UX and Empathy: Chatting with a User Experience Expert

| By: Sasha Butkovich

An important component of any unified customer experience is the user experience, or UX. People’s attitudes, emotions, and perceptions about a product or system all make up their user experience. To learn more about what goes into creating great UX for omni-channel retail businesses, I sat down with Corra’s UX expert Ryan Leffel, Senior Director of Retail Strategy & Creative Services.

Let’s start with the basics. What does UX mean to you?
UX has a lot to do with empathy. It’s understanding your users. People think UX means making something easy to use or functional, but it’s equally how something looks or feels.

If a business is starting from scratch, where is a good place to begin when developing the UX?
Typically early on in the discovery phase of a project, there are a few things we talk about with the client: what defines the brand, what their goals are, and what they need to be successful. We also want to know who the customer is: what they need, how they shop, where they shop, and why they’re shopping. Once we understand the brand and their customer, then we start putting together a design strategy.

“These brands are often designing something for themselves, not for their users…”

 

What are the considerations you look at to plan a business’s UX strategy?
It starts off with our team interviewing stakeholders on the brand side to learn about the business. Then we try to learn more about the customer, which may include surveys on the website, user testing, facilitating focus groups, and even spending time at the retail location talking to sales associates and observing how customers shop. We talk to a surprising number of clients who don’t know who their customer is. They don’t know they can leverage call center data or sales associates, and use their people on the ground to get valuable information.

Even if a brand doesn’t have physical stores, we can look at customer behavior for other merchants within their vertical or industry to help us draw parallels and understand the target customer’s experience. For example, for one client we conducted 20 customer interviews, and distilled the data we collected down to create 5 shopper personas. A persona is a fictitious person, based on a real person, that encompasses the characteristics and traits of a certain type of shopper. These are relevant throughout the design process because they help us to determine what types of features we should use to cater to those different personas. They are also useful in creating tone and branding elements.

What are some common UX mistakes that you see?
The biggest mistake we see is businesses not having a full picture of who their customer is and what they ultimately need. When we talk to stakeholders, they’re very connected to the product. They live and breathe the product, and they’re experts on it. But they’re not the target audience. These brands are often designing something for themselves, not for their users, because people who come to their sites don’t typically operate on an expert level.  A customer is going to use the site or channel entirely differently than the stakeholders of the brand.

Another common mistake is that people really like to talk about “best practices.” But with ecommerce, a best practice for one brand or vertical might be completely different for another brand or vertical. The right strategy for a high-end fashion brand might not be effective for a discount brand. It’s not as easy as looking at an experience and following best practices, because they’re different across the board.

How do you decide whether a business should have a responsive or m-dot site or a mobile app?
From content management to SEO to ease of use, there are a number of reasons why we typically recommend responsive web design to our clients. But regardless of whether they choose a responsive site or an m-dot site, any brand should aim to have a mobile presence. Today’s consumer wants to be able to shop or browse whenever they want, wherever they are.

We like responsive design, but apps do play a big part as well. The main advantage of building an app is that it offers the potential to bring a higher level of engagement than a website. There are a lot of really cool technologies out there, like beacons for example, that allow apps to engage customers in ways that websites can’t. But again, while an app may be a good fit for some brands, it won’t be right for every brand.

How does the UX strategy influence the unified customer experience?
I think creating a unified customer experience is the next big challenge in UX. Right now there are several different channels beyond online, mobile and in-store that businesses have to consider—TV, social media, game consoles, or even call centers and direct mail. The list goes on. These are all touchpoints through which brands can engage and interact with their customers, and the goal should be for them all to feel and act as one channel. It needs to be seamless.

Most consumers don’t think in terms of channels or platforms. Once a customer gets lost, or the experience doesn’t meet their demands, you’re likely to lose them—permanently. Many retailers are missing this, but they’re quickly learning they need to make the jump. It’s not a simple task, from either a technology or a business strategy perspective. But, like anything, there are solutions ranging from simple to more complex that will help these brands move the needle.

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Sasha Butkovich is Marketing Copywriter at Corra, a New York, Los Angeles and London based digital commerce agency creating unified commerce experiences for fashion, lifestyle and beauty. With a team of 100+ ecommerce strategy, design and technology professionals, Corra delivers rich shopping and buying experiences across all channels and devices. Corra is trusted by retailers of all sizes to implement and support the Magento Enterprise, Demandware and hybris platforms.