How Machines Impact Experience Design

Designing a customer experience that seamlessly incorporates the machines from our daily lives.


Jeannie Walters

June 15, 2020

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Before you continue reading: For the sake of simplicity, in this article we’ll be using the term machine as an all-inclusive representation of innovative technology that is readily available to customers and companies—from Internet of Things (IoT), mobile devices, Artificial Intelligence (AI), voice-command, etc.—and that influences the customer experience.

Consider just how many machines people might personally interact with on a daily basis. 

They wake up thanks to the smart speaker, playing personalized music based on the day and the time.

They check their mobile phone for messages and the weather.

They use their mobile tablet to display the recipe for the vegetable frittata they make for breakfast.

They eventually sit down with their laptop to get some work done.

And that’s all before 9 a.m.!

Machines are personal

Each customer has a unique journey, and their experiences with machines (ex: devices, machine learning, chatbots, and apps, etc.) are personal too. Are you considering the experience of your customer in light of their interactions with machines? 

Machines are so integrated into the customer journey they are often not defined in the right ways. Designing for the machine isn’t the point. Designing for the customer is.

Organizations that design better experiences for customers win. They win market share, they win loyalty, they win share-of-wallet and they win referrals and increased word-of-mouth marketing. 

Designing customer experiences today means considering humans, the machines they use, the way machines serve them, and the machines we don’t ever see.

Customer experience is emotional (even with machines)

Steve Jobs famously outlined the design principles of Apple to include “Friendliness.” This was a radical idea around a company that essentially built machines. 

But this idea that machines themselves could be friendly created opportunities that resulted in moments of delight for customers. 

The computers booted up to reveal the smiling Mac icon. Some versions even displayed “Hello” upon starting.

Customer experience design is about going on the journey with your customer. And that starts with understanding who they are, what they’re trying to do, and how they’re trying to do it. But it’s also about reflecting humanity in these interactions, just like Steve Jobs advised.

There’s a reason customers have become accustomed to reading messages from machines while the backend system works. ATM’s at banks often display messages of “Working on it” or “Now depositing” while approving or updating the system and before confirmation for the customer. These moments of reassurance are important for the customer and display a sense of humanity from the machine.

Experience design requires the right questions

1. Who is your customer? 

Your customer is a specific person with a unique outlook. Their particular place in the world, their expectations and their perceptions will be the center of the design. 

Consider how different personas will interact with certain machines. Some will be comfortable customizing the settings of their smart speaker. Some won’t. 

Some customers will require support via chat and other support channels. 

These personal preferences and characteristics indicate the way customer experience design should evolve to meet their needs. 

Designing for the customer means creating experiences that prioritize the options most of your customers want, but still allowing for custom options based on personal preferences.

Now that you know your customer, it’s time to ask the other questions around designing the right experiences for them.

2. What is your customer trying to do?

Be careful of designing for your tool or machine, instead of the customer. 

That customer who uses the smart speaker, mobile phone, tablet, and laptop to start their day isn’t actually viewing that list of activities as “use my smart speaker.”

Their tasks are about getting up with an alarm to start their day at the right time. They are checking the weather and communicating via chat. They are improving their cooking and making a healthy breakfast. Then they are getting work done.

They aren’t worried about the machine. They are attending to a need. 

Designing experiences is ultimately about helping customers achieve what they want to do. The machines are there to support those goals.

Instead of asking “What does the tool need to do?” ask, “What does our customer need to do?”

3. How are they trying to do it?

There is frustration when the journey the customer wants to take doesn’t line up with the journey offered. If a customer wants to accomplish their task with a mobile app, for example, then it’s disappointing when the app itself doesn’t offer much more than brochureware. 

Certain tasks might be easier or more challenging based on how customers are trying to accomplish them.

Design for humans and machines to interact together. 

A customer who needs to touch the right link on a mobile screen to select it requires a different layout and considerations around type size, white space, and design than a customer on a laptop using a mouse to point a cursor to select the same thing.

Experience design should include considerations that aren’t just linear regarding which channel or platform they use. Customer-focused experience design means considering questions around the non-linear journey, too.

Customers get confused, lost, frustrated, or simply switch channels. Experience design shouldn’t punish them for this. If the design is only about the specific tool or machine, that’s a linear process. Customers follow their own journeys, meaning they jump off the path and back on to another one. 

You should walk through your customer’s journey and look for:

  • Obstacles and challenges to completing the task.

  • Where support might be needed, and how to offer it in an integrated way.

  • Common points when a customer might switch to a new channel (chat to call, for example).

  • Where machine pitfalls might prevent them from completing a task (Can the voice-controlled machine understand their voice?).

Walking through these “what ifs” around the question of how your customer wants to do something can provide a more proactive experience.

Are the machines the experience?

At its core, experience design is about empathy. Understanding customers is the most basic step in creating exceptional experiences for them.

It’s easy to get caught up in the shiny new thing and think experiences are really about the laptop, the app, or the smart speaker. 

But experience is always about the person. We are not far off from more machines. I can imagine one day when smart mirrors in our homes will suggest outfits for us; smart desks will provide health reminders when we are sitting improperly or for too long; or smart toothbrushes will alert us to potential problems before our dentist can.

The evolution continues each day. And while the machines will change, so will customer needs. This is where strategic experience design matters the most because it will always bring you back to what’s most important—the customer’s journey.

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About the guest author 

Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CEO, Experience Investigators™ by 360Connext 

Jeannie Walters is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and is CEO of Experience Investigators. She is a customer experience speaker, writer, and consultant with more than 20 years of experience in assisting all types of companies, including Fortune 500. Specialties include in-depth customer experience evaluations, customer journey mapping, user experience analysis, and leading workshops and training programs. Her mission is: To Create Fewer Ruined Days for Customers.™ Connect with her: | @jeanniecw

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