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Capturing Customer Context for Cross-Channel Experiences by Cheryl Platz "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 5 February 2021 True customer experience, multimodal design, Premium Content, Product Design, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 639 Product Management 2.556
· 3 minute read

Capturing Customer Context for Cross-Channel Experiences by Cheryl Platz

In this November 2020 #mtpcon Digital session, Cheryl Platz, a multimodal design expert and author of Design Beyond Devices, shares a framework for capturing customer context and deepening your understanding of customers inspired by her time in improvisational theatre.

Cheryl gets us thinking about the answers to questions such as:

  • Is your customer experience straining at the seams?
  • Have your customers moved from office to home, and your company’s charter along with it?

Designing for the next generation of experiences, she explains, requires deepening your understanding of your customer context – you need to be able to ask the right questions and set yourself up for success.

Watch the session in full or read on for the highlights.

Understanding Communication Modalities

As Cheryl explains, our customers have five senses and a small universe of devices, so why don’t we design for all of them? The mode in which our customers access our content is increasingly out of our control, so it requires us to be more flexible when we design products. Our instinct to seek a winner – like designing for mobile first for example – misses the point, there is no one true interface and most of the devices that customers use are multimodal, supporting voice, touch, and so on.

A multimodal interaction then, is an exchange between a human and a device where multiple input and output modalities may be used simultaneously or sequentially depending on context and preference. So people may choose to move from a desktop to a smart speaker, or choose to speak to Cortana when previously they typed.

There are five communication modalities – visual, auditory, haptic, kinetic, and ambient – and while we’re all working with the first three when designing products, the latter two will become increasingly important.

Cheryl says that by plotting information density and proximity on a quadrant, you can place all customer experiences in one of four categories.

These categories are as follows:

Anchored, experiences with rich physical presence where the customer is nearby, such as Fire TV, Xbox;

Adaptive, experiences that support close proximity and long-range interaction, such as Google Nest Hub;

Direct, where customer and device are in direct contact, such as a Fitbit;

Intangible, which is a hands-free experience where close proximity to the device is not required, such as Google Home.

Cheryl notes that she hasn’t listed smartphones in any of these quadrants because they’re “chameleons” and difficult to classify.

The CROW Framework

You must also understand your customers’ context in order to understand which interaction makes the most sense for them, and Cheryl provides a useful framework for this. It’s called CROW and is taken from improv comedy classes. Cheryl provides a full explanation of the framework in the video but a brief outline is given below.

Character, what defines your customers? They’re defined by their attributes, attitudes, and choices.

Relationships, what connects your customer? The closer you are to someone or something the more likely you are to get emotional about it.  Relationships may be human to device, human to business, or human to human.

Objective, what drives your customers? Don’t obstruct their objective, timing and context matter.

Where, where will your customer be when you want to interact with them?

Cheryl then talks about activity models and patterns and illustrates this with the example of the questions she used to define activity patterns for Alexa Notifications.

In order to flesh out a cross-channel strategy you also need to have a device and transition strategy, a proactivity strategy, and a user data strategy, Cheryl says. “The same system that powers your website today can be extended to power a whole constellation of multimodal experiences,” says Cheryl, “meet your customers where they are by understanding their context and supporting the modalities and devices they need.”


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