A simple heuristic for improving user journeys – model them as conversations

Job application forms that start with ‘Why do you want to work at Company’ are like expecting a marriage proposal as soon as I’ve swiped right

Can we at least have a conversation first? Get to know each other a bit?

Lolz on LinkedIn

I made a quip on LinkedIn about how presumptuous it feels for a job application to start by asking my to say why I want to work at the company. I’m not sure I do want to work with you! Until I’ve spoken to you and heard about what you want from the role, how you work, what your ambitions are etc. I don’t have enough information to know if I want to work for you. A job description doesn’t do that.

Asking this question up front annoys me and is hard for me to answer so I’m less likely to complete the application. It also makes me feel the company is arrogant so if I do apply they have more work to convince me the company has a great culture. In short it’s a bad experience.

But this isn’t just a grumble about bad recruitment forms. But it reminded me of a good a good principle for quickly assessing any transactional digital interaction – imagine the interaction as a conversation between two people. If any part of the conversation feels awkward you’re probably designing a bad experience for your customers. Rewriting the conversation to avoids the awkwardness will make it clear how you can improve the journey to create a better experience.

Lets try two versions of a conversation for the form that annoyed me:

The original –

Candidate: “Hi, nice to meet you!”
Company: “Why do you want to work for us?”
Candidate: “Umm…”

An improved conversation –

Candidate: “Hi, nice to meet you!”
Company: “You too. Let’s get to know each other – we’ve told you a bit about the role, can you tell us about some experience that makes you a good fit?”
Candidate: “Sure”*

You know that type of person that only asks questions about themselves? You don’t want to be friends with them right? So don’t design your journeys as if you’re that person. But that friend that always has time for you and when you talk they listen deeply and ask sensitive insightful questions? Be that person in your use journeys, your customers will be happy.

*Of course even in the improved conversation the candidate is probably thinking “I’ve put it all in my CV and portfolio, what makes you so special anyway”, it can be taken further but at least it’s now a polite conversation.

A real-life example

Years ago I was working for a large Internet Service Provider designing the user journey for their first automated home moving journey. This is a critical moment for customer retention; they’ve just moved house so it’s a natural break point, an easy time for them to try a new service. But it’s also a natural upgrade point; the customers are excited about their lovely new home—perhaps they’ve treated themselves to a bigger TV and want faster internet to stream all that 4k goodness. Or their family is growing and they need more internet as well as more space.

So it could go either way. The big question was “How and where do we upsell without reducing conversion?” It’s a relatively complex journey but we can simplify by imagining the journey as conversations. Compare these two options:

Option 1 –

Customer: I’ve moved house
Company: Nice! We can help you with that, but first do you want to buy faster internet and a TV sports package?
Customer: I just need internet, I don’t have it at the new house
Company: How about a discount on that faster internet?
Customer: No.
Company: Ok, if you really don’t want anything I’ll let you have internet at your new house.
Customer: That’s all I wanted

Option 2 –

Customer: I’ve moved house
Company: Nice! Let’s get you set up with internet so you can relax. What’s your address?
Customer: Here you go
Company: Perfect, that’s all done for you.
Customer: That was quick! Thanks.
Company: No worries. By the way, you can get faster internet in your new area, are you interested?
Customer: Yeah, tell me more. Now I’ve got the internet sorted I’m relaxed and have space to think about other things.

I’m not going to win any Oscars for screenwriting, the writing is hackneyed and my biases are showing. But that’s not the point. In about 2 minutes I’ve sketched two very different approaches to a relatively complex journey. Which company do you want to be ‘friends’ with more? Option 2 treats the customer how a person would want to be treated, by having a normal, polite conversation – it’s a much better place to start designing a user journey from.

Option two – the ‘polite conversation’ meets the customer’s primary need first and then moves on to upselling after conversion. This makes total sense as the customer has an urgent and clear need, once this need is met they are relaxed and can start to think about other things.

The result: The new automated homemove journey increased the basic conversion AND improved upsell conversion. #WINNING

This increase wasn’t because of using this technique, but modelling different version of the user journmey as conversations allowed us to illustrate and assess different option super quickly and help us decide the experience principles that lead to the successful design.