Designing for the Experience, Not the Channel
Users engage with companies and organizations across many channels, including the web, email, mobile devices, kiosks, online chat, and by visiting physical locations (such as storefronts or service centers).
Users expect companies to provide a usable experience across all channels. Although you may think of various channels within your organization or company as separate or siloed, your users do not. They consider any interaction with you, regardless of channel, as part of the overall user experience. And they have high expectations. We are no longer just designing for the web. We are designing for the holistic cross-channel experience.
The Four Elements of a Usable Cross-Channel Experience
As we research cross-channel experiences for our upcoming Cross-Channel User Experience course, we’ve been able to identify the most important attributes to consider when designing a cross-channel experience. To be usable, this experience must be:
Consistent: Customers should be able to move from channel to channel without having to relearn how to complete activities. Consistency across elements from visual design to interactions to content helps users move between channels easily. On a banking site, for example, the continuity of the look and feel across the website, emails, mobile and tablet apps, and physical locations is key. Users should be able to know how to transfer money or check an account balance easily in any channel.
Seamless: It should be possible to complete a task across multiple channels, if desired. For example, if a user places an item in a shopping cart while logged into an ecommerce site on a mobile device, that same item should be in the cart when they access the site from a laptop.
Available: Users should be able to complete desired activities regardless of the channel. For example, checking into a flight should be available on the web, a mobile application, the airport kiosk, and with an agent at the airport terminal.
Context Specific: The experience should be optimized for the channel. For example, mobile applications should integrate location-specific details--such as the current weather, nearby coupons or discounts, or the distance to stores or physical locations, based on the user’s current location.
The Importance of Consistency in the Cross-Channel Experience
As users move from channel to channel to complete a specific task or many different tasks over time, they are exposed to the visual design, functionality, interactions and overall tone of voice of the company or organization. Creating consistency across these disciplines, regardless of channel, helps users build expectations for future interactions with the organization. Users crave consistency and companies that can provide consistent experiences across channels will quickly earn users’ trust.
When a user in our cross-channel study was asked to give advice to companies designing experiences across multiple channels, he said “Be consistent. Your in-store service translates over all other platforms. If I have a bad experience in store, for example, I'm a lot less likely to order anything from you online and vice versa. Your brand is as good as my last poor experience with you.”
JetBlue has a consistent user experience across channels. The visual design and tone of voice are persistent, and users can complete most tasks, such as booking a flight, checking in to a flight, and choosing a seat, from any channel.
JetBlue’s website includes a persistent use of the brand’s color and tone of voice. The playful and conversational tone of voice matches the bright and cheery visual design. Common activities, such as booking a flight or checking in, are available from the homepage or the main navigation.
JetBlue’s website has a playful visual design and tone of voice and provides easy access to common tasks.
After a flight has been booked, the confirmation-email’s look and feel and its tone of voice are consistent with the website. Also, links to common tasks, such as checking in, choosing a seat, and getting information about checked bags and carry-ons, are available via links in the email.
The confirmation email received after booking a flight is consistent with the look and feel, tone of voice, and common interactions on other channels.
JetBlue’s mobile app is also congruent with other channels’ visual design, tone of voice, and interactions. Users are able to check in, choose seats, and book flights (as well as other activities) using the application.
The experience of using JetBlue’s mobile application is congruent with other channels, such as the web, email, and the airport kiosks.
Elements from the online, email, and mobile JetBlue experience carry over to the airport. The use of playful language and design on the kiosks is familiar. Common actions, such as choosing a seat and checking bags, are available from these kiosks.
JetBlue’s airport kiosks provide an experience consistent with other channels.
Finally, as users settle into their seats on the plane, they are greeted by messages from JetBlue on the TV. These messages match the visual design and tone of voice experienced on other channels.
The JetBlue user experience is carried through to the flight, where messages displayed on TVs are consistent with other channels.
Consistency: 1 of 4 Recommended Cross-Channel Characteristics
Our user research for the full-day course on Cross-Channel User Experience identified 4 key elements of a usable cross-channel experience:
As companies and organizations design for the larger user experience, it’s important to consider consistency across all channels. Consistent experiences help users build trust with the organization. Each interaction is part of the overall user experience with a company. If the user experience isn’t consistent across channels, users will question the organization’s credibility.