App glut

How many times must I dismiss the download Yahoo Mail app interstitial when I log in via the web? I must have closed it a hundred times already that I would have thought Yahoo’s smart tracking to pick the behaviour up by now. But no, they haven’t.

I’m not old-fashioned; I just don’t see the need. I have the Gmail app and many other apps. So many in fact that I just can’t download another app to the device. So, I’m stuck with the annoying interstitial it seems.

So many apps, that I wonder we must be in an app glut. A sentiment shared by Kevin Tofel who raises a question of what must be next.

I’m further reminded of a recent experience of a friend of mine using a banking app. He was wanting to reset his password but had to not only switch between the app and the web version but between devices ! – first step on tablet / desktop, second step on phone. After several failed attempts where clearly devices and app / servers were not talking to one another, my friend resorted to phoning to speak to a human. Unfortunately there was no one on tech support to help as the time difference between the US and the UK was not in my friend’s favour. So much for mobile banking on the go…

I believe we must be fast approaching (or are already there) a crucial time for app strategy – a similar time when web design scaled back to introduce more flat and leaner code to avoid the bandwidth block of swfs and gifs. So what’s next after apps?

Perhaps the emphasis on apps will diminish along with the reliance on devices. Everyone talks about ubiqitious computing – so irrespective of device, shouldn’t we be able to we accomplish our goals on any connected technology already existing or not yet conceived? Whether it be a vending machine, ATM, kiosk or any other accessible terminals in airports, streets, in the air even. It shouldn’t have to be yet another piece of technology that we the user has to carry, wear or buy.

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How close are we to our own currency?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about new currencies around the world developed and owned by brands to reward loyalty from customers. Loyalty cards and rewards points are a dime a dozen these days on the high street and of course help to hone many a buying decision.

A recent TED talk by Paul Kemp-Robertson discussed the rise of Amazon’s new currency and Nike Sweat – pledge your sweat for points – as a consumer’s trust is more in businesses than in traditional institutions such as banks and governments.

Ultimately, these currencies are owned and run by the big brands themselves. Even though the consumer might believe that it gives them more power in the market place, does it?

Behind all of these schemes are the machinations that make it all possible. Analytics chew through mountains of statistics and data to pinpoint what we as consumers do with our money, what we buy, create special offers on our most purchased items and make recommendations of our related products – along with creating profiles on us.

This was highlighted further recently with an article in Fast Company, detailing the level of analysis gathering occurring in high street stores. Add what’s been uncovered through Snowden-gate and we have ample concern about our privacy – the how, what, where, when and most importantly, why.

What’s needed in this relationship, is for the key players to change position. Consumers should be their own gatekeepers on who can access their information and to what degree. Not the brands. Subscribing to these reward schemes promotes the risk of multiple data sets stored in faraway databases with price tags on them. Perhaps what is needed is a currency that each and every one of us own. Not controlled by a faceless organisation in an indeterminable location doing god only knows what with. If there is a place for governments in this consumer-controlled world, it is to set the infrastructure to firmly place consumers in the driving seat.

A system that gives power to the consumer to enter into permission-based transactions. Knowing that their behaviour will be tracked and analysed, a consumer chooses who to give their consent to – those stores or brands which they trust to do business with regularly. The consumer chooses the amount of information given and could involve progressive disclosure over a period of time – as the trust with the vendor grows based on an ongoing and amiable relationship. This getting of information is gained through good customer relations and old fashioned service, rather than just because they have the means to do it. In return, the consumer gets rewards, free product, gifts, etc.

Our data is what these brands want. With this information, they can analyse our behaviours and our habits to improve their marketing efforts and their product offering. But so far this has been a lopsided transaction. We willingly tick terms and conditions check boxes on websites that waives the organisation concerned of any wrongdoing if a leak of privacy occurs. Still sounds way out of the control of those whose data is mined – us, you and me.

Anya Kamenetz speaks of apps enabling payment for making monetising our data online. One site in particular – Reputation.com – will soon be offering a feature that allows customers to offer up their data in return for free product, but with what controls?

Either way, the times may be achanging for establishments that mine, store and manipulate our data for their own purposes. Our privacy should be our own global currency.

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High street longevity

When I saw the name for a new coffee chain opening on the Ealing Broadway High street, I got to thinking. Harris + Hoole is a smart and cosy family run coffee establishment and the name that got me thinking.

I wondered if the same joining of two different entities could have helped curb the number of high street brands going into administration during the recession. Admittedly, this idea could not have prevented the closing of stores due to decreasing footfall and spending. But why wait for customers to come to you – take your wares to the customer.

For instance, if HMV had coupled with Starbucks or Costa to enable customers to download or buy music, videos or books online while they enjoy their coffee, could that have helped save a few jobs?

Or imagine the summer of festivals that permeates this country. You pack up for a few days of music and sun, the most important thing you want to do is capture the fun times right? But typically, there’s not a lot of power outlets for charging cameras and smartphones and therefore you come back with a few less memories that what you’d hoped. What if Jessops had taken their digital technology to these events so that festival goers could charge their phones while also getting the chance to rent high-end camera equipment to photograph themselves and friends and upload the fabulously-edited images (with the assistance of Jessops staff) to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, etc.

Pretty soon, you start to see a lot of similar cross overs with other brands.

There’s a lot of ‘cross’-ness occurring elsewhere, that I thought it strange that brands had not collaborated before – before or after hard hitting recessions. We have cross-channel (marketing across different media), cross-genre (fiction that draws themes from different genres), cross-functional teams (different expertise working on the one project), and there’s more.

Sure, there is cross-promotion but that speaks of a short-term marketing strategy. The idea of longevity suggested here is of more from a business structure and design perspective.

UX finds a gap …

Sometimes the developers I work with believe that UX extends so far as me producing a mockup or specifying how a user will perform a function. However it is so much more than that, as peers will agree.

In a meeting recently I demonstrated the preferred method for a user to find specialist content using auto-complete on the advanced search form. While on the whole, the stakeholders were happy with the process, the technical architect identified a global problem with the existing content model on which the product was built. Essentially, it meant that by using the auto-complete feature, the user could only retrieve a proportion of the content. How would the other proportion be surfaced to the user? The discussion went on for some 20 mins at which point the developer got cross. ‘This meeting has gone on a tangent, hasn’t it?’ he asked me. I reiterated that we had a content problem. ‘I don’t care about the content, as long as there’s a list, that’s all I need.’

What my colleague had failed to realise was that the ideal user experience was not possible due to a stitched together set of legacy systems containing related content. That the initial architecture of the site had fundamental problems which would need solving first in order to achieve optimal usage.

The bigger thing which my colleague had failed to identify is that the role of UX is meant to show up gaps and holes in systems and processes such as this. While he took the tangent as a waste of time, I took it as a feather in the cap for UX ! Surely that’s what it’s all about it, isn’t it?

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Travel again?

So you’d be excused for thinking that all I’ve been doing lately is traversing travel sites looking for the best summer deals.

But when a voucher for 10% of all hotels world wide landed in my inbox, that was too good an opportunity to pass up. Especially as I hadn’t yet booked accommodation for my trip back home.

Off to a well-known travel site I go and input my details and order. But look at the screen image below and … what’s missing?

Where do I actually enter the voucher code?

I phoned the call centre where I was told you have to look into the page. Ehh? The person on the line had to cancel my original booking and then redo as I still was not presented with a field for the voucher code. Doh.

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Loyalty crippled

While recently booking a flight home to visit family, I was both saddened and annoyed that my total accrued Qantas Frequent Flyer points had reached their expiration just 24 hours before and were now deleted. Where is this rule about points termination and why wasn’t I informed, I screamed?!

Ferreting through the terms and conditions I found that yes, 18 months of inactivity would cause points to expire. Members would however be notifed of this via monthly newsletters (IF they chose to receive email communications) or via warnings in their activity statement. For one, I couldn’t remember the last monthly newsletter which I’d received from Qantas – and I do choose to receive emails. And clearly, I hadn’t logged in to my activity statement for some time … ah, 18 months in fact. And I certainly had not received an email stating that my points were about to expire.

This disappointment led me think that perhaps Qantas could have handled their communications a bit differently. Do they want to encourage me to fly more with them or add to my points total via engaging their other partners? I immediately thought of other rewards programs to which I belong to compare.

The UK’s Costa Coffee probably have the most active member email schedule I can immediately think of. Each month without fail there is a monthly points email – this is in addition to separate emails offering new member offers or new products in store. Furthermore, after a morning visit to pick up a caffeine kick start, I received an email not less than an hour later, asking me for feedback on my latest visit to Costa. I was impressed.

Another example which springs to mind is not a rewards program so to speak. A few months back, I purchased some very nice shoes online from UK retailer Moda in Pelle. My custom was rewarded by an instant email subscription alerting me to further discounts – on a weekly basis. Now some people might be annoyed by this or find it intrusive. Simply unsubscribing yourself will do the trick. As a result of this subscription I’ve been alerted to further reductions available from their online store which aren’t available in their main store. This email campaign typically followed the pattern of:
week 1 – email of offer
week 2 – email reminder of offer
week 3 – email reminder that the offer is about to end

What these examples highlight is that rewards programs are not just about the points. The points are simply the tool or a hook for getting a customer to engage. It’s about keeping customers – loyalty cuts both ways.

In my case, giving Qantas the benefit of the proverbial, there might have been an email but I missed it. I think it goes without saying, that people are busy and inundated with emails these days. A little empathy may have shown that the fact of potentially losing quite a few points may not be want the customer really wants. And something which could have been approached differently.

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