Have you ever taken a shortcut on your way to work? Maybe you were running late and cut across the grass to get to the office. Over time, your footprints, joined by others, create well-worn pathways. Architects and software developers call these pathways desire lines. These lines can lead you to your customer’s heart ‒ if you only let them. And that’s exactly what user experience (UX) designer, researcher and blogger Anton Nikolov would like product designers to do. “How many times have you seen users going all around the interface and never click the button that was supposed to lead them to the same page?” Nikolov wrote in Design Principle: The Power of Desire Lines; Let your user show you the path. “I have, many times during my user testing, due to inappropriate placement, layout, copy text or hierarchy. The problem with not observing the desire lines is that you will end up doing designer-centered design.”
Noting that most small-business owners didn’t go to marketing school, Womply Inc. CEO Cory Capoccia said, “Observing is good and leading is better. The best way to cater to customers’ needs is to stay a step ahead of them by anticipating where they want to go.” He added they may collect business cards in fishbowls or launch one-size-fits-all email blasts without tailoring their marketing to each individual customer; however, advanced technology can help them do a better job of finding customers and building relationships with them.
For example, Capoccia, stated, “Merchants can use quantitative and qualitative data to better understand customers and anticipate their needs. They can automate that archaic fishbowl concept by building out their CRM to find their customers and send them the right messages at the right times.”
In his book, The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge, journalist, columnist and author Doc Searls depicts a new economy in which consumers freely express desires, providing better information and sparing merchants from guessing about what they might want. He envisions an interactive marketplace where consumers and vendors communicate in nuanced, sophisticated ways as relationships between customers and vendors become more voluntary and less coercive.
In a May 2012 interview with Fast Company journalist Drake Baer, Searls said free agent customers do more than just accumulate points and buy things. “They have signals, they have intelligence, they have all kinds of things they can bring that you’re ignoring right now because you’re running closed systems in which you know almost nothing about them,” he stated. Searls accurately predicted that migrating from an attention to intention economy would not be easy or smooth, because traditional models are heavily entrenched in our lives and workplaces. He saw a need for open ecosystems that help customers control their data. “We need more investors to look and say, ‘What are you guys doing for customers? What are you doing to help customers and sellers come together? What are you doing to help build relationships?'” he said.
Collecting email addresses may be a natural part of the online checkout process, but ecommerce merchants are still daunted by incomplete transactions. Independent research firm Statista found shopping cart abandonment rates are trending higher worldwide, increasing by 10 percent between January and August 2017. “During the observed period, it was found that 77.3 percent of online retail orders were abandoned,” researchers wrote.
In an earlier ecommerce study that measured the period between 2016 and 2017, Statista found high shipping costs to be a leading factor in shopping cart abandonment. They reported the primary reasons shoppers gave for leaving the checkout experience before completing purchases. They are listed in order of ranking, as follows:
Nikolov would see value in Statista’s analysis, because he believes we can learn from these indicators. He advocates using advanced analytics to observe how users interact with products. “Heatmaps, cookie tracking and in general any analytical tools that are gathering tracking data can be used to discover patterns and desire lines,” he wrote.
Nikolov described desire lines as a universal design principle that demonstrates human behavior but falls short of explaining it. He urged designers to dig deeper by looking for patterns and talking to users. Try to understand how users interact and why they do it; be “one of the great designers” who puts in the extra hours to understand the users’ needs, he advised.
When merchant level salespeople (MLSs) think about what their customers want, do they ever consider their customer’s customers ‒ including themselves? We may be ISOs, acquirers, third-party service providers or feet on the street, but we are also consumers. And we interact with small business owners every day. A visit to a doctor, bowling alley or auto shop can provide a firsthand view of a business, its challenges and opportunities. Inevitably, MLSs will find pain points and areas of friction. “It’s critical to unlock those areas and bring solutions that drive the deeper groove,” Capoccia said. “Just as water always finds the lowest spot, areas with the least amount of friction provide the best result.”
Capoccia also pointed out that it’s natural for service providers to be obsessed with the customers and industries they support. He suggested using advanced analytics, data science and net promoter scores ‒ augmented by frontline support interactions via phone, live chat and text ‒ to follow customers and identify blocks that prevent them from accessing products and services. “But it can’t stop with understanding our customers,” he said. “We have to understand their customers, too.”
As odd as it may seem, the most direct path to understanding your customers and their desires may begin and end with you. If you want to be more intuitive, Capoccia recommends observing your own behavior. What is your experience when you transact online, in a store or at a doctor’s office? What would make it better? “Your desire lines can bridge the gap between your merchants and their customers,” he said. “And each time we solve for a small business owner, we automatically create a better customer experience for ourselves as consumers.”
Dale S. Laszig, Senior Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.