User experience will become more essential than ever in 2017
A view from Nigel Vaz

User experience will become more essential than ever in 2017

No longer restricted to just what is on-screen, UX will become central to creating a seamless customer experience across digital and physical platforms.

2016’s final curtain has set the stage for a metamorphosis – a new definition of experience for a new year. Traditionally understood as a kind of screen craft, user experience will continue to be redefined in the context of broader customer experience where multiple interfaces, products and services define your brand and vice versa. Brand leaders will continue to think about each touchpoint differently, but it will be the union of different interactions and systems that determines the quality of the overall experience.

Many organisations are, therefore, reimagining their businesses around the customer journey and are taking a closer look through this lens at the functional and emotional experience. If customers view brands as singular entities rather than distinct channels, then how do business leaders mould UX to communicate something more powerful? How can digital and physical platforms and services be combined to deliver on the brand’s promise?

These questions being asked by brand leaders point to a future of brand experience focused on enablement. Within the next year, many large organisations will shift their mindset to how experience will empower acquisition, conversion and loyalty. By focusing on the enablement of customer journeys, brands can anticipate and define key values of future experience delivery to align with consumer expectation.

Take the advancement and application of conversational user interfaces (UI). Put simply, this is building on the trend of people using messaging apps to communicate. Consumers expect a seamless experience in which they exercise control. They want to accomplish what they intend without being restricted by policies, procedures or bureaucracy. And they want to be able to exercise that freedom all the time. Chatbots allow them to do just that – to pull the information they want from reliable sources within the environment they choose.

Yet consumer adoption will only occur if and when these capabilities are translated effectively into well-informed and fitting UX, as opposed to being pointed to a service that does not leverage the customer’s context or answer the question she posed via the messaging platform.

UX can and will enable users to reach the content, product, service or person that will take them a further step forward – regardless of how far along their journeys they are. Similar to GPS redirection after each turn, data-driven UX (and the power of artificial intelligence, more specifically) will allow brands to create tailored, frictionless experiences that recalibrate with each interaction. There may never be another FAQ page again. Search usage shows how users quickly skip to what they want. But it also exposes a shortcoming in that the information is not delivered in the context of the task being attempted – namely, they must switch out of the task to search.

"Similar to GPS redirection, UX will allow brands to create tailored experiences that recalibrate with each interaction"

The level of brand access enabled by conversational UI, however, is only as good as the intelligence (in this case, artificial) that powers it. Voice-enabled interaction – a prevailing theme for 2017 – exemplifies this well. Alexa utilises consumer data across a network of interfaces to evolve: if a question is voiced but not understood, then the user can enter the app and edit the question. Alexa, in turn, learns from this and applies the customised approach across its user interfaces. This immediate learning improvement is what transforms UX into brand loyalty and gives users the continuity they desire when going from one interface to the next. It is what solidifies the consumer and brand relationship.

This kind of personalisation will sweep across digital and physical interactions, enabling users to seamlessly pick up where they left off. A car-buying experience might look like this: preliminary research is done via mobile web, a test drive is scheduled via the configuration app but facilitated by the dealership, and the purchase is completed online. In this case, data can be used to ensure all representations of the brand know where in the journey the user is and how to make the next step seamless. 

Sales and manufacturing will become part of the same cycle of configuration that confirmed the car-buyer’s interest and helped her evolve the original idea – co-creating the end result. The ownership experience, and strong relationship between brand and buyer, is continued via a vehicle life cycle extended by software updates that meet the owner’s changing needs.

2017 and beyond will see these frictionless transitions applied across industries to minimise questions asked and maximise intelligent recommendations and offers. As more organisations open their APIs to cross-industry usage, UX will become more intuitive. Mortgage providers, for example, will switch from campaigns asking whether you’re in the market for a new house to collaborating with real-estate companies and health-care providers to make relevant offers to families with a baby likely to be looking to upgrade their home.

Lastly, UX in the next 12 to 24 months will be as much about integrating within the context of personal usage as it will be about creating bespoke services. The Internet of Things continues to show us the power of interconnected data in shaping product and service design; different brands come together to form an ecosystem of UX that speaks to individual consumer behaviour. Not only will open APIs help direct the right offers to the right users, but they will enable brands to predict which user experiences to architect next.

Think about this as a library of services across brand platforms where your journey as a customer is driving unique mash-ups where design is fused with contextual information to create offers, products and services uniquely relevant to you.

How can an ecosystem including Nike, Aviva, Tesco and Tesla become more relevant to you via services that help you consume their products more effectively? And how will the resulting interrelationships enable you to achieve the Nike promise of "Just do it" and Tesco’s "Every little helps"? By thinking of UX as not just what is on a screen but as an integral part of the customer experience and the defining aspect of a brand, companies can offer the integration of personalised interactions, useful products and fitting services that current and future consumers expect.

Nigel Vaz is the chief executive, EMEA and Asia-Pacific, of Publicis.Sapient