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28Mar13

Moving to Mainstream Spotify: Can They Regain Their Edge with Music Lovers?

Posted by Laurel Tripp 06:57 No Comments

The new Spotify ad to air on TV during "The Voice" Monday night is a part of a larger campaign meant to create a visceral connection between consumers and the Spotify brand. Spotify's need: increase active users to close the gap between themselves and Pandora (who has close to three times the amount of active users as Spotify). Their solution: increase awareness of the product to millions of potential listeners and differentiate in the crowded field of streaming music services by convincing music lovers that Spotify is "for music".

In other words, increase customer acquisition through an emotional connection.

This foray into traditional media is an interesting tack for a company so entrenched in new media, particularly social. Perhaps the new campaign will work. But the key to the long-term business success of these types of services lies in the true connections they create with their customers, not something created through a Madison Avenue campaign designed, tested, and executed to be "moving".

A Music Service Music Lovers Love(d)
Spotify started off as the the service with the best user experience (don't take my word for it; this is from the mouths of all my UX friends). Spotify loyalists could list out what makes it so great:

• The interface is more intuitive than Pandora.
• It is integrated with music you already have.
• It has a better algorithm for serving you music you'll like.
• It's just beautifully designed. It is Swedish, after all.

The original loyalists spent hours customizing their experience in Spotify, creating and tweaking playlists. They evangelized the service as they talked about it in real life and through their online social networks. As something that defines who we are, music (and the music service that supports it) is inherently sharable. As such, Spotify spread like wildfire, albeit in limited circles.

Facebook is for Customer Acquisition
The relationship between Facebook and Spotify seems to be a natural extension of music lovers wanting to share. But Spotify is in Facebook's bed to acquire customers, plain and simple. And it's affective. After the 2011 ability to publish Spotify listening activity on Facebook, the number of active users skyrocketed.

We've all seen this type of thing in our Facebook feeds...

• "So and so just ran 2.3 miles with Nike+."
• "So and so just played some silly game for the last 7 hours when I should have been working.
• "So and so just listened to these songs on Spotify."

spotify_feed.png

The beauty of the Spotify notification is that you can play the same music that your friend is listening to - which is awesome when your friend is really good at uncovering hidden musical gems. But the catch is that you have to download the Spotify app to listen.

use_spotify.png

Bam! They got you. And once you start listening, that will post to Facebook and the cycle continues. Brilliant execution of Customer Acquisition: 101.

Facebook is NOT for Customer Satisfaction
But this acquisition strategy occasionally comes at the cost of the good user experience consumers have come to expect from Spotify. Certainly, if I'm a music buff, I want to share the new, independent band that I'm listening to (Facebook is for showing off after all). However, if I'm listening to Neil Diamond, I might want to keep that to myself.

This happened recently to a coworker here at HYDRANT (not the Neil Diamond part, but the inadvertent broadcasting of Spotify on Facebook). When he found out, he tried to disconnect the Facebook and Spotify relationship. In the process, he lost all of the playlists that he'd painstakingly created over the last few years.

What?!? You can't just transfer your account to an email? Nope, you have to delete your account and start a new one. Spotify is basically telling their loyal music lovers, "That'll show you! Don't stand in the way of our brilliant acquisition strategy! Muuuhaha!!!"

Rekindling the Love
Customer acquisition shouldn't feel like being held hostage. Considering the inherently social aspects of music, consumers need to love the service, not feel like they have no other choice. There are too many other options and consumers are too fickle for Spotify to continue to rely on this strategy. This is the predicament of an acquisition strategy that comes in direct conflict with user experience (and, by extension, their retention strategy).

Perhaps this is where the new ad campaign fits in: generating that old feeling of love of music.

But I fear this may simply reflect that they can't maintain the user experience that the original customers to Spotify loved so much. Instead of being "for music" they should be "for music lovers". And to do that they need to return their focus to the experience their users have with their product.

4Sep12

A Customer Experience Destroyed: The Merger

Posted by Alder Yarrow 03:22 No Comments


Corporate mergers represent some of the most difficult and complex actions undertaken in today's marketplace.  The bigger the companies involved, the more epic and convoluted the gyrations required to fuse cultures, balance sheets, operations, business processes, and brands.

Unfortunately, with the focus on all the complexities involved, not to mention the immense costs of such operations and the negotiations involved between the two parties, the customer experience can suffer as other aspects of business are moved to the forefront.

In recent memory I've had the opportunity to witness two massive mergers, and their impacts on the customer experience, simply because I was the customer in question for both.

WaMu > Chase
When HYDRANT chose Washington Mutual as our business banking partner, we did so, in part, because of the customer experience they offered.  Phones were answered by real people, their branches were pleasant to visit, and mercifully un-corporate in both their architecture and culture. The web site, in particular, was generally very well designed, and quite usable. While we didn't always get perfect service from the company, we did always feel like we were dealing with human beings in a setting that empowered them, and empowered us as customers.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, WaMu was snapped up by J.P. Morgan Chase, and the decision was made to retire the Washington Mutual brand.

Following the merger, I supremely regret not photographing the remarkable evolution of our local WaMu branch as a case study in how to obliterate a brand and everything it stood for.  While it may be somewhat clich├ęd to talk about a corporate giant 
The Washington Mutual logo prior to its acquis...

Every week or two I would stop by my branch to find something changed.  First it was the removal of the WaMu logos.  Then the multicolored pendant lights were swapped out for blue. Then the carpets went to at monotonous gray. Then the walls were repainted and the open plan teller stations were replaced with an utterly traditional bank of tellers hidden behind a long counter. Then they were further separated from customers by two inches of bulletproof glass.

Around about this time I started to receive calls from chipper and overly friendly "business banking specialists" who always claimed to have enjoyed meeting me the other day (even though they hadn't) and looking to build a relationship with me, a valued business customer.  I still get calls of this sort every six to eight months, as that is about when my local branch seems to get a brand new business banking representative.  In the branch, genuinely friendly faces in casual clothing were replaced by suit-wearing folks who were clearly following the corporate guidelines to greet all customers who walk in the door, and say "Thanks!" to everyone leaving.

During this time, of course, the WaMu website disappeared, to be replaced by Chase.Com. From a technological perspective, this transition took place incredibly smoothly, with no loss of data, functionality, or downtime -- a truly remarkable feat of system and data migration.  Of course, since then I've been stuck using a functional site that can do most of what I want, but a site that is horribly designed and riddled with usability issues (a redesign is in the works, and has been for more than a year).  The site, too, both in its experience as well as the brand it conveys, has lost an elegance and a humanity that it once had.

So why haven't we switched banks? Two simple reasons: we're not aware of someplace that offers all the services we want at a better experience and a better price (devil we know versus the one we don't); and secondly that switching banks is such a phenomenal pain in the rear that we can't be bothered.

These two reasons probably keep many customers appearing "loyal" to executives who read the reports on churn in their customer base following such a merger and sigh with relief.  But that doesn't mean that all is well. It merely means that customers remain satisfied.  But satisfaction is no longer the standard for customer experience.  It hasn't been for at least two decades.

Continental > United
I've been a loyal United Airlines customer for my entire life.  I got a frequent flyer number when I was just a child, and accrued 
This is the new United Airlines Logo that will...

Experiencing the merger of Continental Airlines and United as both a customer and a customer experience expert has been fascinating.  From a purely operational and business process standpoint, the merger has gone fairly smoothly. By smoothly, I mean that in the past 18 months of traveling, I have experienced very little interruption to the basic service that I expect from the airline: flights that go where I want them to, when I want them to, without losing my luggage along the way. Just as with Chase's subsuming of the WaMu experience, the basic nuts and bolts of the operations have continued. This fact no doubt represents a herculean amount of effort from the companies involved, and they should be commended for a job well done.

But just as with the Chase merger, the way that the brand experience has been handled can only be characterized as atrocious. 

Starting with the choice to literally merge the two companies' logos (the Continental globe and the United type treatment) the customer experience and brand expression of the company feels like it was cobbled together through contract negotiations.  You can almost imagine the discussion in the board room as the two companies worked through things.  OK, we'll get rid of the "U" logo and add your wireframe globe, but we're keeping the type (equally as bad a job as the new Microsoft logo, which has been catching flak this month). We'll keep our mileage plus program name, but we'll use your membership numbers. We'll take these pages from your web site, and merge them with ours.

The results have been almost laughable.  The United web site went from being one of the best in the business to having some of the worst usability of any airline web site I've ever used. The design language seems to change from one page to another, as it appears that literally entire sections of the United web site were replaced with the corresponding pages from Continental. The site's home page, for instance retains the old United.Com navigation bar, while the content underneath has clearly been pulled from the continental web site.  I count at least 15 different variations in typeface on the home page.

But it's not just the web site. All sorts of things have changed for me as a customer, and very few for the better.  Merging two of the world's largest air carriers and all their customers must, of course, necessitate some change.  But as humans, we don't like change.  Even changes for the better rattle us, as pretty much every major e-commerce redesign in history has proven (conversion rates and customer feedback often see a brief dip as people get used to the new site).  

But despite taking into account my own primal reactions to change, things with this new merged customer experience aren't just different, they're worse.  After buying a plane ticket online I now get twice as many e-mails with half as much of the information I need in them. The confirmation of my ticket purchase doesn't actually include the flight times or flight numbers.  I have to wait for a completely separate e-mail to arrive that has that info in it. Dozens of equally small aspects of the way I interact with my airline have changed, adding up to a simple result: dealing with my airline of choice has become more difficult, and more unpleasant, especially in an age where I am encouraged and even required to process my relationship with the company online.

The Danger of Mergers
Very few mergers leave customers feeling cared for and more confident of the combined entity. The reasons are obvious -- companies focus on the core business aspects of the merger rather than the "finer points" -- but to the customer, those finer points matter a lot. Because of the disruption inherent in such large corporate pivots, it can be all too easy for executives to chalk up rockier relations with customers to the overall turmoil of the process, rather than something that could have been avoided.  That turmoil can also mask the true damage that the experience can produce in customer trust, confidence, and loyalty.


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16Apr12

The New Mohawk, Brought to You by HYDRANT

Posted by Alder Yarrow 12:23 No Comments

mohawkconnects.png

The new www.mohawkconnects.com web site went live for the public today. The official press releases will hit the wires tomorrow, but we're excited to share the news. Mohawk is America's largest privately own manufacturer of fine paper, envelopes, and digital substrates for the high-end commercial printing business.

This new web site represents the consolidation and rationalization of many separate sites that were once part of Mohawk's web ecosystem, as well as a complete redesign from a look and feel perspective.  The new site's launch corresponds with a rebranding -- the changing of the company name from "Mohawk Fine Papers" to simply "Mohawk" and the rollout of a new identity by Pentagram.

We'll post the press release and talk more about the project in the coming days.



26Mar12

How Bad is Today's Web User Experience?

Posted by Alder Yarrow 04:12 No Comments

Depends on who you ask.  But according to Forrester Research, pretty bad. They've just completed their 1500th web user experience review (a service you have to pay them for).  They started doing these reviews back in the late 90s, but that's still a lot of sites to review.
The jaw dropping statistic that everyone is talking about, though is that of the 1500 sites they reviewed, only 45 got a 

There are a few things required to put this into perspective, however.  The first is that, to my knowledge, Forrester doesn't 
Image representing Forrester Research as depic...

Image via CrunchBase


Do you think you could come up with a 25-point scorecard for web site user experience that would be nearly impossible for most companies to pass?  It would be easy.  You'd simply have to have a bunch of criteria like "must have the corporate phone number on the home page." While lots of companies might provide information or features on their site that would accommodate the user need behind your criteria, they wouldn't pass your checklist.

Having not seen Forrester's exact methodology, of course it's hard to say just how strict or rigid these criteria are. Some of the ones they mention, such as legibility, type size, links to privacy and security policies, run the gamut between incredibly specific, and quite subjective. What Forrester will tell us is that the average score that those 1500 web sites achieved was a dismal 1.1 points (out of a possible 50).

Leaving aside the obvious PR benefit of being the keepers of an incredibly high standard for web site user experience and being able to make announcements like the one they just did, the question that remains is whether or not only 3% of commercial web sites actually do offer an acceptable/passable/usable experience.

Anecdotally, our experience with our clients and prospective clients (which probably number in the high hundreds at this point) suggests that while Forrester's numbers might be a bit extreme, they're not too far off.  We might put the number of passable online user experiences at somewhere between 10 and 15%.

And the number of truly great online user experiences? Well, they are rare indeed.  

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21Mar12

As Seen on the Interwebs...

Posted by Matthew 01:58 No Comments

One of the most challenging (and one of my favorite) aspects of being an interaction designer is the rapid pace in which design research, design methodology and the design field as a whole can change almost seasonally. Having been in the software industry for more than 76 tech dog years (about 15 human years), a lot has changed, and more changes are coming. I'm excited about the potential and direction of interactive designs as it is used in the following projects.

Each of these sites uses fairly high-end functionality that is mainly found only in a full PC.  Although you'll be able to view them on your iPhones and iPads, you won't get the full experience.


Using the concepts of responsive web, HTML 5 and CSS3, the New Zealand tourism site is a fantastic example of what is possible as we move into the next generation of interactive design.  Immersing users into the full experience with your product, in this case the beautiful landscape of New Zealand, a fantastic experience is created as you navigate vertically through the landing page.   The experience compliments the navigation and draws the user into the site.  Measured against traditional usability standards I could probably identify a number of issues, however aside from some scroll lag, most issues take a backseat to the unique experience provided.  My guess is that the overall stickiness factor of the site is extremely high.  

The indie group named Arcade Fire has an interesting site for their song Sprawl 2.  To appreciate the full potential of this experience you should try and view it with a computer that has a web cam.

The trick here is that the characters in the music video respond to your movement as it is picked up in the computer's camera (e.g. you dancing along to the song) The implementation is still primitive, especially when you compare it to something like the Xbox Kinect but the concept behind it is impressive.  Using tools that many people already have in their possession it may become more commonplace to interact with your software in the future by gesturing and looking instead of using a mouse and keyboard as we do today.

This simple comparison slider has been used for years now and for the most part has been utilized by news outlets for various "before and after" stories but it also surfaces in a few gaming applications. 

The concept is simple enough but incredibly powerful. Within the space of a single image, users use a slider to compare to images.  The potential for this in consumer and retail applications is huge. Before long we will see this ported over to mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad if it hasn't been done so already.

As I mentioned, these sites are best viewed on a full PC. I'm sure you'll see these and more patterns emerge on mobile platforms as designers and developers utilize more and more HTML5 capabilities.

There are no shortage of new and innovative design patterns on the horizon that will change the way we view and interact with an ever increasing amount of information that is available to us. This is true especially as we see increased influence from mobile devices and their design paradigms on the now "ordinary" PC experience. 

6Oct11

RIP Steve Jobs

Posted by Alder Yarrow 11:30 No Comments

apple_silhouette.jpg
Steve Jobs changed my life.  At the age of 12, I was a skinny, awkward pre-teen with a single mother, living in a trailer park and shopping for my clothes at a thrift store.  I had better grades than friends, and my idea of a good time was curling up on the couch with a science fiction book.

And then, in what retrospectively is clearly a staggeringly generous gesture, a boyfriend of my mother's bought me an Apple IIe computer.  

The worlds that opened up to me through that machine seem prosaic, even charmingly quaint, today -- Compuserve, Wizardry, Zork, Logo, The Oregon Trail -- but they completely redefined me as a person and literally changed the way I thought, and still do think.  My abilities, such as they are, to grasp and operate in the virtual world of computing technology, from things as simple as understanding computing logic and using a mouse, to the more complex understanding of what changes computers have wrought on global markets that lie at the heart of what my company offers, all lead back to those early moments with that big beige box on my desk.

Today, of course, my livelihood, my career, and some elements of my personal identity are completely dependent upon the vision of Steve Jobs and the company he founded, steered, and inspired.  While it would be possible for HYDRANT to do our work and be successful without anything made by Apple Computer, we wouldn't do it nearly as well.

Jobs almost singlehandedly brought good user experience and UI design to popular acclaim, not only because of the insane popularity and sales of Apple products, but because of the benchmark they continue to set in the industry for ease of use combined with beauty.

At 56 years old, Steve Jobs was far too young to leave his family behind, and far too young in his career. He changed the world in innumerable ways. It boggles the mind to think what he might have done given another 20 years.  

Goodbye Steve. You will be sorely missed.


About the image: this riff on the apple logo was designed by a teenage design student in Hong Kong, and went viral last night for obvious reasons. 

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13Sep11

The Painful Truth: Most Customer Experiences Suck

Posted by Alder Yarrow 09:47 No Comments

Most customer experiences suck. They really do.  We all intuitively know this as consumers, and it's even more true in the business to business world.  It's particularly bad in the area of Financial Services, as pointed out so aptly in this post by Andrew McAfee of the MIT Sloan School of Business.

McAfee relates an incident with his credit card company that will bring sighs of commiseration and nods of recognition from anyone who's old enough to have encountered the world of Financial Services. 

I continually marvel at not only how bad these customer experiences are, but also how much they end up costing companies to perpetuate.  My favorite punching bag as of late is my bank, Chase, who continually sends me (no doubt expensive to produce and mail) marketing pieces about how I should consider Chase for a home loan.  Of course, it just so happens that I already have my home loan with Chase.

And if the banks and credit card companies are bad, the insurance companies are even worse.  In this day and age, my personal insurance company web site is completely unusable from a Macintosh computer, which means I am completely unable to pay my bill online, which means the company will continue to incur the costs of mailing me bills, and processing the checks that I send back to them until they fix the problem.

McAfee wonders "aloud" at when a financial services company is actually going to realize the competitive advantage of getting the customer experience right the first time.  It's a good question, especially considering that there's such a low bar for success.

HYDRANT was founded on the notion that customer experience could be a powerful source of competitive differentiation in the marketplace, and as McAfee has pointed out, that may be more true in the Financial Services industry than anywhere else.
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16Mar11

Customer Experience Observed #003

Posted by Bob Skubic 06:17 No Comments

In-N-Out Burger (Millbrae)

Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr

The Hidden Menu

In-n-Out Burger has a beautifully simple menu on the surface. Burgers, Fries, Soda & Milkshakes and that is it. Or is it? That is what is on the board when you drive up or stop in and makes for a great first experience. Not overloaded with choices that paralyze you (how can a fast food place be good at all those things?). But In-n-Out also has taken into account the repeat user with their secret menu, which in many ways, is a shortcut for your order. For example, ask for your burger "animal style" and you get buns with mustard grilled in and grilled onions. This secret menu not only saves you time, but opens up a whole series of options. You can get a 4X4 (instead of their famous Double Double) - 4 pieces of meat and cheese (and pretty much as many levels as meat and cheese as you want). You can get a wish burger - two pieces of bread, sauce, lettuce, tomato and you wish you had some meat and my current favorite is to order a neopolitan shake where they mix the vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Luckily there is not an In-n-Out that is close to HYDRANT, but I think I might stop on my way home today.

Takeaway
So is your first impression overwhelming? What do you offer for your repeat, and very often devoted, customers to speed them through your experience?
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15Feb11

Customer Experience Observed #002

Posted by Bob Skubic 06:28 No Comments

IMG_1203.jpgCaring about coffee.
I really like coffee, I give it up for a bit each year, but its something that I enjoy on a daily basis. It is also something that has become just a habit to many of us and we lose the nuance of what makes good cup of coffee. It is all to easy to pop into any coffee shop near by that can make any dozen of candy coffee drinks for you, but if you really want the coffee experience shouldn't you find a place that really likes making it for you?

For me there is a place right out the door and around the corner from HYDRANT that shows they care. First, they know my name when I walk in. Second, they make each cup one at a time--sure, it takes longer, but it tastes better and feels a bit more personal. Third, their barista's are machine-like. In particular, one barista uses the same technique each time, from the way he adds the coffee, tamps the coffee and then twirls off the excess. You know each time that it will be as good as the last. To finish it off he adds his bit of coffee art (as any self- respecting barista will do) no pump and dump of the milk here. Each time the milk is smooth, silky and rich with the right coffee to milk to foam ratio. 

My rules of thumb for the best coffee experience:
    1. Do they know your name? (no writing it on a cup)
    2. Are there more than six coffee options? (not counting different beans)
    3. Do they show attention to detail? (one cup at a time or coffee art ornamentation)
For me the extra wait, quality and care is definitely worth it as it gives me a little extra spring in my step. Though, I must admit that sometimes I need to grab and go and there are plenty of places than can do that for you on every corner.

Takeaway
What do you offer your customer that wants a richer, more personal experience?
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12Jan11

Why Search is Still the Killer App

Posted by Alder Yarrow 06:30 No Comments

The Web may be "dead," though given that you're probably reading this in some sort of web browser, the reports of its demise may be greatly exaggerated, but no matter what, search continues to be the killer app for navigating the internet.  And of course, when it comes to search, Google still reigns supreme.

I spotted another example of just how powerful Google is this afternoon.  I'm not sure how long this feature has been incorporated into their map search results, but it is perfectly, simply, brilliant.  Click image to enlarge.

google_hotel.jpg

The thing to pay attention to are the "check in" and "check out" fields in the left column, as well as the prices next to the map search results below them.

Here's the use case.  I'm staying in New York in a couple of weeks.  For reasons I won't get into here, I have to switch hotels for the last night of my stay.  But I didn't want to move to another neighborhood.  So my first question to be answered was, "what other hotels are near mine?"  The best way I knew to answer that question was the "search nearby" function of Google Maps, which I use all the time.

What I was EXPECTING to do, was simply find which hotels were close, then pop open a new browser window, and go to Expedia, or Kayak, or one of those sites; enter the city and date I needed a hotel room; and then browse through the results until I found a hotel that was priced in the range I wanted, and was also close to my original hotel.

Google has eliminated the need for those last two steps, and probably saved me several minutes with this new feature, however.  They not only show me which hotels are close to my original hotel, but also which ones have availability, and how much the room is per night.   

All I had to do was click on the price, which produced a dropdown with links to Expedia, Orbitz, and several other travel sites, and with one click I was on the page that would have taken me four or five clicks to get to had I just started with one of those travel sites alone.

This is not merely an example of the power of search, though. It's an example of the match (in the case of Google) and mismatch (in the case of every other travel web site on the internet) of functionality to the mental model of the user.  My primary orientation in this situation was finding a hotel near a specific address, something that the map based interface was ideal for accomplishing.

Google was able to provide me with functionality that matched my orientation, which made me do less work, and that made for a fabulous experience.

And because they're smart, they probably have figured out a way to get a referral fee out of the deal, so they're profiting from solving a basic information seeking problem in an elegant and efficient way.  Search is still the killer app.

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7Jan11

Customer Experience Design for The Smart Grid

Posted by Alder Yarrow 02:16 No Comments

Image representing Silver Spring Networks as d...

Image via CrunchBase

Short of taxes, few things confound consumers more than understanding their electricity bills.  Rate plans, kilowatt hours, baseloads, and bizarre incremental billing cycles, not to mention the regular lack of information about how and when we use our electricity all contribute to the near-impossibility of answering basic questions like "why did my bill go up?" or "how can I save more money?"

In 2011 these questions are going to get a lot easier to answer for thousands of consumers around the country, as utilities customers of Silver Spring Networks roll out an application called CustomerIQ, which HYDRANT designed for Silver Spring Networks.

Silver Spring Networks provides the hardware and software infrastructure that runs what is commonly known as the Smart Grid: the combination of so called Smart Meters, the transmission protocols which send data from those meters back to utilities, and then the storage and processing of that information behind the scenes.  This information is used by utilities to better plan their power capacity to both improve overall performance of the electricity grid (avoiding brown outs, etc.) and figure out ways to make power for themselves, and by extension, their customers.  

The fancy industry term for this sort of activity is Demand Response, and it basically involves providing better information to consumers so they can modify their behaviors to save money, while at the same time smoothing out the curves in demand for power, the spiky bits of which tend to make for black outs and high rates for everyone.

Silver Spring Networks came to HYDRANT in 2010, and asked for our help to redesign their CustomerIQ application, which is part of a suite of applications that utilities can purchase along with the hardware that Silver Spring Networks provides.

CustomerIQ provides utility customers with unprecedented visibility into how, when, and why they use electricity, how that usage contributes to their bills, and what the environmental impact of that usage is.  It also helps to answer some of the most basic questions that are generally impossible for most consumers to find out.  

Here's what the dashboard that we designed for them looks like:

02_my_report_wfpSSN.png

As you can see, we've taken a very user-centric approach to the interface, trying to answer the most important and common questions that utility customers have right off the bat, and then providing calls to action for users to find out more, or to make changes.

Conveying to customers the real impact of their energy use, both as an individual household as well as in comparison with their neighbors or community was also important.

The application, announced in October, received a limited rollout to beta customers in 2010, and will be in use by tens of thousands of consumers in the first part of 2011.

The anecdotal feedback from utilities, their customers, and the government energy policy analysts that have seen the application is overwhelmingly positive.

We're thrilled with the work we did for Silver Spring Networks, especially when we think of all the power customers who will now have easy ways to figure out how to understand why they're paying what they are for electricity, and how to pay less.

Learn more about Silver Spring Networks.
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30Nov10

Google Makes Good Design Matter Even More

Posted by Alder Yarrow 08:01 No Comments

How important is a well designed internet presence?  Depends on who you ask, of course.  Ask anyone who makes their living doing design and they'll have a strongly biased view for you.  But just about everyone would acknowledge that the way a web site looks has some impact on its viewers, even usability issues aside.

If we assume that is true, then the way your web site looks just got a whole lot more important, thanks to the folks that are the defacto gateway to everything on the internet.  Google recently changed the way their search results work, and included a new feature called "preview" which shows you what the web site looks like before you get there:

google_preview.jpg

It's not easy to tell what's going on in a web site just from the small thumbnail that google provides, but it is very easy to make a snap judgement about whether it looks like a reputable, professional, engaging, fun, interesting, you-fill-in-the-blank-here web site.  And that, of course, is all that matters.  Given the split second decisions that people make when deciding what Google search result to click first, you have an instant to make your first impression and now its all the more important that it be a good one.


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10Aug10

Customer Experience Trumps Content

Posted by Alder Yarrow 12:19 No Comments

The folks over at Mashable.Com recently published an article (picked up by the Inc Magazine blog, where we spotted it), about the future of online content. The main gist of the article? Content isn't king, user experience is.

"The old debate about what is more valuable -- content or distribution -- doesn't capture the whole picture because it's the user experience that counts" writes author Jon Goldman. He uses the American recording industry as an example of how content alone isn't enough to sustain the industry in today's global marketplace.

While the struggles of the recording industry are due to some more fundamental issues with the marketplace than simply the lack of a good user experience, Goldman's core point about customer experience trumping content is an important one.

We like to say that customer experience is the ultimate differentiator in today's global marketplace.  Got a special widget? Within 6 months your competitors can have that same widget.  Are you in a certain geography that your competitors aren't or open a few more hours?  That won't last long.  Most of the traditional means of competitive differentiation in the marketplace are easily competed away these days (hardcore intellectual property notwithstanding).

A great customer experience, on the other hand is much more difficult to compete away.  Why? Well in part it's because great customer experiences are really hard to build, especially for big, established companies.  If they were easy to create, then there would be a lot more of them out there, and we wouldn't be so wowed when companies like Apple, Virgin Airlines, and Washington Mutual Bank (may they rest in post-merger peace), come up with really good ones.

Producing a great customer experience (especially if you're an established company that has historically had an ordinary one)  involves significant changes to many parts of the organization, starting at the rock bottom of the company culture.

Customer experience is becoming important, not only because of its value as a competitive differentiator, but also because as our lives become more digital, in many cases that experience is the product we are buying.  When everything is bits and bytes, at the end of the day all we have is the experience of consuming or manipulating those pieces of data. 

Read the full article at Mashable. 
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26Jul10

Webroot 2011 Wins PC Magazine Editor's Choice

Posted by Alder Yarrow 01:50 No Comments

wav_screenshot.jpgWe're thrilled to announce that our client Webroot has received 4.5 Stars out of 5 and the coveted Editors Choice award for their 2011 Webroot Antivirus with Spysweeper product, which sports a HYDRANT designed user interface.  The WAV 2011 was the only product to win this award this year, meaning that according to PC Magazine, it is the single best stand-alone antivirus software on the market.

The review, by Neil Rubenking, calls it "stunning" and praises the simple, intuitive interface, the fact that the software does most things for you, and the overall aesthetic of the software:

The new edition's user interface has been redesigned with a strong emphasis on simplicity. On-screen elements slide into place rather than snapping open a new view. If the product is performing perfectly, the main screen is a serene green with minimal detail. A gray screen with a yellow warning icon indicates the configuration isn't quite optimal--automatic scanning is turned off, for example, or a full scan has never been performed. A real problem--such as having real-time protection components disabled--turns the main screen scary red, but also offers a big "Fix Now" button to correct the error. Yes, other products use same green/yellow/red status scheme, but Webroot has kicked it up a notch, aesthetically speaking.

We conducted extensive usability tests with our Webroot partners to ensure that we were indeed simplifying the user experience. Our goal was to try to make a piece of software that never required any configuration by most users, and that would give them a clear sense of confidence when things were good, and easy ways to fix issues when things were dicey. Our testing made us confident in our approach, and we're thrilled that Rubenking has concurred.

Perhaps more importantly, all our work on the front end of the experience was backed up by superb efforts on the engineering team to make the antivirus, antispyware, and malware engine as good as it could possibly be.

When we started working with Webroot more than a year ago, we were impressed with the way the company had taken on the challenge of making customer experience a differentiator in a crowded commoditized marketplace, and we're ever so proud to see the first piece of those efforts hitting the market with such acclaim.

Read the full review in PC Magazine.

28Jun10

Fixing the "On Hold" Experience

Posted by Alder Yarrow 06:20 No Comments

lucyphone-logo.pngFile this one under, "Now why didn't I think of that?"

According to a recent article in the NY Times, one of the things that consumers hate most is being on hold for a long time.

Enter LucyPhone.Com.  Type in the number of the company you're trying to reach, and then your phone number.  LucyPhone calls you back and connects you to the company.  Once you've gone through the phone tree, you type a code and then hang up.  When a real human being picks up, LucyPhone calls you back.  No more sitting on hold listening to early 80's Muzak.

Brilliant customer experience.

Read the full article.

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