User Experience is Customer Service

The customer experience is the only thing that matters

Customer service is user experience.

Before I got into product design I had the opportunity to work many different jobs in the retail and service industries. I was sales staff at a large grocer, I sold shoes and apparel at a sporting goods outlet, and I helped people figure out what fitted hat that they might like to buy. I’ve made falafel sandwiches professionally, was a server at a big chain restaurant, brewed coffee at a bagel shop, and served artisanal hummus to whoever was so inclined.

In all these jobs, customer service was absolutely fundamental.

In retail, it takes a lot to create a good customer experience. From interior design and marketing, to merchandising and approachable sales staff. Being able to provide a high quality customer experience is no easy feat, but it’s essential.

The nice part about working in retail is that there is a certain amount of customer feedback that is immediate. The feedback loop happens in real-time. If customers leave with a shopping bag and a smile, you can see it with your own two eyes. When they leave angrily without having made a purchase, chances are somebody eff’d up. When people come back again and again and you start to recognize your regulars—you’re doing something (or many things) right.

In the service industry, it’s more or less the same. When a customer asks you for something, you have a limited amount of time to satisfy their ask. If you take too long, they’ll stop smiling and they’ll start staring. If the food is cold, they’ll let you know. If they are generally miserable people, you’ll know before they even sit down. When the service is on point, the food is great, and the environment is what they wanted, people tip generously and leave feeling satisfied… and you’ll see them again soon.

Basically everybody knows what a good customer experience can feel like—but so few people know how to make it happen.

A good customer experience is designed — it doesn’t happen by accident.

A lot of people think that customer service is the opportunity to fix a problem when a customer is frustrated or confused — and it’s true — this is an opportunity for great customer service. But judging whether or not a company has ‘good customer service’ is then a judgement about how that company mitigated your anger or got you out of an unfortunate situation.

The bar today, is set too low. The baseline shouldn’t be how a company can deal with you once you’re upset — it should be the length that a company will go to make sure you never end up in a place where you need to speak to a customer service rep in the first place. Good customer service gets out of the way customers way. The best interactions I’ve had with a business are ones where I never had to ask for help in the first place.

It’s in this way, that user experience design is customer service.

When it comes to digital experiences on the web or in app, the challenge to provide a great user experience (customer experience) is real. The main obstacle is that the feedback loop is hidden by a screen. Without in person user research, the best we can do is translate our user’s experience into statistics to derive some insight from their anonymous behaviour. If you can’t read the users face when they try to use your software, how do you know how they feel, how do you know who they are, where they are, or under what circumstance they are using your software?

It’s just not the same as seeing a customer’s face when the food arrives.

User experience as customer service requires design thinking. As a user experience designer, a lot of my design thinking is focussed on in app experiences — but this is just a fragment of the user’s actual experience. I can’t predict whether or not they’ll be on a bus, whether they’ll be holding a baby, maybe they are out for a jog—maybe they are 85 years old and are using a 13" standard definition monitor with internet explorer. I don’t know. There’s a lot you can’t know before it happens.

It’s for this reason that user experience design is so important. UX design is about building software for actual human beings. Humans who want to feel like they understand your app, who want to feel like the company who built the app cares about them, and humans who don’t have time to wait 45 minutes for a meal, or a telephone customer service rep.

User experience design is not a luxury — if you’re going to design something that people are going to use, their experience is the only thing that matters.

Thanks for reading! 😃 👍