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September 4, 2015

Cross-Channel Design: Your Secret UX Weapon

In today's cluttered web app and service landscape, nearly all user experiences tend to be of the same complexion. They exist inside the product or service itself, and once the user leaves (e.g., logs out, closes the computer), the experience pauses, waiting to continue the next time the user logs back in. The problem is, life doesn't work that way. You don't experience the world in intermittent experiences, and neither do your users. In fact, the world is experienced as a perpetual narrative, oozing from one experience to another and back again, in a fluid motion. You live across channels. Your marketing campaigns should be cross-channel as well.

It follows, then, that your product experience should work this way. Instead of a staccato experience that only engages your users for the few minutes they're logged into your application, the experience should live alongside them in their lives, adding value and creating a better life for them along the way.

Cross-Channel Design: The Secret to Perpetual Experiences

One of the most effective ways to have your product live with your users, not simply in spurts and stops, is by employing cross-channel design to help craft an ongoing narrative with your customer.

Cross-channel design is about considering a wider array of touchpoints and a consistent narrative for your product, so that as your customer moves through their life, they're seamlessly moving into and out of your product experience, not simply docking up to it from time to time.

Let's look at a simple example.

Airlines employ a wide variety of channels to serve you as you go from booking a flight to actually taking the trip. At home, you go online to buy a ticket (channel #1). Once you leave for your trip, you head to the airport, perhaps printing a boarding pass at a kiosk (channel #2) before heading through security and to your gate. Once your trip is over, it's possible an email heads your way to ask how your trip was (channel #3), and solicit feedback or offer deals.

Despite how you feel about air travel, the airlines use a carefully designed cross-channel experience to ensure that the ticket you bought shows up in the kiosk, and that the entire trip is as seamless as it can be. They do this by coordinating these channels, and understanding what you need depending on where in your journey you are.

Designing An Effective Cross-Channel Strategy

Designing an effective cross-channel strategy starts where all great design starts: with users. To start to put together this kind of continuous experience, it's vital that you understand what your users are experiencing throughout their journey, in order to identify touchpoints and moments for interaction.

You can start by asking some basic questions, to yourself, and when you talk to your users (which, of course, you do on a regular basis, right?):

  • How do users find your product/service to being with? What gave them the itch?
  • When, throughout their day or week, do they end up logging in? For how long? For what reasons?
  • What milestones or key parts of the experience are important when using your product? For a product like Basecamp, perhaps it's completing a task or finishing a project.
  • Once someone logs out of your service, when do they return? Why? What are they doing in the meantime?
  • What does your average user's day look like? What worries them? What excites them?
  • What are all the touchpoints you have with your users? Web? Mobile? Kiosk? What does the transition between them feel like?

These kind of questions will help you to paint a picture of how your product weaves into someone's life, and will begin to illuminate opportunities where you can design for them to experience your product or service across multiple channels.

An absolutely indispensable tool for helping to explore and document this cross-channel journey is a customer journey map. It's beyond the scope of this point, but check out this excellent post on how to create one of your own.

Enter Print

So, we know that experiences tend to be designed as isolated, staccato moments. And, we've learned that if you consider the broader journey, you can identify interesting moments across channels where you can make the customer experience better. That's where print comes in.

Print is another channel. It's another touchpoint, a place where you have an opportunity to engage with your users and enhance the quality of the experience. What makes print especially exciting is just how novel it is in the context of a digital experience. Imagine that you sign up for some new service online, and you get a welcome packet delivered in the mail, completely personalized to you. That's awesome.

As you map out your customer journeys, look for moments in the experience where print comes into play. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Customized welcome postcard with recommendations or tips geared toward their specific interests
  • A printed and mailed badge when they achieve some milestone on your service
  • Allowing users to print, with the click of a button, images or text from your site
  • Boarding passes that show up automatically, with a personalized coupon for a drink of the user's choice on the flight
  • A personalized re-engagement campaign after a user goes idle on your service for a period of time
  • Automatically send print copies of electronic documents at no (or small additional) cost to the user

Your Turn!

The possibilities here are limitless.

Now, the super exciting part. No one is doing this. Your competitors aren't here yet. Services like Lob have unlocked a new way to innovate in customer experience that was previously impossible, or prohibitively costly. The fact that you can now send one-off pieces of print mail automatically, isn't a novelty. It's a key part of a successful user experience moving forward.

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