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The Cavendish club in central London was chosen as the venue for this fifth edition of the UserZoom Seminar series because the event is growing and a larger room was necessary. The beautiful building was also appropriate for the international character of what is a great forum for ideas – it was once the site of the Spanish Embassy and two of the speakers hailed from the land of the reigning European football champions.

Measuring Customer Experience was the theme of the day and the audience included brand managers from Selfridges and John Lewis to Unibet and the BBC.

This is indeed a pivotal part of the strategic planning of any company and all of the presenters as well as the participants certainly gave worthwhile insights into the subject.

Eewei Chen, the first speaker was a lively, energetic orator who conveyed his passion by way of the unequivocal declaration “UX is my life.” With a background in graphic design and a C.V that includes stints at IPC and Microsoft, he currently holds the position of Solution Design Director e Experience at BSkyB and his presentation, ‘Strategic User Experience and why good design = good business’ made it clear that his whole approach to both product development and marketing is built first and foremost around the customer’s real, tangible relationship with whatever the product is.

Drawing on numerous examples, from Henry Ford’s pioneering Model T car to the game changing smart phone, Chen argued that it was crucial to balance innovation and tactical thinking in all sectors of business, and that any company that is bold enough to be proactive and observe what is better for people rather than simply give them what they think they want significantly increases its chances of survival. The rule of thumb is to bring together a whole range of different skills – purpose, direction, timing and focus – in order to be able to first fully identify and then effectively meet the customer’s needs.

Chen quoted this highly revealing statement from the late Apple guru Steve Jobs. “I start with the customer experience and work back to the technology.” It drew nods of approval from several members of the audience because they realised that it was a key element of the phenomenal success of the world’s most iconic computer company.

As keen as Chen was to emphasize the need to think about products and services from the point of view of the customer, he also pointed out that it was absolutely essential to make the most of the resources one has to hand. A good team in a marketing department was of paramount importance, right down to the careful selection of interns and volunteers and the clear definition of roles assigned to everybody involved.

If that set the tone nicely for the afternoon, then Alberto Barreiro kept the level of interest high with a presentation that was memorable for its pragmatic advice and easy going humour. Recognised as an innovator in social media, Barreiro is the founder of Webjam and also recently created a new set of multi-platform products for the digital arm of ITV. Furthermore he has 15 years of international experience of designing Internet portals for companies such as Yahoo and like, Chen, his background is in art and design. His presentation ‘Measuring Human Experiences: Beyond The Customer’ struck a loose parallel to Chen’s, and he emphasized how important it was to gauge how a product ‘feels’ as well as what function it performs. “The product is not static,” Barreiro stated. “It is alive. The product changes with people. The product is the experience.”

He then gave a simple but meaningful example of that philosophy at work. Steve Jobs met with a lot of scepticism when he decided to equip the original i-Mac desktop models with a carrying handle because the machines were considered too bulky to really be portable. But that wasn’t the point. He identified and acted upon the customer need to think of the product as a personal item. Hence the additional feature fulfilled that desire. He was right. The model was a runaway success. Rather than being impractical or unnecessary, the carrying handle made people get significantly ‘closer’ to the product.

“He was really saying, let’s do this because I want people to feel it belongs to them and that they can take it with them, so it creates an emotional attachment,” Barreiro explained, before going on analyse the thinking behind another Apple product that was again borne of a clear identification of human need and behaviour.
“With the i-Pod the question was not how can we make it smaller, but how can we give people access to their music collection.” This was a clear case of thinking ‘beyond the customer’ and putting ‘mission before vision.’ In other words, the product is really conceived according to a clear understanding of the customer’s lifestyle and cultural practises.

Barreiro rounded off by making another thought-provoking statement about the reality of measuring human experiences in the market place. Strategic designers had to monitor the context and intensity of the user’s engagement with a product, and also be aware that the criteria were widespread. “It is not linear,” Barreiro stated. “It is gravitational.” What he meant was that consumer environments were becoming increasingly complex and that the whole range of interactions in both the physical and digital world had to be observed.

The last speaker of the afternoon was Javier Darriba, European CEO of UserZoom. He provided a wealth of practical information on the challenges of measuring customer experience and the main thrust of his presentation was the need to pinpoint underlying motivations in a very direct way. “It comes down to why they visit a website in the first place, and why they may have left,” he pointed out. “You are digging into the whys?” In concrete terms, the gathering of such data could be done through anything from exit surveys to measurement of the number of clicks that it takes for a customer to have the required experience on a website.

Darriba concluded by saying that the ‘emotional messages’ conveyed were as important as any issues of functionality, and that the ability to effectively promote a product hinged on the skill that designers and strategists showed when it came to explaining what the product was about as well as what it did.

Following the presentations, there was a panel discussion chaired by Richard Wand, Director of User Experience at Fortune Cookie, that picked up on several of the points made by the three speakers, the most challenging of which was how exactly can the emotional and human side of the customer experience be measured.

When he asked Alberto Barreiro if the business world was getting closer to a real modus operandi for that he was given a forthright answer. “We’re not. My presentation was more of a question, not an answer.” Javier Darriba was quick to underline that point. “In all my years as a researcher, I’ve found that there is no perfect method. You have to look at things over a period of time.” That can mean observation of a customer group for a whole year during which time any number of methods could be employed to enable the brand to gain as much empathy as possible for its target audience.

While all of the speakers urged the audience that Measuring The Customer Experience was an ongoing process that had to be constantly updated, especially in the age of social media where opportunities for feedback were high, it was also important to ensure that there was absolute honesty in the way that the data and any subsequent product development was handled. “It’s not about putting lipstick on a pig”, said Eewei Chen and as chuckles rang out in the room it was clear that he struck a chord with brand managers in any sector, be it food or fashion.

Published on: 5:00PM on 18th July 2012