off should be a net positive for most target users at that specific time (because the scope of target users can evolve over time).

Some team members might also find it unnecessary to spend significant additional time polishing minor details. There are, however, several good reasons to put in the extra effort. First, if we do not provide the ABSOLUTE best experience for our users, sooner or later, someone else will. When that happens, our customers will leave for the new service. Second, when customers are not highly satisfied, user retention becomes a big problem since there is no strong incentive to become a repeat user. Lastly, most mainstream tech services and products do not get there because they outspent their competitors on marketing, at least not in their early years. Most of these products become popular thanks to word of mouth (i.e., referrals from friends and colleagues).

Creating magical user experiences might be the surest way to create a lasting brand.

-- Anselme Mucunguzi