Monday, September 29, 2008

User (Fan) Experience

Q. What better time to start yakking into the blogosphere than after an inspirational event like the Austin City Limits music festival?
A. None.

Why? More important than it being an itch to be scratched, it's relevance. In this day and age when experience and design are buzzwords and sometimes actually paid attention to, attending the ACL fest gave me a clear example of the power of user desire.

If you've never attended an outdoor festival, then, if you can, think of a sweltering summer camp and add 60,000 people in the area of a golf course and dust in biblical proportions. And for those of you of a certain age, add more walking than your knees are happy with and those "crazy kids" that don't seem to give a damn about stepping on your toes or blocking your view. Sound miserable? Until Thursday, I would have agreed with you.

Oh, but what an experience! Acts I never had gotten to see, acts I hadn't known I wanted to see, the energy of 40,000 people singing the same song, a dragonfly buzzing through a milling crowd, crying from the sheer joy of a song sprung heartfelt from two people playing simple instruments. Oh, what an experience!

The man rambles, you might say. But here is the matter. We weigh what we are willing to tolerate for a desired experience. Sometimes a great deal of hardship, of many kinds, is worth what we gain. For me, three days of heat and dust and rudeness disappears in the revel of three days of transcendent music, old and new. And I thank my wife for it. And the artists and festival organizers, too. They all offered me a gain far greater than the cost.

So here is the lesson. In my area of telephone interaction (particularly speech recognition-based), we wonder why callers don't embrace our offering more eagerly. It's because what we are offering, or enabling, is frequently a lesser gain than the cost. The pain of dealing with the interfaces we often create is much larger than the reward of reaching the goal of their call. Why would they want to deal with navigation and frustration and wasted time? Not only are we not giving them what they think is their preferred method, but we give them an avenue that they can't figure out. What's not to hate?

If the festival had offered mediocre bands, or didn't have every little detail well-organized, and my presence hadn't been organized by my wife, then today I would be a very unhappy man. But instead I revel in the memory of Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and Alison Kraus harmonizing and finding a new (to me) band like Delta Spirit, heat, dust, jerks, be damned. And I am a happy fan, a happy customer, a happy user.

Someday, we and our direct customers, in this field, will learn how to make gain bigger than the cost.

- pnl