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Experience Design: Walk-a-mile immersion

by Foolproof Team
9th January 2013

An often underutilised method in experience design is ‘walk-a-mile immersion’: literally putting yourself in the shoes and mind-set of your customers and experiencing things from their perspective, as an insider.

Existing in a number of different guises – ‘empathy tools’, ‘simulation’, ‘mystery shopping’ or ‘cognitive walkthrough’ – this tool is really just about emulating and suffering the true journey that a customer goes through.

When ‘walk-a-mile-immersion’ is best

Use this approach when you want to:

  • Develop first-hand knowledge of an experience.
  • Take a step back and challenge assumptions.
  • Build a shared and aligned understanding within and between teams.
  • Communicate ‘the now’ to stakeholders.
Why this can hold serious benefits

Having recently conducted this type of research for a number of clients at Foolproof I’ve been reminded of the real power and insight that first-hand experience can have.

There is nothing quite like experiencing something personally to help to expose the cracks and inconsistencies in a user journey, identify potential drop off points, frustrations, confusions and time or effort-intensive processes. It also helps to understand how your customers will perceive and respond to your customer experience on a rational and emotional level.

For example, we recently reviewed an end-end product application and activation process. By immersing ourselves in the process from a user’s perspective we uncovered a number of inconsistencies in the messaging, inappropriate communications, an overwhelming volume of communications (7 letters and 20 different documents), time consuming forms, inadequate or buried information plus a number of other break points at each service touch-point. This all contributed to a frustrating and disjointed experience which would have been difficult to uncover if we hadn’t put ourselves into the shoes of the consumer.

When to use it

Compared to usability testing, this approach works particularly well as a tool to evaluate experiences which are:

  • Cross-channel: for end-to-end customer experiences across multiple channels and touch-points. By identifying the critical incidents in the journey that contribute to success, failure, satisfaction or frustration we can build a solid understanding of where the links in the journey are missing or broken and the experience is enhanced or tainted.
  • Longitudinal: if your customer journey spans a period of time, for example on-boarding new customers or making a product purchase. Running through any time lapses in the journey in real-time, rather than simulating them in a lab context through user testing, means that the true ‘forgetting curve’ is experienced. This is useful for any journey that requires the user to retrieve or retain information for later use as well as understanding how experience and perceptions change over time.
  • Real-life: being outside of the lab means that the complexities of everyday life are taken into account, including any out-of-the ordinary situations / worst case scenarios. What if that essential confirmation email is sent to the users’ junk mail? Or if your login credentials get eaten by the dog?
The process of ‘walk-a-mile immersion’

You can approach this task using a range of techniques depending on the objective, including:

  • Conducting an end-to-end simulation of the journey through the eyes of two or more UX consultants who are aligned to the product personas or target customers.
  • One consultant conducting a cognitive walkthrough of the process through the eyes of your various user personas.
  • Recruiting a handful of real customers to walk through the mystery customer exercise and record their experiences in a carefully prepared probe pack/diary; logging their journey, key activities, time taken, feelings and emotions and taking photo/video where possible.
Points to remember

To conduct this approach effectively:

  • Ensure that the journey is evaluated through multiple eyes: different customers see the world through a different lens and may even follow a different path on a complex journey with multiple entry points.
  • Ensure the consultants conducting the review are naïve to the product or service and have no prior brand exposure or allegiance that may bias their experience.
  • Be objective and focus on the big picture. This is not the right exercise for picking up small, detail oriented usability issues (we’d recommend an expert review or depth interviews). This activity is more valuable to identify the higher level, systemic issues for a product or service at a brand level.

Depending on the product or service and objectives of the project, walk-a-mile immersion can lead onto a range of outputs: from customer experience journeys to emotional or pain point maps, to customer stories in storyboard or video format.

If the objective is to engage stakeholders, we find storytelling to be the most powerful approach, constructing a narrative around the current customer experience to engender empathy and understanding.

An informed understanding of the current state of play is a logical starting point for many UX strategy programmes, helping to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current end-to-end reality and flowing logically into future customer experience visioning activities.

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