Can I Trust You? How Anticipating Problems Can Help Your Brand

Strengthening the brand is a common objective of many of our clients. To help guide their design decisions, we've been measuring how designs can strengthen or weaken a person's engagement with a brand.

In our research, we often see designs that attempt to strengthen brand image through redesigned logos and more prominent messaging. However, we've consistently found that investments in the total user experience positively improve the users' brand engagement more than any new messaging campaign. Anticipating likely problems and communicating trust can go a long way to eliminate frustration and delight the users.

We have come across some examples that show positive results with our users. Here are a few of them.

FindTape.com's Automatic Order Cancellation Feature

For movie and audio professionals, gaffer's tape is a necessity of the job. Used in all different types of situations, it's most important function is to keep cables in place and safe in chaotic locales, like an on-location movie set. Like duct tape, it's wide and easy to apply, but, unlike duct tape, doesn't leave a residue when removed -- important when you're filming at a fancy hotel and don't want to wreck the carpets or wallpaper.

Running out of gaffer's tape is a serious problem, especially on location, but you can't just walk into your local hardware store to pick some up -- it's a real specialty item. Therefore, ordering it is your only option. The problem is that it can take several days to get to you and, if you're only on location for a short period, you could be done before it arrives.

FindTape.com has solved this problem for their customers with a very simple enhancement to their e-commerce checkout: an automatic cancellation date. Shoppers can enter a date to cancel their order if FindTape can't arrange for delivery before the requested date. As FindTape processes the order, they keep careful look at the delivery schedule. If they can't ensure they'll deliver it on time, they automatically cancel the order before it heads out the door.

Shoppers, knowing that FindTape is looking out for them, not only felt more secure about placing their immediate order, but thought FindTape understood them better and would take care of other likely problems that might come up. The feature had both short-term and long-term benefits for the organization's relationship with their customers.

DVD Problems at Netflix

Disc damage is an unpleasant fact in the DVD rental business. People drop the discs, put things on them, or accidentally slide them along a rough surface, only to make the disc unplayable. It doesn't take a lot, because the information density on today's DVDs is so packed. A small nick can stop a player in its tracks and render a key scene unviewable.

While the vast majority of Netflix's customers take good care of their disks, accidents do happen. Netflix, without realizing it, could easily send a damaged disk to the next customer. That customer, finding the disk unviewable, would have every right to be frustrated.

On the Netflix site, next the video's listing in the queue, is a very prominent "Report Problem" link. When the customer selects this for a specific title, they can choose "The DVD is damaged, scratched or unplayable" from the menu.

The specific problem page has a simple tip for cleaning the disk, a method for the user to indicate the nature of the damage (a scratch, stops playing, or is cracked or broken), and request for a replacement DVD. If the customer chooses the replacement DVD, Netflix will send the disk right out, without waiting for the damaged disk to be returned.

In fact, Netflix goes out of its way to show how it trusts their customers. If a customer returns a disk but Netflix hasn't registered it in the system quite yet, a simple request will have Netflix forward the next selection out right away.

Honest mistakes can happen to honest people. The Netflix system is unusual in that it doesn't immediately assume the customer is trying to defraud them. Instead, they go out of their way to help the customer resolve the issue by showing how they trust them.

"Place This Product In The Cart To See The Low Price"

A common practice in the online consumer electronics industry is to require customers to hide a product's price from a shopper until they've put it into their shopping cart. Only after the shopper puts the product into the shopping cart, does the retail site reveal what the price is. If the customer doesn't want the product, they have to delete it from the shopping cart to avoid purchasing it.

As we've conducted studies watching people shop on sites that employ this practice, we've seen many shoppers show extreme frustration at the practice. When we inquire why they think the retailer does this, they all say that it's some sort of trick -- they think the retailer believes they'll make a mistake and buy the plasma TV by accident.

It isn't a trick, but a contractual requirement that the retailer has with the manufacturers. It's called the Minimum Available Pricing (MAP) policy and it's an agreement that they've set up that allows them to sell products at a discount.

The agreement goes back decades, put into place to allow smaller mom-and-pop retailers a competitive advantage against the "big box" retailers. The original idea was that the big retailers couldn't advertise their lower prices (that came because of their huge ordering capability), but could share the price once the customer was in the store. When these retailers went online, the shopping cart became the online equivalent of "in the store."

The retailers, who want to share their low prices, are not trying to trick their customers -- instead they are trying to give them great prices. However, the customers don't see it that way. They still think there's something devious about it.

The designers at BestBuy.com came up with a very clever work around. They still require the user take special action to see the price, as required by the agreement. However, instead of showing the shopper a shopping cart with the product in it, they display a pop-up that has the price and two buttons: "Checking Price -- Remove from Cart" and "I Want To Buy -- Keep in Cart".

Behind the scenes, BestBuy.com puts the product into the shopper's cart for the duration of the pop-up. If they indicate they are just checking the price, the system automatically removes it from the cart. Only if they indicate they want to buy the item, does it remain in the cart.

When we measured brand engagement before BestBuy.com implemented this solution, we found a large dip in shoppers' perceptions of the brand after encountering a MAP situation. However, after they made this change, we now see the brand strengthen. By investing in the new design, shoppers now feel BestBuy.com is on their side, not trying to deceive them.

Identifying Problems to Anticipate

To identify the potential problems that users may experience, teams tell us they have to step back from their designs and look to other information sources. Working with the call centers and other support touch points can quickly identify common issues that users regularly deal with. Looking at the natural problems that appear in usability studies and field visits can also yield opportunities for improvement.

We've found that those teams that make the investment in identifying problems and building out the design to anticipate them can see the benefits quickly. It shows up in short term results, such as increased sales, and long term effects, such as increased brand engagement -- both good if you're in it for the long haul.

Want to hear more insights from Jared Spool?

At this year's UI13 Conference, Jared will present New Perspectives in User Experience Design, as well as the UI13 Conference Keynote.

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