Contemplating this assignment, the very first thing that sprang to mind was an experience with Amazon customer service and my son’s new Kindle Fire over break. Sadly it was a very poor user experience, despite basically good customer service. Although the customer service rep worked very hard to help me, it was very frustrating because “the experience is the product” (Merholz et al, 2008, p. 12), and my overall experience was time-consuming and annoying. The lecture talks about whether things are “useful, usable and desirable” (Schmidt, 2013), the primary problem with this experience was that I had to spend an undesirable amount of time dealing with customer service. However nice they are, I don’t usually feel like calling up customer service reps up for a nice long chat.
My 9 year old son got a new Kindle Fire for Christmas, along with some gift cards from various relatives so he could buy apps, and various tokens within the games he bought. He tried to buy some game tokens worth $2.99 within the game “Garfield’s Diner” and that is when the fun began for me.
Although the money was deducted from his gift card balance, he did not get the tokens within the game. Still, I wasn’t too worried–I was sure Amazon would fix it quickly. They are great at customer service! Since my son is only 9 (and technically, his Kindle is registered to me so that I supervise the content), I called on his behalf.
First I had to get through all those annoying first line tech support questions: yes, we actually had a Wifi signal, yes I tried restarting, no, the brand new Kindle is not lacking in free memory space. (Sigh.) Then the support person took me through a bunch of complicated procedures checking various error files, while trying to fix the problem. She credited the money back and walked me through trying the same purchase again–but the same thing happened. Ultimately she had to refer it to the engineering team, and they had to refer it to the game developers. The entire process stretched over days with various people needing to get back to me about it.
The tech support person I talked to was very nice, and was trying her best to help, and the bug in the game was not her fault or even Amazon’s fault. But that didn’t change how annoying the whole thing was. As I spent time on the phone trying this or that procedure, the uppermost thought in my mind was “$2.99 is NOT worth this much of my time.” I was tempted, frequently, to just say forget it and to add 3 bucks on his card balance myself and forget about it, but I was worried about the precedent for my son of me fixing every little thing for him by throwing money at it. One of the reasons I wanted him to have a Kindle and use a gift card balance was that so he would have to choose what he wanted to spend limited funds on. I persevered. In the end, they concluded they could not fix it and just credited back the money–something they probably should have done much earlier in the process.
This wasn’t a failure of customer service, in that the service rep was friendly, apologetic, and tried very hard to fix the problem, and did resolve it in the end. But it WAS a poor user experience, partly because of a bug in an app that should probably have been fixed before release, but also because of the disproportionate amount of time spent on a 3 dollar glitch. The service reps probably think in terms of “did I solve this problem or not?” but my experience leads me to believe they should also be asking themselves, “is it worth pursuing a solution to this degree over something so small?” and also “what is the real problem I am trying to fix here, and could I fix it faster?” The apparent problem was a bug in an app, but the real problem was getting a kid back to playing with his new toy quickly. Rather than trying to pursue the bug doggedly until they fixed it, it might have been better to credit the money and contact me later if they ever fixed the app in question, giving me the opportunity to try the purchase again. The game had a usability problem, and although customer service was useful/helpful, the process–spending extended amounts of time on a very small problem–was very undesirable.
For my son, the *desired* experience of a Kindle was to have fun with a new device he has wanted for quite some time, not to hang around anxiously while his mother struggled to fix a glitch in it. I had a desired experience of the new Kindle as well–I wanted to see my son really happy, enjoying something he really wanted and had wanted for a long time–and also to get my own older model Kindle back so that I got to use it myself for a change!
I also had the additional goal of wanting my son to learn to approach purchasing things (so easy in this connected age!) with deliberation and thoughtfulness, rather than just throwing electronic funds at things. I might think that $3 is a pretty small sum, but at his age I don’t want HIM to start being cavalier with small sums of money. That goal was operative to keep me slogging away at an interaction I probably would have walked away from otherwise.
As a librarian I often pride myself on not “giving up the chase,” that is, however difficult, I don’t want to quit until I find the book a patron asked for, no matter how difficut the search or how vague the clues. I volunteer in school libraries, so I get a lot of requests like “that purple book about the girl with the cat.” It might seem like good customer service to keep trying no matter what, but thinking in terms of the user experience means thinking about whether you are meeting the patron’s real goal. The real goal isn’t always what it seems to be–it might not really be “I want this book” but “I want a fun book to read.” It takes empathy to think beyond the apparent goal to try to imagine and meet the true underlying goals that a patron has. If I find “the” book but took half an hour to find it, is the borrower going to remember the book, or remember the half hour? It may be better to at least entertain the possibility that a substitute book is a better fit for the real goal than large amounts of time pursuing the apparent goal.
“The role of the designer is that of a good host anticipating the needs of the guest.”
~Charles Eames, quoted in lecture (Schmidt, 2013)
One of the most positive user experiences that comes to mind is my experience at my favorite spa, Heavenly Spa (okay, the name is a little cheesy but the place itself is great). Sometimes when the stresses of life pile up (for example, if I have to talk to customer service reps for hours), I want an oasis, and go to the spa to get a massage or a similar indulgence.
Going to the spa is not just about whether the massage therapist is good, the entire experience really is the product. The real goal of going to a spa is not to get a good massage or to get a good pedicure. The most likely real goal is to reduce stress and enjoy myself, and everything about the experience affects that: how easy it is to find the place the first time, how easy it is to park, what the building looks like, what the waiting room looks like, the music they play, any scents that are in the air, how you are greeted when you come in.
The spa I really like to go to is in a residential neighborhood (near a commercial area, though, so it is easy to find), and it looks like going to someone’s lovely old Victorian era house. It’s not hard to get to, not hard to park at, and once you walk in, reception takes over and treats you like a guest.
Libraries aren’t spas, but we can try to anticipate the needs of our “guests.” Libraries may seem to be about books, but they are places where people go for experiences–the experience of finding books that engage them, also the experiences that library programs and learning can offer. Focusing on our books and other materials is one part of the user’s experience, but the whole experience of coming to the library influences whether people will want to repeat the experience.
Merholz, P., Schauer, B., Verba, D. & Wilkens, T. (2008). Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.
Schmidt, A. (2013, December 4). Week One: Intro to Library UX. Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/81056030