User Experience IRL for the Channel

We mostly talk about user experience in the context of your website or app development these days, much the the chagrin of it's founder and most user experience professionals.  For example, our own head of UX, Gregg Lulofs, can't help but cringe when the letters UX come out of my mouth, because he understands it as it applies in digital marketing and software, but also in real life.  See, Gregg has a background in industrial design, a discipline in which the true meaning of UX becomes clear, as you're designing the ways in which humans interact with and experience the physical world around them.  I don't, lol. 

Donald Norman is considered the father of modern user experience design principles.  Everything today from industrial design to software design have been influenced by his user-first approach.  He was made famous by way of his book The Design of Everyday Things, a must-read for any creative that wants to understand the foundational principles to what today is one of the most important, and often overlooked aspects of how businesses interact with their customers and prospects: user experience.

User experience design is a broad discipline that describes the interaction between people, or users, and things.  It’s applied in industrial design, product design, software development and design, and so many other things.  Norman himself say it applies to "all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.”  Wherever there is a product, solution, process, or material good, somebody somewhere intentionally designed the way you will interact with it.  Sometimes this is done exceedingly well, in which case you’ll never notice it.  Other times it is done poorly, in which case you are probably acutely aware. 

In Norman’s book, he describes an example of an often terrible design commonly found around the world today that has affected each and every one of us at some point.  It probably won’t take much imagination to empathize with this scenario:  You’re leaving the office a little late for an appointment.  As you hustle toward beautiful ceiling to floor glass door toward the lobby that you’ve entered and exited hundreds of time, you reach out mindlessly and give the door a push when, BAM… you proceed to walk right into the door because it is, in fact, a pull door.  

You were just victimized by a “Norman Door”.  It’s not your fault.  It’s poor design.  Norman rationalizes that commercial doors often use the same hardware on each side as a cost saving measure, or because of a design choice.  So the hardware is often designed to be ubiquitous, or to fit a certain aesthetic rather than be functional.  This means that the doors hardware is often, in the best case scenario, not sending you the right cue of how it functions.  In the worst case scenario, it’s sending you the wrong cue.  

Norman Doors are bad user experience with low stakes, a mild frustration and tiny delay in a long day that may prompt an eye roll or an expletive mumbled under your breath.  But the consequences of a bad user experience in your business are much greater, and worthy of your consideration.  

It’s a good idea to take a step back and reevaluate the experience a partner, customer, or prospect has interacting with your company.  Are you sending the wrong cues, or maybe worse creating fiction?  Here some “Norman Doors” I see commonly in channel organizations:

Sales
  • Share the sales process ahead of time and intervals so they know what to expect.  Don’t create friction in the sales process. 
  • Anticipate the things they will ask for in the course of the sales cycle and be sure that information is accessible.  From collateral to case studies, references and network maps.  
  • Stay focused, don’t overwhelm them with information.  Provide just enough to lead them through the key decision points, but always be ready with more if they need a deeper dive.  
  • Customers are more educated than before, with 94% doing research online and nearly 57% of the sales process being done online.  Make sure you adjust your sales process based on the buyer’s needs.  If they have thoroughly researched and just need specific answers, don’t try to ask a lot of deep probing questions.  Be nimble and flexible. 

Channel Management
  • Be responsive and accessible.  Not just at the times your partners need you, but using the communications channels they prefer.  Set expectations and meet them.
  • Be proactive with communications, when it comes to troubles, new product launches, SPIFs.  Your partners shouldn’t have to ask, you should be one step ahead with the information they need to sell you.
  • Find ways to personalize your process to meet the uniques ways in which they do business.  Process is important, but not at the cost of creating a bad relationship or making it too hard to do business.  (use profit assistant example).
  • Keep information like SPIFs, collateral, pricing information, etc in a centralized location available online.  Keep it current, and try to get your SPIFs out early, or at least on time!

Customer Service
  • Make it easy to engage and get fast resolution.  If something goes wrong, does your customer know who to call?  How long it will take to get resolution?  Define this and provide it up front. 
  • Every interaction should have a resolution and a next step, even if that resolution is that you need to gather information and follow up.  When that’s the case, just make sure you’ve set an expectation for when they will hear back from you, and with what information.  
  • Don’t make it their responsibility to deal with the red tape in your organization.  That’s your problem. If you need to get them to a different department, don’t do a cold handoff.  If there’s a process that needs to be followed, or information that needs to be gathered, do it for them.  If they need to help themselves, show them how.  If Ted from accounting is annoying to deal with, you go to Ted and get the answer. 

One for Everyone
  • Pay attention to detail.  Mistakes, sending sloppy work, missing deadlines, not meeting milestones… all of these things show a lack of attention to detail.  It gives your partners and customers a bad feeling.  It creates extra cycles for everyone, and costs time and money.  

I think you probably intuitively know all of this, but how often to we take a step back and look our interactions with partners and customers as an experience rather than a transaction?  Not often enough.  I suggest you try it.  Start with interacting with your marketing team as if you were a prospect, then become a lead.  Talk to a channel manager or sales rep, go through the sales process.  Sign up, get onboarded.  Call support to get help with a problem.  

Was the experience positive?  Was it consistent and cohesive?  Did it give you warm fuzzies about being a partner or customer?   Seriously, this is a valuable exercise.  Do it!

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