Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Putting users first

SMS Haircut Reminders

My hairdresser, The Green Room, recently took an innovative step forwards; it now texts customers a reminder the day before their appointment. It struck me that this is a very smart move on their part, and a great example of how listening to your users - in this case people coming for haircuts - can not only improve their experience of your product but also help your business.

I chatted to Scott, the manager, about the process. He'd mentioned that they were having lots of problems with people not turning up for appointments. This was causing an impact to his business because those slots were lost business - which could not be refilled at such short notice. Also it meant that staff would have nothing to do during those slots.

Having chatted to some customers about this he had established that often people just completely forget - especially as appointments are often made weeks in advance. It's something about the busy lives we all lead these days - it's so easy to forget things like this if, like a large proportion of the population, you are not ultra-organised. I'm fairly organised and I managed to forget one once - even though I had it on my calendar.

So having worked out that really people just needed a reminder, he took the really simple step of buying a pay-as-you-go phone with a £15 per month unlimited text bundle, and having his staff text all of tomorrow's customers each morning. The cost of the phone & texts is neglible - and the time taken by staff is easy to cover.

As a result, he has noticed a 50% reduction in no-shows - which not only helps avoid any business impact and improves staff morale - but also is a real benefit to customers. I find it great peace of mind knowing I'll get that reminder - and it's just one small thing that acts as a differentiator for them from other competing hairdressers.

The lesson is clear: Listen to your customers, understand their problems, and think of ways to solve them that your business at the same time.

Earlier this year, I attended HCI2008, the Human-Computer Interaction conference, in Liverpool, and learnt all about User Interviewing and User Persona Creation. Personas are essentially fictional characters that you create to represent your users - and you use them as a means to drive the software design and development processes.

What's interesting is that it's not about asking users what they think of your solution or your ideas for features - it's about understanding users' goals, motivations and mental models, to equip you to make better design decisions.

It sounds such an obvious idea really, but it's amazing how many software companies do not routinely have these sorts of conversations with their customers. So I'm starting an initiative in my department at work to interview some of our customers and generate some personas. Once we're done, I'll blog here about how it goes.