Can Workplace Digital Assistants Be More Than Shiny Objects?

After a completing a couple of research studies for business applications that incorporated a digital assistant, I’ve come to realize that the user base is quite different from the consumers that personal digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, etc. are marketed to. Consumers appreciate the user delight that these devices try to incorporate into their lives as well as their utility. However, when I interviewed people about incorporating using them in their business applications I got a completely different response—even though these same people use and enjoy digital assistants personally.

Upon further analyses, it turns out that perceived productivity gains or losses was the core issue for workplace acceptance. I found that perception differed between casual users, frequent users, and power users.

Frequency of use matters

Casual users of our applications appreciated that the digital assistant could help them perform infrequent tasks. These users felt like they had a productivity gain because they didn’t have to take the time to re-learn processes that they only do a few times a year.

On the flip-side, frequent users felt like the digital assistant would only slow them down. They have their tasks in the application practically embedded in their muscle memory. They get in, get it done, and get out and don’t want to be distracted by shiny objects. Frequent users perceive digital assistants as a potential productivity loss at this time.

Power users, like the captain of any Star Trek series, want to sit back and brainstorm with the digital assistant. They want to ask it to perform complex tasks that involve some forecasting trends so that they can make decisions. They also want it to search out search out all the relevant data and present it to them so they don’t have to waste their time manually searching archives. Not losing hours in searching for data is a huge productivity gain for power users.

In my studies, I found that the power users and casual users together were vastly outnumbered by the frequent users. So it seems that digital assistants have little perceived value to most of the user base to date. I think that this perception can be changed going forward.

Future State

In creating user experiences, it’s the UX team’s job to make sure each user type has the best experience we can provide. So before adding on the digital assistant feature to business applications, take the time to look at the needs of each user type. Figure out how it can add value for each of them or risk being dismissed as another shiny object.

The Curious Case of User Zero

I’ve often said that every research study reveals some hidden gem of understanding about the users — and, because I’m a total research geek, I call them Christmas presents. Earlier this year, I found a hidden gem of understanding that was comparable to a 6-year old getting a horse for Christmas!

The discovery of user zero read more

Virtual Design Wall: UX for the Product Team

What is a Virtual  Design Wall?

A virtual design wall is basically a UX intranet site where your product/project team can view all the UX deliverables. It can be as simple or complex as needed by the product owner and stakeholders.

My virtual design wall process evolved over four years. When I started working on the American Airline’s self-service kiosk (as a UX team of one), I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with the sheer volume of requests from my immediate and extended product team. The only reasonable way to deal with it was to make all my deliverables available on a UX intranet. It works so well that I’ve included that in my process since.

What to Include on Your Virtual Design Wall

  • Wireframes: Annotated Production Screenshots
  • Use Case Flows
  • End-to-end Screen Flows
  • Project-level Mockups (not in production yet)
  • Prototypes or links to Dev/QA environments
  • Links to business and/or development documentation
  • For an Agile team: links to the user stories
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    The “In a Perfect World” UX Mission Statement

    It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re wading through user research. The pain points, user personas, survey data, etc… can be shouting so loudly that you forget the point of it all. So I invented the “In A Perfect World” statement to bring it all home in my user research presentations.

    It’s very simple.

    “In a perfect world, this (project, software, feature set) would make the user feel (productive, accomplished, confident) because it (automates redundant tasks, quickly provides relevant data).” read more

    UPS Customer Service Channels: A CX Failure

    I’ve already covered this experience as a customer but now it’s time for me to step back and look at the situation as a user experience and usability professional. I’m usually on the user research and interaction design side of SAAS but the enterprise-level, systemic failure across all UPS customer service channels could not be ignored in this incident.

    Customer Service Failures

  • No attempt in the field to find the correct house after attempting delivery at the wrong house.
  • No follow through on commitment to call and reschedule delivery.
  • Customer service call center repeatedly gave the customer bad information that didn’t match what was actually happening according to the tracking information.
  • Recipient initiated contact through the email contact form on the UPS site and never received a response.
  • The UPS Store doesn’t have the complete history of the customer service contact and exacerbates the situation by refusing a refund.
  • read more