Your Customers are Slipping through Leaky Experiences

Loyalty_Bribery_KathySierraLoyalty programs are a misnomer for rewards-based marketing schemes — incentives, or how Kathy Sierra puts it, bribes.

Gaining "likes" on a brand Facebook page in exchange for a chance to win an iPad (not the brand's product) should not be confused with having customers line up outside your store for hours to pay hard-earned money to buy an iPad.

The difference is this: in the first case, a brand offers a reward for taking an action — "like" me to (maybe) win = bribe; in the second, the action takes the customer on the path to the personal reward — essentially buying his own ability to do something new with it = loyalty to self.

In this hour-long video that will feel like 15 minutes, Kathy Sierra lays out the foundational elements of designing for a better experience, one that makes a product and service truly desirable in a sustanable way.

Watch it twice. Because you will not want to miss the opportunity to process the subtle difference between brands trying to be perceived as being awesome, and people, users, looking to be awesome:

when we are trying to make the most awesome product, that people will view as awesome, we are often making really different choices, in product design, in features, in marketing, in everything that we do. If we’re trying to be perceived as awesome, it’s very different than focusing on just what the user’s going to be able to do.

[…] We want to compete on user awesome, not app awesome. Because having the users view us as awesome is a natural side-effect, when we’re doing the right things.

Sierra has been focusing on creating passionate users throughout her career. In our conversation, she helped us grasp the difference. It does not matter how awesome your product is or your presentation or your post. Your awesome thing matters ONLY to the extent that it serves the user's ability to be a little more awesome.

[…] We cannot do it 100% of the time; we are still humans with egos, but ANY movement in that direction Is helpful because, honestly,the bar for user-result-focused thinking is set awfully low in most domains.

It is simple advice, yet so hard to do.

Be user-result-focused

She emphasized we must be user-result-focused NOT simply user-focused, because user-focus can still put the focus on the wrong thing.

So say that you are looking to become the destination for online learning, you do have an advantage that you are in the business of teaching already. Yet there are many other programs that compete for that one application, all by being more awesome, or awesomer than you are.

Very quickly, the race becomes who has the most content on their sites, and now in social, to "engage" perspective students based on perceived value signals. And most of us do not suffer from an engagement problem. Instead, we look at it from the perspective of the become-exceptional-at-what-we-do problem.

Which means the educational institution brand, prestige, network, etc. may or may not have a bearing in helping the student complete the program, and learn to be badass in her work. How can you help her become a better student?

Talking up the particular brand of online learning, as awesome as the courses may be does not lead to sustainable desirability. The key attributes of what makes the investment worthwhile live in the perspective student, not in the college/university. Is she going to become the accountant, lawyer, filmmaker that will prompt her friends to say: "I loved what you did there."

Out-spend_or_out-Teach_KathySierraLook to out-teach the competition [image courtesy Kathy Sierra] — help your prospective students become ninjas at enrollment, curriculum orientation, real world applications of the material, etc.

This is something I am very passionate about, because I touched first hand the student-results-driven focus of the consulting practicum at The Fox School of Business where I participated actively as adviser for several years. 

Get the student up to speed on how to succeed more quickly at telling the story behind his amazing research, help them unlock individual and then group achievement stages that will take them farther, and you have sustainable desirability.

A simple test: which professors and/or managers do you still think about today? Why?

Upgrading our thinking

In the video, Kathy explains the science behind helping people, your customers, become badass. It matters because this is what social/content (a proxy for or our product) should be about.

The importance of shifting point of view from trying to be the best brand ever, to working on helping the customer/user being the best version of themselves cannot be underestimated.

Marketers do get this and have been talking about product benefits from the point of view of the user/customer for ages. Yet we also have that joke about how things change once you are a customer, and it all becomes about the "thing" you buy vs. how the company can help you use it.

Anyone trying to navigate procedures for using something for the first time off a small print manual and opting to run a search for a community forum where he may find a simpler explanation knows the energy toll cognitive loads take.

It's exhausting just to figure out how to make the thing work — and no amount of glossy advertising and list of benefits makes up for the discomfort once it's in your hands.

Helping customers find what they are looking to do quickly and easily is vital. Because, and scientific research has found this to be accurate, will-power, focus, concentration, and working on problem-solving are all coming from the same pool of cognitive resources.

Strain that too much, and your customers slip away with it. So we/companies should be patching cognitive leaks everywhere we can. Because every place it leaks out, we’re not just hurting their ability to move forward in everything we’re asking them to do, we’re also hurting their life.

One small application/example, staying with the educational institution, is the number of programs available — a long menu or list of programs in several categories is going to test the cognitive load of someone new to the whole education curriculum very quickly.

So how do we design an experience that helps bring them along, that makes sense to onboard them, what are those trade-offs to get them as quickly as possible to a place where they are comfortable making a decision, then keep moving them along the path to help them stay the course?

If more than half the battle is figuring out where to begin, your customers/students/users may well choose to take their business somewhere else.



Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effects on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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