I was updating one of my Blackberry phone apps this week - something I'd been putting off for a while as I know from experience what a chore this can be.
Having managed to login, navigate the cumbersome menus and download the application, I was then prompted to re-boot my phone. After what felt like 5 minutes, but was probably closer to 2, my phone was rebooted and I was finally back in with my updated application.
I could say I've been spoilt with my Apple devices. Their app store just works. It's not the most beautiful application in the world, but it certainly sets the standard currently for how it should work. It also doesn't need a reboot after it's installed an update, which is why I'm updating numerous apps daily.
This difference all comes down to the user experience.
I'm reading the Steve Jobs biographyat the moment and this is one of the things that becomes immediately apparent - he cared about the user experience. He may not have expressed it particularly well in dealing with staff, but he certainly knew what was right and wrong (most of the time).
In one part of the book it discusses how he was disappointed with the boot time of the Macintosh. The engineer was initially reluctant to commit to being able to reduce it. Jobs asked him if he would be able to shave 10 seconds of it if someones life depended on it - the engineer suggested he might be able to do it with that kind of thing at stake. Jobs then went on to say:-
Well, let's say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and thats 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that's probably dozens of lifetimes. So if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you've saved a dozen lives. That's really worth it, don't you think?"
It may not really have been life or death, but every user was thankful for the 28 seconds they ultimately saved as users today are also thankful for the "instant on gratification" offered by it's eventual successor, the MacBook Air.
User experience is a crucial aspect of all design - loyalty programmes included. However it is also one of the things that can tend to get lost in the rush to actually deliver.
The integration is fastidiously planned, making sure all the systems connect. The best hosting environments are sourced, making sure that data is protected and systems resilient. The right rewards and communications plans are devised to encourage mutually beneficial behaviours.
However if the user experience sucks then despite all that hard work, customers may fall by the wayside.
As an example, I've recently tried to collect retrospective earnings on a frequent guest and a frequent flyer programme. Either because I hadn't taken my card or hadn't logged it at the time of booking I needed re-claim my points/miles. This is where the user experience started to break down.
Both un-releated programmes required me to send correspondence to a designated address with my proof of purchase. Correspondence is a quaint word and it's also a quaint concept. Really? You want me to write a letter, put it in an envelope and send it to an international address - just to claim loyalty miles.
Ok, so one of them also provided an electronic version - I could fax it. Now, I'm old enough to remember faxes becoming mainstream communication devices - but I'm also old enough to know they are dead. Sure we still have some dotted around for some reason, but it's not for everyday communication. However, I did try faxing it - twice. Nothing.
Eventually I phoned up the frequent guest programme who i'd been collecting with for a while and established that they did indeed have an email address (unpublished) which I could send a scan to. One web browse, two faxes, one phone call and one email later I have my points.
This gap between my intention (to claim my points) and the allowable actions (the tools provided to claim) is defined as the "Gulf of Execution" by user experience pioneer, Donald Norman and is the same problem that prevents people from using their microwave or programming their PVR. In describing the gulf of execution, Wikipedia states:-
Usability has as one of its primary goals to reduce this gap by removing roadblocks and steps that cause extra thinking and actions that distract the user's attention from the task intended, thereby preventing the flow of his or her work, and decreasing the chance of successful completion of the task
The chance of successful completion of the task and on who/how many complete it will ultimately depend on the balance between the strength of intention and the size of the gulf.
In the case of the frequent guest programme, my invested interest in the programme meant i'd try harder to finish my intention of claiming miles. However, the frequent flyer programme didn't fare so well. I'd only just joined and so had no invested interest in it and so no reason to waste my time. In fact, it was worse than that - it wasn't that I didn't earn the points, it actually felt like i'd had them taken away. This resulted in not just "better luck next time" but "there won't be a next time", I'll just fly with someone else.
Whether it's how members login, how they redeem for rewards or how they claim for missing points, the user experience is a key aspect for any loyalty programme.
A faster starting computer, downloading app or easier retro claim may not actually save lives, but as Apple continues to demonstrate it could certainly help to save customers and that is the whole point after all.