What My Rescue Dog Taught Me About User Experience
How taking my older rescue dog on walks caused me to think about user experience and how to improve it.
"Why is that dog attached to a leash?"
These were the first words out of my husband's (then boyfriend) mouth one sunny June afternoon when I asked him to come meet me for a beer after the Hood River Farmers' Market. It was my week to run our booth at the farmers' market and I had sold out of our vegetables, loaves of bread and cheeses, and also managed to pick up a rescue dog from Baja, Mexico — all within about 2.5 hours!
Usually, I would just load up the truck with the tables, tent and various supplies and head home, but this week was different.
She was a mangy mutt. Seriously, she had mange when I agreed to give her a good home on the farm, and the poor thing would eat anything she could find along the sidewalk back to the truck, including a cigarette butt and a piece of trash. I don't know what she went through those first few months of her life, but I think it was pretty traumatic.
Ironically, her name was Chula, which means "cute" in Spanish, and she was an amazing dog for the 12 years that she was with us. She would pull the leash when she couldn't see our kids on a hike; she would come find me when I was crying in secret (usually in my closet) after my parents died; and she would not leave my side until I gave birth to my son at home at 3:24 a.m. She was incredible and, sadly, we said goodbye to her in February 2021 after she had a stroke.
So what does this street dog from Mexico have to do with user experience?
Well, she hated other dogs. Like, a lot. Again, I'm not sure what she went through in those first few months, but it must have been bad because anytime she came near another dog, she would try to attack it. Every. Single. Time.
In her last year of life, I took her on some walks in areas that were leash only because I knew that she would be ok if others were on a leash and didn't run up to her. Even in her old age, her hackles would still go up anytime a loose dog would run up to us.
I will never take my dog to a leash-only area and let them off — even if every dog I owned after Chula was the nicest dog on the planet. But other dog owners didn't always share that perspective, and they would let their dogs off leash despite the leash-only signs. Unfortunately, I stopped going to those areas because each experience was not what I expected, and it wasn't worth the stress.
Please know that I'm not throwing shade at other dog owners; this was just my experience, and it actually taught me so much because I would have never thought of things this way unless I experienced it.
User experience is not about us
When a potential customer finds your business, whether it's through your website, social media, email marketing or any other marketing vehicle, you want it to be a great experience. It should be smooth, pleasant and simple. Don't underestimate the simplicity in an experience.
What are they searching for? How do you meet the needs that they require? How can you get what they're looking for to them in the quickest and most pleasant way?
As business owners, we often set things up in our business in a way that is familiar to us and assume that is what people want … but it might not be.
We have to step outside of ourselves and our business and think about what they want and need. And honestly, consumers expect an amazing user experience. It's not an option anymore; it's a necessity.
In my experience with Chula, I realized that we need to think about what others are going through. Before having an aggressive dog, I would have never thought twice about letting my dog run up to other dogs, even if they were on a leash, because I didn't even think about the possibility of aggression. In a business sense, I would have never thought about creating an automated sequence that generates a meeting link, sends an instructional PDF and creates a calendar invite all at once until I experienced it via a colleague. I loved it so much that I decided to adapt it to my needs, and I get compliments on it all the time!
When you think about your potential and current customers, are you thinking of what you already know or are you creating new possibilities that they aren't even aware of yet? Create those and they will return again and again!
User experience is not just your website
User experience includes all aspects of the user's interaction with the company, its services and its products.
Oftentimes when we hear the term "user experience," there's the assumption that it only has to do with a website experience, but it's truly an omnichannel experience in today's world. There are countless places consumers can enter the orbit of your business and many touchpoints along the way to nurture them. Are they all connected?
It could be how you automate appointments via Calendly that integrates with your website and Zoom. It could be how you add your RSS podcast feed to Facebook so your followers can listen on the platform. It could be how a customer finds your business on Google Maps, visits your store and has a delightful experience.
Marketing in today's busy digital world can be overwhelming, so it's important to have your foundation in place so you don't waste your marketing time and energy.
Because of Chula's personality, it wasn't just hiking that was problematic for her. There was a common thread that stretched across different activities that we, unfortunately, couldn't do with her: trick or treating, eating out at breweries and visiting dog parks. Similarly, user experience encompasses your entire brand experience, not just one area. Aim for a seamless experience across channels, and customers will tell their friends about your business!
How to create a great user experience
First, think about your potential and current customers — really think about what they want and need. Sometimes they don't know what they need — how can you give it to them anyway?
Are you delivering that to them across channels? Schedule some time in your calendar to review your goals, buyer persona and messaging and how those relate to all the marketing activities you are currently implementing.
This would include your website, social-media marketing, email marketing, content creation, search-engine optimization, PPC, print marketing, networking and any other marketing activities. Remember to remove yourself, your opinions and your business when you do this.
Then, ask a long-time customer (that you know well) what he or she thinks of your user experience. Depending on what you're currently doing, this could be looking at your website, Googling some keyword phrases you're trying to rank for, opting into a lead magnet funnel or visiting your social-media profiles. What do they see? What do they like? What don't they like? Do they have any feedback?
If you don't have any long-time customers just yet, that's ok! You can ask a trusted colleague, family member or friend (or all).
From there, you can start addressing these issues. Create a list of everything that needs to be done, then start prioritizing them — don't try to tackle them all at once. Research ways to automate certain tasks.
So, long story short, try to think about how your potential (and current!) customers would want to interact with and engage with your business.
How do you want their experience to be? What can you improve to make it even better? Are there aspects that have been overlooked by accident? Have you reviewed all your marketing channels to make sure they flow and are working properly?
Just as I learned from Chula, there are things that we don't even think about until we experience them for ourselves. So, don't forget to put yourself in your customer's shoes!
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