What would reality do?

I like to think of software as a person in a service conversation with the user. The user would be a teenage girl ordering concert tickets or a hung over dad figuring out how to turn on his phone. But the software would always be a professional.

Even better, the software acts and makes decisions as if it were among the world’s best in what it is doing. Why shouldn’t it? As interaction designers, we spend hours preparing for a simple five minute conversation.
One way to apply this could be imagining a conversation between this, the software persona, and a user.

Like users get personas, the application should have one, too

If the software persona is a business professional, try a five-star hotel concierge. If he is so smooth in his service, so polite in his behavior and so smart in his mind, what would he say when the user forgets their password or tries to buy 120 Harry Potter books?

– I’ll take 120 copies
– I must inform you that you are buying 120 copies of the same title, sir. Most of our customers buy just one. Are you sure?

Most web 2.0 software personas seem to be surfers in part time jobs, and that’s fine, because most people love relaxed Californians (or at least people from California do).

– I’ll take 120 copies
– Dude, that’s a lot of books! It’ll take you years to finish them, and you’ll know the ending, man. Are you really really sure?

Both software personas seem credible and like someone you’d trust to help you.

– I’ll take 120 copies
– No.

Not very polite, but could work. Consider this one:

– I’ll take 120 copies
– Okay. Your order will be processed like any other order placed on the web. An RFC 822 compliant email will be sent to you shortly. Our fulfilment team will then immediately begin your order. Please be aware that your order contains one or more items or a count of the same item that will delay your order.

(Talking of ”are you sure”, how many times do you hear that question in the supermarket, when removing stuff from your cart?)

Finding inspiration in call center agents

It might be an interesting exercise trying to imagine your software as an 800 customer service number (as long as you pick one known for its high level of service)

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was on a call center software project, and a part of the research we had in our back pockets showed that these call center agents were true experts.

Service as an instinct

They knew several 300-page catalogs by heart. They knew what color went with what pair of what kind of clothes. When testing our design, we found that they did this without paying attention to it. They serviced the faux caller – being the test facilitator – as efficient as they would any other customer. They even tried to upsell him. My guess is that they didn’t know how not to.

Then why should our software? How would these extremely routined and professional agents handle your users after 10 years of experience and quarterly performance reviews?