Creating Cross-Channel Experiences

Nov 18, 2013

One of the most important jobs for an organization is to think about the entire ecosystem of their brand and what the user experience is across each channel. Whether it is through accessing information on your site through various devices, calling a help line, engaging through social media, and/or having a face-to-face conversation, there may be any number of combinations for how people interact with your organization. And the expectation is that the tone, interactions, functions, and visual design will all be cohesive.

Understand the Context of a Choice in Channel

So how do we know which option they’ll choose? The answer lies in why they choose it. The context. In his article, The Rise of Cross-Channel UX Design , Tyler Tate uses the everyday example of a bank for what a person’s interplay between channels might look like. He says “while you could likely achieve many tasks at your local bank branch, a nearby ATM, over the phone, on your home computer, or on your smartphone, each channel is likely convenient in some situations, but a hassle in others. Your mobile phone is well suited to quickly checking your account balance on the go. However, you might find it easier to use online banking on your laptop to pay the monthly bills.”

In their report, The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-platform Consumer Behavior. Google emphasizes context’s role in channel choice. Although their primary focus was related to device use, they found that the way in which people choose to interact often is driven by the amount of time they have, the goal they want to accomplish, location, and their attitude and state of mind. Using data to create personas and then thinking of those in the relation to your brand’s larger ecosystem will help you improve the design of the experience that you’re creating.

Embrace that Mapping the Experience Might Not Be a Straight Line

Being able to dissect and visualize the various digital and physical touch points will help you build understanding of these increasingly complex interactions. Tate recommends service blueprints, which were first introduced by G. Lynn Shostack, as a way to document a multi-channel experience. He discusses how “these maps of interactions center on a customer’s actions, paying close attention to the channel… through which each action occurs. The service blueprint outlines not only visible interactions with a customer, but also the behind-the-scenes steps that must take place to facilitate a smooth process for the customer”

A challenge to be aware of, however, is that people don’t necessarily follow a straight line when it comes to interacting. This is particularly important to remember as device ownership continues to grow. Consider for a moment some of the following numbers for device ownership in America:

This raises the question: what does the behavior look like? Google found that people move back and forth between devices throughout the day to accomplish their tasks. They broke the engagement into two topics: sequential usage and simultaneous usage of their devices. Sequential usage means someone moves from one device to another at different times to accomplish a task or activity. Simultaneous usage refers to using more than one device at the same time for either a related (complementary usage) or an unrelated activity (multi-tasking).

This demonstrates why taking a cross-channel approach makes more sense than simply a multi-channel approach. In a multi-channel approach, there are various channels for people to choose from to start a accomplish their task from start to finish. On the other hand, designing a cross-channel strategy takes into account the transitions that are needed for people to jump between channels to accomplish their tasks. Although it doesn’t speak to the physical interactions, responsive design is one example of working toward this end digitally.

Gauge How Usable Your Cross-Channel Experience Is Designed

How do we design a cross-channel experience? The Nielsen Norman Group in their article, Cross-Channel Usability: Creating a Consistent User Experience , identified the four most important elements of a usable cross-channel experience. The elements are:

  People should be able to move from channel to channel without having to relearn how to complete activities. Consistency across elements from visual design to interactions to content helps users move between channels easily.
  It should be possible to complete tasks across multiple channels, if desired.
  Users should be able to complete desired activities regardless of the channel.
  The experience should be optimized for the channel.
Context Specificity

So how do your efforts match up to this criteria? Do you think holistically about the ecosystem of your brand? Leave us a comment below to let us know.

This post was originally published on the blog by Katie Messner, Web Manager of the program.