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October 27, 2003 Program Summary by Adele Sommers

Beyond Information Engineering:
An Introduction to Total Customer Experience Design

Speaker John BowieJohn Bowie, a Colorado-based consultant, usability researcher, and senior member of the STC, greeted a packed house as he introduced his powerful and down-to-earth observations about how customers think about products and services.

It wasn't hard to relate to the scenarios John described that characterize the Total Customer Experience.” Every aspect of a consumer's interaction with a product or service comes into play—from initial telephone conversations and personal greetings to downstream product or service support, John told his attentive listeners. Each “touch point” represents a critical opportunity to pleasantly engage customers and increase their loyalty or alienate them into disgruntled silence.

Confused about productsIn a superbly crafted presentation combining visuals, sound effects, and movies, John illustrated the frustrating plight of many consumers today and what technical communicators and product and service designers can do about it.

Job 1 meets Job 2

Years of technical communication experience at a Fortune 25 company helped John surface his customers' fundamental need—getting their jobs done—a goal he calls Job 1. Job 1 represents the professional or personal activities people were trying to perform before they sought a product or service to help them. For example, Job 1 might be nursing sick patients back to health, doing people's taxes, teaching, designing homes, or playing computer games.

Cal Poly STC membersJohn pointed out that a product (such as electronic equipment, a gadget, tool, or software system) or service (such as an airline flight or auto repair) can complicate matters by introducing its own complex requirements. These requirements may entail queuing, waiting, installation, setup, programming, learning, maintaining, and troubleshooting—in other words, a whole set of activities that can take on a life of their own.

Think about buying and setting up a new VCR. Don't you just dread the thought? How about losing your luggage during a plane flight? Especially if it occurs after long flight delays, cramped conditions, and arcane passenger rules, who wouldn't feel crummy after the whole experience is over? John calls this entire family of product- or service-induced hassles Job 2.

Zeroing in on the problem

John explained that it's the Job 2 activities that can make consumers feel really, really stupid or terribly resentful. Worse, those activities can take up many hours of precious time, sometimes preventing customers from getting Job 1 done at all!

Enjoying the breakWhat makes Job 2 activities so frustrating is that they often involve many nonintuitive steps that cause people to stumble and fall. And the more components there are to the system, the more steps there are and the more complicated that system is to use.

Whenever we make people memorize or retrieve information they normally wouldn't need to know, or perform tasks that weren't part of their Job 1 activities to begin with, we are doing them a great disservice by impeding their progress with their primary jobs, he explained. And as long as consumers have choices, they will exercise them to achieve the most pleasant and efficient outcomes possible. John's research has revealed that only 4% of dissatisfied customers ever complain to a company, yet 65–90% of those unhappy, non-complaining customers would never buy from that company again.

What we can do about it

John emphasized that to help dramatically improve our customers' experiences, we can do the following:

  • Understand the success and failure points in the Total Customer Experience life cycle. When customers acquire a product, they do so with the goal in mind of achieving a Job 1 result. But they also need to successfully set up, achieve, learn, solve problems with, and maintain what they have acquired. Consistently pleasant or highly frustrating experiences at each touch point can dramatically affect our customers' likelihood of acquiring future products.
  • Become Information Engineers and Total Customer Experience Architects. In our traditional roles as technical communicators, we're often asked to bridge the chasms between what our customers know, what our products do, and our customers' Job 1 goals. In contrast, we need to put the missing information back where it belongs—by installing it inside of the product rather than the customer.
  • Change our perception of product deliverables. Instead of delivering products with reams of documentation that our customers must absorb, we can think instead about generating customer specs along with product specs to better identify the special needs our customers have. When we're able to imagine the strategies our customers will devise to apply our products toward their own ends, we can invent highly functional interfaces that require the least possible effort to interpret and use.
  • Shift our approaches toward Job 1 analyses and prototyping. Job 1 analyses will reveal what our customers are trying to accomplish and will enable us to design product features that are relevant, accessible, and effective. We needn't depend on assumptions about our customers' success with our products or services; we can wring out design prototypes with usability tests. The related business case for these efforts will emerge as a return on the investment it takes to attract and keep our customers—the fundamental reason why businesses exist in the first place.

For more information, see:

John's Total Customer Experience (TCE) Labs Web site (http://www.tcelabs.com)

John's October 27th presentation (a 1.2MB PDF file)

John's November 2003 Intercom article (a 380K PDF file), Information Engineering for the 21st Century

An article discussing John's philosophy (a 568K PDF file), The Harmonics of Usability, by Adele Sommers

To send John your own stories:

Please send case studies of successes and challenges, or any new techniques and strategies that you discover. You can send them to John at john@tcelabs.com.

Photography by Mary Meyer.

Beyond Information Engineering: An Introduction to Total Customer Experience Design
Date: Monday evening, October 27, 2003

John Bowie, founder and “chief executive customer” of Total Customer Experience Labs (TCE Labs at http://tcelabs.com). While working for a Fortune 25 computer company many years ago, John discovered that customers resisted all attempts to “teach” them how to use the company’s high-tech products. He began exploring ways to make products smarter, thus requiring less documentation, training, and support, and conducted usability tests to discover how customers failed. Along the way he formulated a set of ideas, models, and methodologies for how customers and products interact and collaborate. He calls this approach Information Engineering.

John has worked with clients that include Microsoft, IBM, HP, and the Economic Development Board of Singapore. He is a popular speaker and author, and is currently writing a series of TCE books for publication in 2004.


“Beyond Information Engineering: An Introduction to Total Customer Experience Design” addressed this smoldering question: How can we design products and services that just work? A product that produces maximum results with minimum effort. A service that delivers exactly what customers want, precisely when they want it. A product without manuals, without a learning curve, whose warranty and technical support are seldom used. A service that amazes and delights its customers from initial contact through to completion. To explore the issues, John answered these key questions:

  • What is the Total Customer Experience (TCE)?
  • How can you use Information Engineering to detect, correct, and prevent customer dissatisfaction during each phase of the TCE Life Cycle?
  • What is the business case for designing and managing the Total Customer Experience?
  • How does TCE affect customer loyalty, support and warranty costs, and revenue?
  • How can you transform your role from Information Engineering to Total Customer Experience Design?


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