Friday, 30 March 2007
Kerry Bodine is a principal analyst on Forrester Research's Customer Experience team.
In 1999, Alan Cooper, author of “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum,” introduced the concept of personas. Personas focus designers on their customers’ needs by presenting the user as a person with a name and face, motivations and goals. This structured practice helps successful firms create products and services for real people.
Through Forrester’s work in the Customer Experience group, we’ve discovered that the most effective personas are:
Based on direct study of individual users
From a firm’s existing market segments, researchers identify real people from each segment for observational studies or in-depth interviews, gathering data from the intended users of the product or service being designed. This process captures the complex goals and behavior of customers — intelligence that surveys and typical focus groups can’t provide.
Presented as a story about a real person
Well-crafted personas are presented as a narrative about a single human with a name and a face. As a result, they’re easy to understand and relate to. The sign of success comes when everyone associated with the project talks about “Paul,” a man who’s worried about his baby’s first cold and needs both guidance and reassurance to buy the right kind of infants’ Tylenol.
Focused on enabling design decisions
Effective personas describe the attitudes, motivations, goals and behavior captured by primary research. Knowing that a customer goes out of her way to avoid sales clerks and always shops by herself can tell designers whether she wants a personal shopping assistant in her favorite online store. Demographics and channel usage are nice extras, but only if they add insight to what users want to do and how they want to do it.
Successful companies use personas to:
Align stakeholders behind a shared understanding of the customer
Because personas are an accessible, easy-to-understand and compelling interface to customer data, they help quell design debates and accurately focus project priorities. Personas provide everyone involved in design decisions — from business owners to designers and developers — with a common understanding of the people who must be able to use a product or service.
Guide design decisions
To design interactive systems that respond appropriately to user inputs, designers need to know user goals, attitudes, behaviors and preferences related to their activity: Personas provide that information. For example, knowing that their primary persona logs into her online account infrequently and wants to minimize the amount of time she spends managing her money enables designers to prioritize functionality like e-mail password recovery over a fund rebalancing tool.
Monday, 26 March 2007
Several years ago, Saturday Night Live ran an excellent sketch about a cable news host whose screen was gradually filled by one ticker after another. Before the routine was finished, the entire screen was covered by news crawls, stock updates and sports scores, leaving the newscaster crying out in frustration.
Viewers of actual news networks often might feel the same level of frustration. Too much information is, in its own way, worse than not enough. And while we have learned to multitask to the best of our abilities, human beings still can parse only so much at one time.
Designers of customer experiences slowly are beginning to understand this. After too many years of Web sites and kiosks that bombard users with information, awareness is starting to seep into the designer-mind that customers need aesthetics just as much as they need data. Perhaps they need it more, and just don’t know it.
Yes, Apple certainly gets a lot of the credit for this. Whenever the “design renaissance” is discussed, iTunes and the little MP3 players it communes with are held up as examples of design done right. And they are, but they’re certainly not the only ones — just ask any devotee of IKEA or Target or Volkswagen. Leonardo da Vinci was right: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Those of us in the business of conveying information to our customers — and, in turn, fielding a response from them — must fight constantly to keep clutter out of our work. That might mean fewer words, chosen more carefully; fewer images on the screen, using only the most compelling and motivating ones; fewer choices on the decision tree; fewer opportunities for something to go wrong or confuse or become tiresome.
At this point, I must resist the writer’s ugliest temptation, the cliché. Yes, what I’m talking about here has been said before, probably better and probably in a story called “Keep it simple,” or some variation thereof. And that’s fine, because it’s sound advice. But I would put it to you this way: Keep it elegant.
In everything you do — whether it is a business process or a software interface or a transaction or whatever — get rid of everything that isn’t either useful or beautiful. And work to maximize the number of things that are both.
Monday, 19 March 2007
This was the first year KioskCom came to the Middle East venue, drawing a large crowd from all disciplines, from airlines, banks, retail and government agencies. The vast majority of attendees were decision makers and individuals very interested in employing kiosks and generated a great deal of interest in kiosk hardware as well as software.
From the perspective of kiosk acceptance, the Middle East is anxious and willing to use kiosks in a wide spectrum of vertical markets. Middle Easterners are not prone to wait in line and find kiosks as a useful tool in providing efficient service. Moreover, they are after quality kiosk solutions, having already been burned by Far Eastern companies providing relatively unsophisticated and lower quality kiosks.
In terms of kiosk implementation, the Middle East is in the early stages of kiosk deployments, though APTEC and KTS have positioned themselves as providers of kiosk hardware, installation, maintenance services, parts and remote monitoring services throughout the Gulf region.
Some of the larger booths at the show were those of APTEC, KTS and SelfTech. APTEC and KTS showed the full range of standard kiosk offerings from KIOSK Information Systems while SelfTech showcased their program management support solutions for kiosk projects. APTEC and KTS also highlighted their kiosk installation, on-site maintenance and kiosk remote monitoring capabilities.
APTEC showed photo kiosks, a PC gaming kiosk, public information kiosks and HR solutions. In addition, they had very attractive digital signage solutions for customer preview. The staff at the booth was most professional and knowledgeable.
Both APTEC and KTS were exceptionally well-versed in the unique aspects of the kiosk deployment cycle and were more than willing to provide the required consultation services, much needed in the deployment of kiosks.
There were many other smaller kiosk exhibitors and component manufacturers present in the 50 booths at the exposition. Friendlyway from Germany had a small presence while Slabb Kiosks of the USA and Ultimedia of France had booths showing their lines of kiosks.
Several booths offered single focus solutions such as self service photo processing. Among the most prominent of component suppliers was Hemisphere West of Europe who showed a wide range of kiosk components include bill acceptors, coin acceptors, bill dispensers and printers.
As mentioned earlier, the Middle East is relatively new to the kiosk world. Yet, the prospects are significant given the desire for kiosk solutions and the willingness to look at all possible venues for use of kiosks. Since there are no kiosk manufacturing facilities in the Middle East at this time, kiosks are going to have to be shipped into the region from Europe, the USA or Asia.
I anticipate that kiosk projects will initially be of smaller size and typically focus on self service or time savings applications. Application software developers will absolutely need to be both aware of and sensitive to the cultural issues surrounding the use of kiosks.
Tuesday, 13 March 2007
We recently gathered a group of executives in New York City for a focus meeting. The executives represented both small and large companies, some well-known brands, various market segments and varying levels of experience with the topic at hand. What they had in common was that each was responsible for the deployment of self-service technology at their firms. As an industry, we’ve come to refer to them as “deployers.”
During the meeting, the deployers discussed the successes and challenges in their deployments as well as needs for people in their position. We compiled a rather large list of challenges that deployers face and most of the comments fell into one or more of the following categories:
1. Best Practices – Deployers want to know what other deployers and doing and what’s working for them. What’s the best way to design and layout a store? How do you ensure the right customer flow?
2. Financial / ROI – While it should come as no surprise that deployers have financial issues related to deployments and the justification of the return on investment, the issue of high fees on credit card payments – especially for small transactions – was brought to the fore. Also, determining ROI on a non-financial transaction proves to be challenge.
3. Integration – Integrating kiosks with existing POS systems and networks can cause unexpected and costly delays. Making sure franchisees are following the process correctly and tailoring it to local needs is also of concern.
4. Logistics / Execution – Rolling out a large number of units in a short period of time can be a challenge for any vendor as well as any deployer who is trying to manage it. An international deployment adds to those challenges. One executive said he didn’t realize how many areas of the organization needed to be involved or aware of the deployment since it impacted areas that were not readily apparent at the beginning of the project. Once the technology is in the field, maintaining it and minimizing downtime is vital.
5. Management / Employee / Consumer Adoption – Deployers can face challenges at many levels when trying to implement self-service, ranging from senior management to store managers to employees to consumers who are afraid of technology. The importance of training was cited as key to successful execution. Real-world success stories also help in convincing upper management.
6. New Technology – Technology changes rapidly and deployers have to plan for what will work in the field for several years. Also, deployers are watching and waiting to see what impact new operating systems like Vista will have.
7. Reporting / Reliable Data – One of the strengths of many self-service devices is the ability to remotely manage the device and report on its use. Interpreting the data can be another issue as well as making sure apples-to-apples comparisons are used when measuring its effectiveness. Deployers long for reliable benchmarks to see how they’re doing.
8. Security – While most kiosks are indoors, they are not always monitored by employees which can leave them open to hacks, fraud and vandalism. Deployers must also stay up on privacy issues to ensure that sensitive customer data is handled correctly.
It was agreed that deployers need to communicate with each other in a setting that is comfortable for them to open up and share their experiences. The participants appreciated that the Association brought them together for this purpose.
KioskCom’s Self Service Expo Executive Deployer Summit on April 24 in Las Vegas will aim to accomplish the same thing on a larger scale. The event will be limited to deployers only; press, vendors, consultants and analysts will not be allowed to attend. If you have already deployed self-service in your operation and are looking to take it to the next level, be sure to attend.
One thing I’ve learned: organizations as diverse as retail, hospitality, healthcare, government and entertainment can all share something in common when they are trying to do self-service right.
Tuesday, 06 March 2007
A new trend in digital signage is emerging that combines the strength of digital signs with the interactivity of digital kiosks. For many areas, such as retail shops, the sum of the two holds greater potential for marketers than either of the individual parts.
Known in some circles as hybrid digital signs and by others as interactive digital signage, these combo systems can capture the attention of those nearby by playing back compelling linear content -for example an enticing commercial or news feed- and immediately switching to an interactive mode when triggered by an external input, such as the touch of a viewer, the mere presence of a passerby or even environmental conditions.
Like a standalone digital sign, a hybrid system allows communicators to playback a pre-built sequence of elements, including video files, graphics, text, animation and live television. Those staples of digital signage are the makings of an effective message that entices interaction with the very flat panel on which the content plays.
Once viewers touch the panel or step within its proximity, the hybrid sign automatically interrupts linear content playback and displays a digital kiosk-like interface that lets a shopper touch hot spots on the screen, launching a pre-built interactive branching presentation. Navigating through the presentation, shoppers can find the information they want like product recommendations, pricing and availability.
Depending upon the level of sophistication needed, such hybrid interactive presentations can link to a company’s servers, pulling information needed for the presentation and collecting information about the consumer that can be stored on the server.
For instance, a hybrid system at an automotive retailer could send an inquiry to the store’s server to access a database of recommended filters and oil viscosity specified by each car manufacturer. Matching information the customer entered about his car with the recommendations in the database, the system could check inventory for the right products, retrieve availability and pricing and present the information to the shopper standing at the hybrid sign.
Prior to offering that information, the system could ask the shopper to enter his name and address and to grant permission to be notified of future specials. With that data saved on the server, the retailer’s marketing department can automatically send out coupons for oil and filters when the next estimated time for an oil change rolls around.
What enticed the shopper to touch the screen in the first place? Perhaps it was a video playing back in linear digital signage mode of a favorite racecar driver discussing why it’s important to stay current on oil changes.
On the front end of customer interaction, the hybrid system cast a wide net, cycling through a playlist of content designed to sell oil, followed by tires, then batteries, air filters -the list goes on an on. Each linear segment is backed up by an interactive kiosk component that’s triggered when a shopper’s curiosity is piqued by one of these linear presentations to the point that he touches the screen. On the back end, the system uses data that’s collected to stay in touch with shoppers once they leave the store, offering special incentives to have them return. In essence, hybrid digital signage can help to extend the marketing reach of a retailer well beyond arm’s length from the display panel and into the homes of shoppers who are willing to interact.
One real-world example is at the Walnut Creek Garden Center in Andover, KS, where an interactive digital signage system makes it easy for customers to determine the specific lawn and landscaping products they need for their project. When the system is touched, playout switches from linear content playback to an interactive mode.
In interactive mode, customers sign in by providing their names and addresses, access an aerial view of their specific property from Google Maps, use their fingers to outline their project area on the map of their property, and receive specific lists of products and application recommendations for their projects from the Walnut Creek Garden Center’s vast database. Subsequently, customers are reminded with postcards and other promotional mailings of specials on products they need to apply to maintain their lawn or landscaping project.
Interactivity doesn’t haven’t to begin with a human touch either. Imagine a hybrid digital signage system in a ski shop at the base of mountain. Skiers donning their boots and gloves might see a digital sign in passing as it plays back linear content; however, their attention might be focused when temperature, wind and solar sensors at the top of the mountain report conditions and trigger specific presentations. Lots of sun could call up reminders about needing sun screen. Heavy snow might trigger another presentation that makes them think twice about leaving the store before having the right gloves or goggles.
Another practical application for interactive digital signage is in the real estate sector. Randy Dean Construction in Wichita, KS, is using a media server to market its model homes, designs and inventory more effectively to prospective home buyers.
The home builder is using the system in a model home to allow potential buyers to take full 360-degree virtual tours of homes, access and print floor plans, examine the company’s home inventory and access the builder’s Web site.
The system skillfully marries playlist management and video/audio playback of a digital signage system with the interactivity of a digital kiosk. When in linear mode, the system plays back promotional video about the home builder as well as paid video commercials from business with complementary endeavors, such as mortgage banking and home title insurance. Revenue generated from those advertisements paid for the interactive digital signage system in under a year.
The possibilities for interactive, hybrid digital signage are only as limited as the imagination of creative marketers. To be sure, this aspect of the digital signage market is in its infancy. However, with the recent availability of the hardware and software needed to bring together the separate worlds of kiosks and digital signage, hybrid systems will certainly play an important roll in the unfolding digital signage market.