Customer expectation graphs

Inspired by Vonnegut’s story graphs, I’ve created some graphs demonstrating different types of  experience when signing up to a new service. The graphs show expectations set by marketing prior to becoming a customer and the ensuing impact on their satisfaction based on the actual service. The dotted black line in each graph represents the point at which the person becomes a customer.

This is the ideal – high expectations and a comparable service = happy customer.

High expectations supported by a high quality service.

High expectations supported by a high quality service.

This is the worst approach – making spectacular claims and setting elevated expectations before, only to disappoint with an average service later. A quick and expensive way to an unhappy customer.

High expectations followed by an average or poor service.

High expectations followed by an average or poor service.

If the actual service isn’t perfect, deliberately setting expectations low initially can mean customers receive a pleasant surprise when they find the service to be better than that. This is intention behind a beta launch. Again, happy customer (in the short term at least).

Low expectations are set. The actual service is better than anticipated.

This could be a quick, visual way of assessing a brand’s approach to communications and the subsequent quality of service. It demonstrates the importance of having a joined up approach to a service and its marketing.





Grow a strong brand by setting the right expectations of your customer experience

The experience a customer has with a brand and a product can outweigh any of their preconceptions based on marketing. In the same way that a flawed checkout process in an ecommerce site can lose potential conversions wasting investment made higher up the funnel, a business that runs expensive brand and ATL campaigns then delivers a poor customer experience is working inefficiently. Any positive feelings they’d created are lost once someone converts and experiences a mixture of poor service / product and customer service. The business has created unhappy customers who dissuade others from buying and wastes money fire-fighting customer complaints.

The best model would be to offer a brilliant product and customer experience. But that’s not always possible. So what then?

The solution is to set appropriate expectations. Setting high expectations initially but failing to deliver is likely to create the most disappointment. A company like John Lewis has high prices and sets high expectations of service – but they also deliver on this and the result is a highly profitable and loved brand. By stark contrast, Ryanair sets both low prices and low expectations – the hard to use, unpleasant website experience and regular PR stories detailing how they planned to punish their customers next were profitably maintained for years until a recent turnaround in their approach. Perhaps they went too far.

Many start ups and new services need time to learn and develop and being honest about this sets appropriate expectations. Labelling a service as ‘beta’ suggests it may not work perfectly but it’ll get better. Virgin America recently ‘quietly’ launched a bold new website experience under a beta url – it gave them chance to test out something new and make improvements before publicising it heavily and over-promising. Giffgaff, the mobile service provider, increased its customer base quicker than the top 3 mobile providers in the UK in 2012 – quietly and steadily building on a simple, honest service and culling adverts when the quality of service started to suffer as a result of rapid growth.

Brands that can afford to pump out enough marketing without setting correct expectations of service can turn a profit on the back of unsuspecting new customers. But they’re obscuring inefficiencies and creating disloyal customers. It’s a cynical model with a limited shelf life and before long, a rebrand is needed. Taking a longer term approach that sets the correct expectations of a service may be slower getting started but should be more efficient and ultimately result in a stronger brand, happier customers and longer term profits.

Storytelling using parallax scrolling

I have been collating some examples of storytelling that take advantage of parallax scrolling. News sites, notably The New York Times and The Guardian have experimented with this technique, creating personal stories that weave stunning imagery, video and copy into an interactive story.

The scrolling interaction gradually exposes more of the story, revealing video, audio and image galleries at relevant points.

This isn’t ‘news’ as such, but it is a form of journalism, reminiscent of Truman Capote’s style and the thoughtful use of technology helps tell these linear stories in a way that’s appropriate to the medium.

 Snow Fall – The New York Times


Firestorm – The Guardian


This technique has been used successfully for other purposes. It can explain issues or indicate distances using the scrolling motion as a narrative device.

The Dangers of Fracking

The Dangers of Fracking - screenshot

Your Tour – Google

Your Tour

It’s easy to get this wrong – if it’s too slow, stilted or the movement actually gets in the way of the story rather than enhancing it, then it doesn’t work. Pitchfork’s Daft Punk feature suffers from speed issues and the moving parts don’t enhance the story.

Pitchfork – Daft Punk feature

Pitchfork - Daft Punk screenshot

It’s more regularly used to suggest that a brand or product is innovative. It’s used to present a series of short messages in an intriguing way, encouraging more than a few seconds of engagement when there may not be content to support any more than this.

August Smart Lock

August Smart Lock - screenshot

Nest also used this technique before launch but have now replaced it with a more static, functional design which is more usable for the changing purpose and quantity of content.

This technique can elegantly communicate a series of simple messages in an engaging way, tell a linear story and weave supporting media throughout. Before embarking on a parallax design it’s worth weighing up the benefits against the potential pitfalls – it works best for desktop views (all the examples above have much simpler mobile versions) so not everyone will experience it in full. The more complex the story and how it is told, the more time intensive it will be – is it worth it? And it needs to have smooth, fast interactions. Technical issues will mean that all the benefits are lost.

UX London – Day 1

Earlier in the month I went to the first day of UX London under the theme of Product Design. It’s my first time at this conference and it was one of the best I’ve attended. I’m probably not the only attendee who hadn’t heard of the venue before (The Trinity Laban Building) but as it turns out it this is the colourful, RIBA award winning building just outside Greenwich which was a perfect choice. It was the first sunny day of spring and the unusual step of providing lunch via outdoor street food vans turned out to be a good one!

The speakers were all excellent without exception – there was no one speaking purely with the aim of plugging their newest book, as so many conferences seem to be. And it was refreshing to hear talks about British designs, one of which ( has justly received the Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award.

There were so many useful snippets of information I’ve had to resist a much longer post about everything I learned and instead have tried to summarise the day around a few core areas.

1) Information not content

A minor point but it was interesting to hear the speakers refer to ‘information’ rather than ‘content’, finally breaking down the idea that information is defined by its container.

2) Data driven design / how to manage vast amounts of data

Both Julia Whitney from the BBC and Ben Terrett from the Government Digital Service (GDS) gave case studies on projects involving vast amounts of content across multiple platforms. The BBC Olympics project dealt featured 2500 hours of live coverage across 24 HD streams on mobile, tablet, desktop and TV. The website dealt with an existing repository of information, amalgamating over 2000 government websites into just one.

It was impressive to see the importance of certain methods on projects of this scale and the rigour with which they were applied. Here are some of the methods that both Julia and Ben referred to:

– Use design principles to guide the team:

The BBC design team’s was ‘never miss a moment’ whereas the GDS have well publicised design guidelines publicly available here:

– Avoid fragmentation and create consistency

Establishing design patterns and visual language early on and ensuring consistent interactions across devices was essential for creating an experience that feels familiar.

– Understand context of use / design for how people actually use your product, not how you imagined

Tailor the experience on each device – for example, the BBC team prioritised text based commentary on mobile devices to enable users to catch up discretely in work throughout the day. The BBC are now using the viewing figures from each time of day to influence the design of their Rio coverage. Earlier in the day, Tom Hulme had talked about ‘desire paths’ using urban design as examples of how people will use products or spaces in the way that suits their needs, which isn’t necessarily as intended. Review data, create human stories and be willing to adapt your designs based on what people actually do.

– Only design what you need

The BBC introduced extra features and content as a result of user testing (the Sports Guides for example). Part of the GDS role was to remove information that wasn’t suitable –  they kept information that would only appear on the site and retired information that was readily available elsewhere.

3) Working collaboratively and efficiently

Lean methodology is rapidly becoming the norm for projects of all sizes, and Jeff Gothelf summarised the approach well in his talk. The basic principle is don’t invest too much in something that isn’t proven – he suggested ditching the term ‘requirements’ and replacing it with ‘hypotheses’. This means that each feature can be questioned and validated – only design it if you have a valid purpose, audience and testable outcome. Ben Terret was also a strong advocate of lean methodology – the team work collaboratively, going straight from scamps to browser with minimal use of Photoshop or wireframes.

4) What you can do with data / the internet of things.

This theme was centred around ‘connected things’ – how data we have available can be integrating with physical devices. Both Chris Heathcote’s talk and Claire Rowland’s workshop later in the day covered this exciting topic. Some useful starting points for designing with physical objects came out of the day:

– Think about where the data goes

– Use single serve objects not gizmos – This is something I’ve also heard Bill Buxton advocate at UX-Lx last year.

– Make use of ‘schelling points’ – Where things naturally live and aggregate (again, this is reminiscent of the desire paths mentioned by Tom) e.g. the bedside table, the place for the keys, the phone in the hall.

– Radiators over reflectors – Think about how data makes itself known. Kindles are better for the home because they don’t glow and demand attention like the iPad. Everythinig’s too excited.

– Consider cultural etiquette – Google glasses break cultural etiquette.

– Do it yourself – This topic still in the realm of the innovators; those trying to find meaning and purposes for the technology we have. It’s ok for it to be highly personalised – Chris had created a Kindle app displaying everything he needed to know in the morning on his bedside table – the weather, travel info, his calendar for the day.

– Bears, bats and bees – Think about what input and output devices there are and how they can work together. Input and output devices can be thought about as bears (devices capable of many tasks, like computers); bats (single task devices like Withings scales); and bees (large numbers of tiny sensors that act as the inputs). Use personas and scenarios to help imagine how they can come together to meet users needs.

Mobile websites should be more than just the basics

I get tired of coming across a decent mobile site only to find that I have to use the desktop version to do what I intended. We should stop accepting ‘best practice’ as an argument for stripping back mobile websites to just the basics of their desktop counterparts. The screen isn’t the optimum size but it doesn’t mean that people won’t continue to read that whole article they were interested in on their mobile. The alternative isn’t exactly convenient – waiting until they got home, remembering they wanted to read, turning on their desktop computer and finding the article again.

I use my mobile more than my laptop at home – I use it for everything that I would use my computer for and the only inhibitor is if a website simply does not function on a mobile (worse still are mobile websites that don’t work on mobile – like I read long articles, I buy things (my last purchase on my mobile was £185), I make payments through my bank’s website, I write long emails. The list could go on and on.

This is all anecdotal however and it’s worth looking at some evidence to support the idea that people do actually use their mobile for more than just specific tasks, in short bursts and while ‘on the go’ and that the content of mobile websites should be more representative of the desktop version. Mobile isn’t just about the basics.


Context is often used as an excuse for stripping back the desktop site on a mobile. Context is important, and it is different to desktop but that doesn’t necessarily mean mobile users only use their mobiles in short bursts of activity.  People use their mobiles throughout the day and not just ‘on the go’ for specific tasks – 67% of mobile users use their mobile while lying in bed, 47% while waiting for something and 25% while commuting.

None of these contexts suggest short bursts of activity around specific tasks. Rather it is idle time being filled – arguably time better suited to research or reading long articles or making payments.

Mobile only                                                                                   

A convincing statistic is that 25% of UK mobile web users exclusively access the Internet through web enabled mobile devices and not computers.  That number only increases when looking at developing countries. There is no alternative to their mobile whether it is an optimum experience or not.

Time spent using mobiles

Looking at the time spent on different devices each day gives an indication that people are spending longer on their mobiles each day.  US adults spend more time on mobile devices than they do on print – 1h on mobile each day compared to 44 minutes on newspapers and magazines. Admittedly, mobile use may not have occurred in one continuous stretch and could still have been made up of many small bursts of activity.

High value purchases

High value, considered purchases made on mobile devices may indicate people performing more time intensive and engaging tasks on mobile devices. On ebay, vehicles are the top category of product purchased in the UK on mobile devices – a vehicle is bought via mobile every 5 minutes. The most expensive item purchased was a Bentley for £95,938.

Stripping back your mobile website to the basics because you don’t believe people will want to do anything more follows the same flawed argument as luxury brands that didn’t sell online at all because they couldn’t believe that anyone would spend £500 on a handbag online.

Popularity of time intensive websites and apps

Usage of the Guardian app had 400,000 downloads within 6 months of launch and their mobile website accounts for more than 10% of total site visits.  They show their full articles on both their app and mobile site – not just a synopsis.

BBC iplayer sees around 13 million requests per month (around 9% of all requests) from a mobile device. They show full TV and radio programs, not just the first few minutes.


I do agree that mobile usage is often different to desktop and that the mobile site is necessarily different in behaviour and priorities because of the limited screen size. But it shouldn’t be assumed that mobile users wouldn’t want to do everything on the mobile site that they do on the desktop. Don’t assume they will wait until they get home to return to your site in a more optimum environment. Mobile shouldn’t mean less, it shouldn’t mean over-simplified and it shouldn’t mean hurried.

Take your friends with you everywhere – the social benefits of ‘checking-in’

The prospect of offers and discounts from venues is reguarly cited as being the main incentive to ‘checking-in’ to services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places. However, there are various social benefits that are emerging as key reasons for checking-in, and this is arguably why there are people repeatedly checking into venues that do not reward the behaviour.

Many of the most popular places that people check-in to are inherently social – restaurants, bars, sporting venues. And checking into TV shows and films on GetGlue currently has little other value. Rewards are the top reason, but 33% of early adopters cite ‘meeting up with friends’ as a reason for sharing their location.

So, what social benefits does checking-in and more broadly, location sharing, bring? There are four key benefits I can identify:

1) Real-time feedback

Checking-in allows you to share something in context quickly and easily and get real-time feedback. Innovative retail brands have recognised this benefit and have used indirect methods of check-in to allow customers to do this. Macy’s Magic Mirror allowed customers to ‘try on’ outfits virtually in-store via a full-size multi-touch mirror then share directly to Facebook for feedback from their friends.

Diesel have used QR codes to allow customers in-store to share directly to Facebook and ‘like’ items by simply scanning.

2) Shared experience

One of the benefits to checking-in is that you can instantly give context to your situation, see other friends nearby or watching the same TV show as you and share opinions and conversation. Entertainment check-in is creeping up behind the location check-in as a new trend. Seeing what your friends are watching can inspire interest in a new show or film. Using a hashtag on Twitter is an indirect way of checking-in to something you are watching on TV and suddenly makes it into a shared experience with anyone else using the hashtag. BBC’s Question Time has been quick to take this on board and actively promote their hashtag live, streaming tweets via the red button service and retweeting to encourage conversation.

An area yet to be explored that I’ve previously blogged about is the idea of creating iPad apps to complement TV shows. The MyTVBuddy turned the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest into a shared experience. Users who downloaded the app and ‘checked-in’ could chat with other fans across Europe as well as seeing feeds from Facebook and Twitter.

3) Socialising

It may seem obvious, but sharing your location allows you to tell all your friends in one action where you are and what you’re doing. It’s an open invite to join in. It creates new possibilities for unplanned nights out with friends who were in a nearby bar when you checked in and allowed you to meet up. It can also create more thoughtful interactions between friends. Seeing that a friend has checked into a bar signals that it may not be the best time to ring for a heart-to-heart chat, whereas checking in a home does the opposite. It gives to the virtual world what the first few seconds of a phone call gives – context – and the more astute friends will use this to adapt their interactions with you.

Leaving recommendations and tips at venues that they’ve checked into means that your friends can help you make choices long after they’ve been there.

Some check-in apps, such as Whatser, are created with the intention of allowing people to find others nearby with similar interests and create new friendships.

4) Supporting altruistic behaviour

Leaving recommendations and tips against venues, answering questions posed by strangers – these are all examples of altrusitic behaviour available when checking-in. The app Quipster makes adding recommendations and tips a reason for checking-in and integrates the two more closely than Foursquare where it is more of an afterthought. The app Loqly is created with the sole purpose of allowing users who check-in to pose and answer questions to those nearby with the intention of giving more relevant and useful responses as a result.

Ultimately, checking-in allows you to take your friends with you wherever you go – to get feedback, share interests, help each other out and blur the digital world with the real one when you meet up as a result of a check-in.