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Passionate delight isn’t the only positive experience

Passionate delight isn’t the only positive experience

A number of years ago one of the speakers at a conference I attended was a Marketing Director for an airline which enjoyed a significant share of the transatlantic flight market.  He was also an ardent supporter of a North London premiership football team. His address focused on his vision to make his customers feel as passionate about flying across the Atlantic as he did in supporting his football team on a Saturday afternoon.

I respected his pride in his employer and in the brand he represented, but it just seemed, well, weird.

I’m not sure how I would feel if I had a mate in my circle of friends who told us that sitting in a big metal tube 30,000 feet in the air for six hours was the thing that lit his fire, regardless of how comfortable it was or how generous the free bar.

It seemed to me that passion was simply the wrong aspiration. I can’t speak for the airline, but as a traveller, I’d like to feel comfortable, relaxed and safe. I’d like to avoid feeling bored with the length of the journey, impatient with queues or stressed about immigration.  And if all those things were in place, and the airline sprinkled in a little bit of delight, I would be happy to embrace that sky high feeling.

The problem with aiming for the wrong target is that you risk solving the wrong problem (or at least focusing on the wrong thing), and you disconnect your service design and communication efforts with the needs and aspirations of your customer as they consider and potentially use your service.

It also runs the very real risk that you patronise your customer. If the check–in queues were long, the check–in clerk was rude, and your ticket sent you to the wrong seat, no amount of champagne and caviar before take–off is going to magically turn that into a delightful experience.  Much of experience design is inglorious, focused on being brilliant at the basics.  As the man who was better at design basics than any other leader in our lifetime proposed, “it just works”.

This very crime of misplaced focus took a cool $100bn of Microsoft’s balance sheet this week with the near–farcical launch of Bing AI, its competitor to the darling of the day ChatGPT and Google’s Bard.  Among the legion mistakes around its launch was the UX of the Bing mobile app, which has been underused and underperforming for around a decade, but which found itself back in the spotlight as the onboarding experience included strong recommendations (replete with QR code) to download it.

As a regular search engine user, the product characteristics which will drive a positive emotional response are efficiency, speed and accuracy and if it achieves those I will feel confident, perhaps even empowered.  At no stage do I approach intrigue or delight.  Search engines are like your broadband – when they work they’re meh and when they don’t they’re rage inducing.  That’s just how a utilitarian product or service works.

In the Bing app the search bar (the product’s primary function) is given around 100 pixels at the top of the page.  The remainder of the page is filled with rubbish from your nan’s attic:

  • Trending news (animated of course, because nothing helps users with fat fingers on a small screen more than a moving tap target)
  • Bing rewards (including garish gold coins – we’re not playing Mario cart here lads)
  • Widget customisers (which almost allow you to remove all the widgets)
  • More news
  • Deals (I suppose Microsoft has to claw back the $100m somehow?)

The suspicion lurks that this alleged desire to delight and enthral doesn’t derive from a desire to meet customer needs, but rather a desire to meet the career and internal political needs of ambitious marketing directors. For what other reason could the Bing app talk past its users just so badly?

Experience design must have the humility to explore what a positive experience is rather than to assume how a customer may wish to feel.

I don’t get passionate about e–commerce, but I am pleased when I find the product I am looking for easily, can compare its specification and price with other options, feel I am getting it at a good price, know it will arrive quickly and can be easily returned.  If they make me feel confident and in control, I’ll buy.

I don’t delight in utilities, but I will consider a new provider if I can understand their price, their products are clearly described and easily compared, their billing is accurate, I understand their onboarding process and the customer service is good.  If they make me feel smart and answer my questions, I’ll switch, and probably stay.

I’m not enchanted by B2B providers but will email a supplier if they let me know who I’ll be dealing with, their experience and relevant case studies, and my early conversations with them assure me they are knowledgeable and easy to deal with.  If they make me feel listened–to, I’ll purchase their services.

Luxury brand owners who provide once–in–a–lifetime experiences, or sports marketers who help supporters follow their favourite team have the indulgence of pursuing passion and delight in their marketing efforts. But most other marketers need to understand the roles their product or service plays in their lives of their customers and build experience around that.

It seems only right that the last word goes to Russell Davies,’s former Director of Strategy, when asked about what his users think about his ground–breaking world–leading service “Hopefully most of our users don’t think about or notice us. They just use the service and get on with their lives.”

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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