Designing for Consistent Cross-Channel Experience

The human experience encompasses the entirety of interactions a person has with your organization -and your industry- regardless of channel used to deliver the interaction. Experiences delivered across multiple channels that have not been designed as a single cohesive experience are disjointed and confusing. In a commercial environment, this results in a poor customer experience. In government, non-profit, and healthcare, the effect can be devastating with vulnerable populations unable to make use of critical services.

Experience Delivery reflects organizational structure

Organizations typically view their interactions in terms of channels and develop each channel independent of the other channels. Organizational structure contributes to the issue as separate groups are responsible for each channel. For example, a dev team is responsible for a mobile app, the marketing team is responsible for print and website copy, and the customer support team is responsible for support calls. The organization views interactions delivered via these channels as separate and unrelated, reflecting the organizational structure that created them. 

Channel design need to select the participant experience

Customers do not view interactions with companies in the context of channels. They move quickly between websites, printed documents, talking to support reps via phone or chat, communicating on email or social networks, and visiting a physical presence. Quite often these interactions are occurring via more than one channel simultaneously. For example, at the Motor Vehicle Department, a customer may use a phone to check which documents are required to renew their car registration while they are waiting in line and reading the informational signs posted on the wall. Travelers with delayed or canceled flights may talk with an agent at the counter while looking for alternative flights via the airline website and posting their frustrations via Twitter. Patients visiting an urban medical center to get services they cannot get from their rural clinic will be on their cell phone navigating through a crowded and busy city then using the hospital website while attempting to find their way to the right office in a massive healthcare campus. The customer views these multi-channel experience as a single unified journey. Any variations in information, iconography, vernacular, and tone between these channels create confusion and a disconnected experience.

Channel consistency and vulnerable populations

The issue of channel consistency is especially critical when serving populations from diverse social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. To go back to the Motor Vehicle Department example, a recent registration renewal notice I received via mail refers to “Vehicle License Renewal.” The motor vehicle department website calls the same service “Vehicle Registration Renewal.” The difference may seem small, but shifts in vernacular are especially confusing for people who are not native English speakers or who have difficulty reading or comprehending what is read. With more complex services like healthcare or public assistance services, such confusion can create serious issues. The stress of navigating the confusing maze of government services or the fear of a recent diagnosis increases cognitive load and inhibits an individuals ability to process information and make decisions. In these situations, it is imperative that all digital and physical experiences have been designed to communicate the same information using the same words, iconography, information architecture, colors, and fonts.

Delivering enjoyable and effective experiences require deliberately designing all customer interactions as a single cohesive experience. Organizations need to form cross-functional teams and use ethnographic research techniques to understand who their customers are and the totality of that customer experience. They need to decide which channels are appropriate for which communications and at which times, and design for the handoff between these channels so the switch is seamless and consistent. These teams need to take into account both the customers existing mental model and the methods they can use to introduce new, more effective models. As organizations explore new channels like voice interactions, service bots, and interactions driven by AI, the problem of fragmented experiences grows and the need for a comprehensive design approach increases.