Delivering an Amazon-Like Experience

I’m not quite sure what an “Amazon-like Experience” is but I think I can figure it out. Is that the model librarians should aspire to?

Does your library deliver an Amazon-Like Experience?

Assuming we even knew what that was, would that be the experience you’d want to deliver at your library?

“Amazon-Like Experience” is a phrase that is relatively new to me. I first encountered it when reading a higher education newsletter and came across this article.

Out of curiosity I did a Google search to see if “Amazon-Like Experience” is an actual thing. While “a thing” is probably not the best way to put it, there are certainly a number of references to the phrase. One comes away with the impression that “Amazon-Like Experience” is some sort of user experience gold standard.

What is the experience? If you’ve ever used Amazon – probably everyone reading this blog has – you have a good idea. Convenience. Ease of Use. Vast selection. Quick problem resolution. Usable and user friendly website. Overall, it’s an experience that is tough to match.

According to this article on online education, “Amazon has set the standard for eCommerce engines. Non-traditional, adult learners, expect an Amazon-like experience since they are searching for, and purchasing, courses online.” Granted, user expectations are definitely shaped by high-quality experiences received at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers and service providers that excel at user experience. But when we say that someone is expecting an “Amazon-Like Experience” what exactly do they want? What does it look like?

Start with ease-of-use. Literally anyone can use Amazon with a single instruction or prior knowledge. We talk about an experience being based around “the jobs to be done” and Amazon allows users to do their jobs with a minimal number of clicks. They can find what they need and order it quickly. There are features galore that allow users to see past activity, to identify future purchases or have items recommended to them.

There’s no question that for online retail, Amazon sets a mighty high bar for user experience. Most library search systems, from the local discovery layer to the largest global database, are currently far from an Amazon-Like Experience. That said, Amazon is a good model in many ways for great online learner experience. Except for one thing.

I’d venture to say that most Amazon customers feel little personal connection with the company. It can be a challenge to get personalized assistance when you need it. Problem resolution is quite good, but sometimes human intervention is needed and that can be difficult to get with Amazon. If that is also part of the Amazon-Like Experience, then librarians can do better.

That said, Amazon is branching out into brick-and-mortar retail with its Whole Foods acquisition and the establishment of some physical bookshops. If Amazon can develop the Amazon-Like Experience at their physical locations, that may give entirely new meaning to delivering an Amazon-Like Experience. I suspect Amazon will seek to make sure it’s physical experience is every bit as Amazon-like as what its customer have come to expect.

Planning Experiences Around Moments

When I saw that the Heath Brothers new book was about experiences and the importance of singular defining moments I was excited by the prospects of a book on this topic. We need to learn more about how to design defining moments into the library user experience.

When I received an email a few weeks ago from Chip and Dan Heath, I was pretty excited by the news they shared.

It announced that after several years since their last book, Decisive, a new one was on the way. For a fan of their books, that’s already great news. But it gets even better. The subject matter of this new work has me eagerly awaiting the book.

What topic did the Heath brothers decide to write about this time? Experiences!

That alone would be incredible for someone, like me, who is student of user experience. As an added bonus, Chip and Dan Heath are exploring the “moment” and the power of a defining moment. This resonates strongly with me because my leadership book is based on this idea of the importance of moments, which I refer to as crucible moments.

In the email they described this new book, titled The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, this way:

Research in psychology teaches us that our memories of experiences are not like films that we can rewind and watch beginning to end. They are more like snapshots or snippets. Fragments. In memory, we cling to particular minutes or hours that rise above the surrounding weeks and months. What makes those moments so memorable and meaningful? That’s a critical question for anyone who wants to improve the experiences of others: the customer experience, the employee experience, the patient experience—not to mention the experience of your kids. Because what you’ll soon discover is that when we talk about “experience,” we’re really talking about moments. Moments that serve as peaks in time.

I’ve written about the link between experiences and memory previously at DBL. We not only remember things differently from what actually happened, but we selectively remember parts of our experiences more powerfully than others.

The tendency is for people to remember how the experience begins and how it ends more strongly than other parts, which is why we want to design the experience so it gets off to a good start and ends on a high note – particularly the finish because that’s an opportunity to recover from anything less memorable or negative that happens after the start.

The book’s intent is to both help us to understand the important of these defining moments to the success of an experience – and to develop insight into how to design them into experiences so they are more likely to occur. They define “defining moment” as “a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful”.

Those are two word that figure prominently in numerous DBL posts. Is it possible for librarians to create user experiences that are memorable, meaningful and that build emotional connections with community members that lead to loyalty? With help from the Heath brothers, we may learn more about how to do this.

I finished reading chapter one (a preview sent only to those on the Heath mail list) and I’m eager to learn more about the four elements that go into creating a defining moment: elevation; insight; pride; connection. As with other Heath brother books, based on this first chapter, it should be immensely readable, chock full of stories and examples (these are the guys who wrote Made to Stick) and offer takeaway ideas that you can put into practice.

After I read the book, I hope to have more ideas to share on how we can create defining moments for library user experiences – but I hope other librarians will read it as well – so that we can come up with even more ideas for designing better libraries.

UXF: Where’s the Friction at Your Library

Libraries have fiction and friction. User experience friction or UXF happens when librarians add confusing or unnecessary steps to the community member’s journey. Getting familiar with just a few friction-killing tactics can help to design a better library experience.

No. I did not make a spelling error. That’s “friction” not “fiction”.

I know you know where the fiction is. But you may not know where you’re adding the friction to the library user experience.

Friction is a UX terminology that basically means you are doing something to screw up the user’s experience. It’s not what it ought to be.

That could be anything from a web page design that adds steps to a transaction to poorly designed signage that makes building navigation more difficult.

Here’s a more formal definition of UXF (user experience friction) from The Pfeiffer Report:

User Experience Friction is basically anything which separates the device we use from that ideal user experience: we all KNOW what User Experience Friction (UXF) is when we experience it, (although of course UXF may represent something completely different for every one of us.)

On the most basic level, UXF is the slow-down or friction that occurs when the user experience of a device deviates from our expectation or knowledge – and it can occur in every are of our life. If you rent a car that magically has reversed the side of the blinker on the steering wheel of the car, we experience friction: where the hell is the blooming thing? When you press the wrong button in an elevator because it is badly labelled: UXF again.

Poor design is an obvious cause of friction, but it also happens when human agents perform below expectation. Even if my rental car has great design and everything is exactly where I expect it to be, if the customer representative misplaces the keys or botches the rental process that friction is going to slow me down and detract from the entire experience.

I suspect you can point to contributors to friction at your library as easily as you can find the fiction. Some may be things that are broken, accidentally or intentionally, that need fixing. For those less obvious friction points, can you find them and then grease them up to create a frictionless experience.

Perhaps we can all learn something from Amazon’s friction-killing tactics.

Start by determining what category of friction you are dealing with. According to Kintan Brahmbhatt, who has designed and developed product strategy for Amazon’s music service and Alexa, there are three:

Friction due to unfamiliarity. A customer’s first-time experience with your product automatically contains friction when they don’t know how to use it. This is one of the biggest hurdles to get over when launching a new product.

Friction by design. There are times when you have to intentionally build friction into a product. If your product has a learning curve, you’ll have to design that experience thoughtfully.

Friction due to misalignment with human behavior. Here’s where design can come back to bite you. Poorly placed app controls, failing to anticipate how consumers will use the product and badly designed navigational tools will cause this.

Library workers are most likely dealing with the third type, where library design accommodates our view of the world but fits poorly with the way our community members would most naturally use the library and its systems. For example, library catalog messages. “In transit” or “Request from Depository” may mean something to a librarian but it’s likely to leave a community member scratching their head wondering what to do next. It’s not the language they expect.

Brahmbhatt offers several tips for how to discover, as he puts it, “where friction hides”. Some of the ethnographic research suggestions, such as observation techniques and scanning social media, may be familiar to you. He says “Think about friction as the simplest way for your user to get where she wants to go…Reducing it is about creating a path of least resistance” that maps closely to that easiest route users naturally take. Once you find your friction, try these steps to eliminate it.

* Reduce Anxiety: Too many options create uncertainty and confusion, but unclear options are equally bad. Eliminate ambiguity about what will happen after users make a choice and the associated fear that they will lose time and/or effort if they make the wrong choice. When community members head to the stacks, they shouldn’t worry about getting lost, wasting time or having to return to ask for assistance. Pathways to content should work the first time.

* Remove Avoidable Steps: Make a list of all the decisions a community member would need to make in order to complete a task. Whenever possible, eliminate an unnecessary decision or pre-select for the user. For example, a library catalog could automatically present only the books available on the shelf – which is usually what community members want. The system could then prompt “Do you want to see books that are already on loan or at other locations?”. That eliminates the avoidable step of scrolling through books that are not immediately available – not to mention unneeded trips to the stacks because the community member failed to notice a book’s location is a distant branch.

* Mitigate Context Switching: This happens when a community member has to navigate away from your website to complete a task. That often leads them to abandon the task. This is a challenge for libraries owing to the use of third-party systems where community members are switched to external databases. Brahmbhatt offers some methods that may or may not work for context switching problems. As much as possible, make it easy for the user to switch back to the original site location.

Brahmbhatt acknowledges there are situations when friction is inevitable. Then, do what is possible to mask it or use design to make that action more tolerable (e.g., a spinner or progress bar; offer human support at known friction points). Do what is possible to make the community member’s journey more pleasant. Got a pothole on your road? Consider filling it and smoothing the trip. We know what to do and sometimes how to do it.

Brahmbhatt offers straightforward – and even familiar – suggestions for how to both identify and eliminate friction. Do we have the desire and willpower to use these friction-killing tactics? A good first step is looking around your library and at supporting systems, observe and spot friction points and then resolve to eliminate anxiety, avoidable steps and context switching. You know fiction. Now it’s time to get serious about user experience friction.

Start Your UX Journey By Fixing What’s Broken

I try not to be a badvocate. When it comes to having a good user experience, I realize that any organization where I shop, dine or patronize can have a bad day. If as consumers we are generally enthusiastic about the quality of an experience over time, and we demonstrate that with our loyalty, we can overlook a misstep.

Where we’re less tolerant is with something that’s just plain broke. Like the self-service terminal in my supermarket that is supposed to print a coupon that’s customized to my shopping habits. It’s a great idea, but if it fails to work then it just diminishes the entire experience. Here’s what surprises me though. It’s so obviously broken that I am puzzled as to why no store employee has taken responsibility for getting it fixed. It must be a case of what Seth Godin calls “It’s not my job.”

Eventually I complained. I’ll see it if makes a difference. The managers are usually good at problem resolution so I expect it will be fixed the next time I am there. But I hope they’ll be asking the same question I have. Why didn’t someone take responsibility? Whose job is it to fix what’s broken – even if it’s the piddling coupon printer? And by “fix” I don’t mean getting out the tools and taking the thing apart to find out what’s wrong. I mean accepting ownership of a problem and taking action to get that problem solved.

When we first started having conversations about the user experience at our library quite a few years ago the first thing I did, to get staff engaged in the discussion, was to provide a group viewing of Godin’s classic “This is Broken” presentation. Not only is it entertaining – who doesn’t laugh out loud during that “It’s Not My Job” segment – but it really makes it crystal clear to all of us how easy it is for everyday operations in our libraries to break and remain broken for all seven of the reasons that Godin shares. It’s a great lead-in to a discussion about what’s broken in our libraries and how it degrades the quality of the user experience.

And it left an impression. Staff decided to organize a “What’s Broken Team”. It led to a list of issues that needed our attention. Some were equipment or furniture related, others targeted patron processes that were just as broken as a restroom toilet that doesn’t flush. Did we fix everything? No. Did we get better at paying attention to stuff that breaks? Yes. It sounds simple enough, but for many library staffs paying attention to what’s broken, and doing something about it, can be the start of a journey on the road to a library that offers, by design, a better user experience.

My hope is that more of us will establish or adhere to some set of “community member quality of life” principles that establish the value of intolerance for broken things – be they water fountains that have no water, photocopiers that don’t give copies, or staff workflows that work for staff but create hassles for community members.

I don’t know if the folks who work at my supermarket have ever watched the Godin video, but my guess is they haven’t – and doing so would be a great learning experience. I just may mention that to the store manager.

Designing For a Happiness Experience

We make a few assumptions about what it means to have a good user experience. It should be memorable (or at least enable us to have what we think is a good memory). It should be unique and inspire loyalty. We’d also like our best experiences to leave us with a feeling of delight – that something special has happened. Call it happiness.

In an prior article I contemplated whether libraries could provide a happiness experience. Examining the happiness research and results of Pew Research on how libraries contribute to overall positive feelings among community members, I concluded that it’s likely that library users are more productive, engaged and fulfilled members of their communities. Given that the happiness research points to life’s more mundane, everyday experiences as our most satisfying ones, that also suggests the library can be a contributor to the happiness of its users.

In the non-library world of design there is less conversation about designing for happiness. To gain some perspective on what it means to design for happiness several corporate designers came together at the 2016 SXSW to explain how their organizations design for happiness – and what the involves. The organizer of the event Designing Happiness, Mark Wilson (a contributor for Fast Company), wrote about the program and the speakers who shared their approach to designing for happiness.

Here are a few of the insights the panelists shared:

* These experts all believe their brands are based on designing for happiness as a starting point – not an afterthought.
* Design the happiness experience around three parts: anticipation; experience; memory
* Create a “high” moment and an “end” moment into the experience – that’s what is most likely to be remembered
* Offer a portal into the experience as a transition from other routine experiences (a “crossover”)
* Avoid bureaucracy at all costs; empower staff to intervene as needed to deliver the happiness
* We are cognitively pre-disposed to appreciate and remember surprises; design in good surprises and make sure bad ones don’t happen
* People are happiest in environments designed for their needs
* Put effort into the optimal way to leave people with a “kiss goodnight”; a happy ending turns a mediocre experience into a memorable one
* Let people hug a puppy – no one can cuddle a puppy and feel anything other than happiness (great idea but seriously impractical)

I do think that our libraries can replicate the type of experience that delivers happiness. Granted, it’s not the same as the experience at a vacation resort or upscale gym. It could depend on the library experience. A research librarian could design a consultation experience around anticipation, experience and memory. Start with an email exchange that builds up the anticipation. Use personalization to provide a research-challenged student with a unique experience. Make sure there is a strong ending to the interaction that may lead to a relationship and future consultations. Offer a surprise – what’s all that library swag for anyway.

Libraries will never be Disneyland, but perhaps we can be the one place in the community that delivers the happiness experience on multiple levels by altering someone’s perception about the library as a dull, painful experience. With some design thinking, we can make that happen. Puppies would certainly help – but we’ll have to manage with therapy dog days.