Future of UX centered on proactive experiences

August 19, 2014

A year ago, while returning from a business trip, I got stranded in a distant airport when the weather turned nasty, grounding aircraft across the country. The disruption left me and countless others waiting for hours in endless lines at the airline desk or trying to speak with a “real” person on customer service calls. That nightmare didn’t have to be so extreme and for an increasing number of airlines those experiences are becoming the exception.

I recently had yet another weather-related grounding while returning from vacation. This time — just one year later on the same airline — the experience proved entirely upgraded. When my flight got cancelled, the airline didn’t just send an e-mail notice and wish me the best. They included direct links to every available option to get me home — including a few flights on competing airlines and an Amtrak schedule. Just one click later, I knew exactly what it was going to take to find my way home.

The technology is great, but what really that makes this remarkable is the adjustment of mindset that has occurred. There was a realization that this is the kind of user experience that can win and keep valuable customers as an important part of a business model.

To create a positive customer experience in today’s world, my airline has (apparently) figured out that it has to be adept at anticipating customer needs in order to satisfy them — before the customer takes action. It is no longer sufficient to simply provide actionable information to customers in an effectual and pleasant manner. These real-time, hands-on proactive experiences seem to be on a rapid pace to becoming everyday user/customer experiences. They are becoming the expectation.

For example, many vehicles with active satellite services, such as OnStar, actively monitor your vehicle for problems. If an anomaly is detected, you may receive an email or text about the problem along with a direct link to service centers to schedule a fix. In some cases, a message may be followed by a call from your vehicle service center asking when it will be convenient for you to bring your vehicle in.

Real-time, hands-on proactive experiences seem to be on a rapid pace to becoming everyday user/customer experiences.

Many home security systems are now offering very similar functionality through wireless services. Some go so far as to anticipate in/out behavior, forwarding notices if a door or window is opened out of sync with typical established patterns of behavior.

Some financial management firms help people by showing how structure can keep their budget in order and guide them toward living within their fiscal means. When a friend of mine found himself in financial trouble from excessive debt on multiple credit cards and numerous financed consumer goods, his newfound financial advising firm not only structured his budget for him but also installed his finance data into an online program. The program showed exactly how much to put toward each debt in the specific order that would provide the fastest possible payoff –considering each individual debt amount, interest rates, minimum required payments, payment dates, etc. Now he gets an e-mail when a payment is recommended to the debt that is either due or optimal for debt reduction along with a link to the appropriate connection allowing him to authorize the best possible transaction option in a click. All he has to do is “click” to follow the pre-determined payment plan which enables the snowball effect that will free him from debt at a time when a lesser experience would have led to certain bankruptcy.

The above examples have a few things in common. They offer solutions without a convoluted path to get there. They also lead the user to the solution and promote higher accomplishment. By paying attention to these experiential attributes, UX designers can create proactive experiences that may well be the future of their very existence.