Touchpoints are defined as points of contact within an experience design. This definition describes all the ways someone engages in an experience that has been painstakingly designed for them. Those of us taking on roles as experience designers think of touchpoints as mobile devices, tablets, and desktop websites, but what these definitions fail to include are the acknowledgement of human touchpoints. There is no substitution for human contact and so many of us interact with the commercial world through human contact.
Think about the last time you went to the mall, a restaurant or even a drive-thru. We’re you greeted with a smile? Did you feel like you were listened to? Was the person helping you courteous? The answers to these questions are part of your experience and in many cases are the main influence on whether or not you had a good experience.
The empathetic nature of face to face interaction allows one to “read” and respond to someone’s emotional state instantaneously. If you are greeted with a smile then you are more likely to mirror back a smile as well as respond with sympathy when someone is undergoing a traumatic event. This adds to the complexity of experience design, because we are now incorporating psychological concepts that encompass emotional states and how to respond appropriately. Added to that complexity is the fact that individuals will have their own motivations as an employee of the organization they represent.
My last experience at a drive-thru was mediocre at best and the majority of that feeling was influenced by the person at the drive-thru window. I drove up, ordered and listened very carefully to make sure my order was right as it was repeated back to me. Already I am looking for errors and as a result I have a heightened sense of anxiety fueled by the thought “I hope they get my order right.” This seemingly small and routine interaction of ordering through a 2-way speaker is my introductory touchpoint and already my emotional level is low. However, this whole experience can be turned around by the person at the drive-thru window. Unfortunately, I was only greeted by a hand waiting for my payment, no eye contact and no courteous acknowledgement like “hello” or “thank you”. Of course, this only confirmed the flaws I was already looking for and I set myself up to look for flaws when my order was being repeated back to me and I was listening for errors. This lack of acknowledgement from the person at the drive-thru window made me immediately stop my car after driving away from the window and check the bag to make sure all the food I ordered was there. All the food was there, but my emotional level was very low, so I focused on the fact that I only had two napkins. Do I need more than two napkins? No, but I am still looking for flaws even after I drove away from the window.
People Are People Too
Someone reading this may be thinking “of course you had a bad experience, it’s a drive-thru”, which proves that we approach many human touchpoints of an experience with pre-conceived notions of how the situation should play out or a mental model. I didn’t expect a luxury resort experience when approaching the drive-thru. However, the complexity of this human touchpoint carries with it the powerful ability to turn a mediocre interaction into a positive experience. A simple “hello” and “thank you” added to this seemingly routine drive-thru experience would have only encouraged me to return in the future.
Now consider the drive-thru employee. They are the human face of this fast food chain. What motivation do they have to make sure every customer’s experience is the best it can be? Will they get a five cent raise? Will they avoid being fired? This is something that most of us can empathize with, because at some point all of us have been an employee and many of the same concerns you had as an employee apply to anyone else. This is complicated even further by levels of supervision and management within an organization. The CEO may want a specific experience to be delivered, but the direct supervisor of the person at the drive-thru has more influence over that individual as an employee. This is an ongoing problem that many organizations deal with and it has a direct influence on a customer’s experience. Employees are unmotivated when there are complications within an organization and customers feel that lack of motivation.
A customers needs and wants should align with an employees motivations and given our own complexities as individuals we can start to appreciate the complexity of human touchpoints within experience design. The reality is that the complexity of human touchpoints is tempered by our ability to empathize as designers. Our capacity for face to face communication fuels our ability to address human touchpoints as a powerful aspect of experience design. When it comes to human touchpoints, more human interaction is equivalent to becoming a better designer.