Why workflows can transform the customer experience

If you’re wondering what the best solution or design for a particular situation would be, look for the user’s workflow. It will always reveal the correct solution.

I’ll give you an example. Several years ago, I was asked to redesign an online feedback form for a popular restaurant chain. The chain’s existing form was getting an extremely high abandonment rate (over 70%), and the call volume at its call center was rising every quarter.

I began scratching my head as to what could be done. I mean, everything was in there. The form asked for the user’s name and contact information, it asked if they wanted to be contacted concerning their feedback and it asked them to describe the issue, including whether it had to do with a restaurant or a delivery. There were a few other items but you get the gist of it. After looking at how the form was laid out, the logical sequence in the way the form fields were presented on page, and the current design for a few hours, I was just as stumped as when I’d begun.

That evening I went to one of the restaurants and ordered dinner. Not knowing what I was trying to glean from eating there, I was just looking around when a customer called the waitress over and asked to speak to the manager. Since the customer’s table was only a few feet from mine, I could hear the entire conversation. The family at the table had a complaint about some food they were brought that was not what they’d ordered. The manager listened intently and offered to replace the order and bring them free drinks for their trouble. The family graciously accepted and everything was fine. That was the moment I finally understood what was wrong with the form.

What was my epiphany? What issue had I discovered and how could I correct it?

The key was in the customer journey. As I watched the interaction between the unhappy customer and the manager, I noticed one thing. It had a pattern, a workflow.

The manager asked the customer, “What seems to be the problem?” The manager didn’t ask for the customer’s name, address, phone number, or email address, or if they’d like to be contacted by anyone else on this matter. After all, that would be absurd, right?

Instead, the manager asked about the problem. It was the natural course of conversation.

Now if we conclude that a website is, or at least should be, an extended conversation at some level, then we can recognize that asking for information from a visitor at the inappropriate time violates that conversation. It violates the user journey.

Armed with my newly found conclusions, I went back to the project and restructured the flow of the questioning. I asked what the problem was, how I could help and if the customer wanted to talk with someone else. Influenced by this customer mapping, the form took on a different voice and consequently a different appearance to the user.

This turned the tables immediately. Within the first few weeks after changing the workflow design, form abandonment dropped from over 70% to less than 14%. Call center volume started to wane, eventually falling into negative growth month over month. And in the seven years since I redid the customer feedback section, the overall website has undergone at least two major redesigns and several minor redesigns—but that section hasn’t changed one bit.

So…does the secret to a good user experience lie in the customer journey? Absolutely!

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