Imagine two people walking into a mobile phone showroom and purchasing the same phone model at the same time. If we get to meet these two people after a couple of days, there would be nothing common in their newly purchased phones. Each person would have a different ring tone, different set of apps installed, different wallpaper, different everything!

Human tastes and preferences vary widely from person to person. Factors like gender, age, geographical location, language contribute to this. When it comes to designing a user interface for software applications, this variance in people’s preferences poses a huge challenge. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work.

The moment we talk about maximising the user experience with a software product, there are 3 words that do the rounds — customization, personalization, contextualization. Rather big sounding words, but aren’t they talking about the same thing? In general customization and personalization are loosely interchangeable, and customization is a broader concept encapsulating personalization. However, when it comes to user experience, customization refers to giving control to the user and personalization refers to giving control to the software.

Customization — As a user of a software User Interface, if I move around the widgets, change the settings and theme to suit my preference, that’s customization.

Personalization — If the software picks up my preferences from my past behavior, user profile and adjusts the UI automatically, that’s personalization.

Contextualization — This isn’t about the individual user, it’s only about picking up cues about my context, nothing personal. Things like whether I am a first time user, am I using a phone or PC to access the software, am I connected through Wi-Fi or a weak mobile network, these define the context.

There’s nothing much the software can do to encourage or inhibit user customization. Just a good modular user interface design will do. It’s the other two words that matter more to a software product maker and marketer. Those are the powerful tools available to gently nudge a user towards higher product engagement.

As per the Adobe Quarterly Digital Intelligence Survey published in 2016 and subsequent years, the top most digital related priority for software product companies was “Targeting and Personalization” (leading with 31% respondents). This finding perfectly complements the survey result taken from the client’s perspective. The clients of these companies have rated on top “Making our experience as personalised and relevant as possible” (leading with 27% respondents).

The product adoption process

A user’s engagement with a product that is the product adoption process, can be divided into definite stages as shown in the image below:

It’s important to tune the UI smartly to hand-hold the user through the product adoption journey. There are potential exit points at each stage as seen above, and they need to be analysed and plugged. That’s where personalization and customization play a critical role.

Apxor - Product Adoption Process
Product Adoption Process

Let’s enumerate some instances in the user journey to reiterate this point.

Dos:

Take special care of the new user:

If the user has just downloaded your software product, the first few tasks accomplished on your UI are critical. They must be perfectly suited to a novice user. Let the user accomplish easy victories with the right prompts and nudges. For instance, a food delivery app realised that many first time users drop out as soon as they see an elaborate sign up process. The man is hungry, give him some food first, don’t expect him to spend 15 minutes sharing his life story with you! The way out was by-passing user registration and allowing him to continue as a guest, with only minimal inputs.

Apxor - Ease of Checkout
Ease of Checkout

Understand of users’ need for privacy:

Blatantly quoting past user actions such as a purchase made or payment default is alright for a B2B product. A salesperson would need to know the customer record on a CRM page. But for a sensitive end-user customer, excessive personalization is intrusive. Appropriate contextual nudges may suit better. A physical fitness app reminding a user everyday how much weight he/she has gained is definitely annoying. Show a reminder alert for a Gym session or a salad meal instead!

Apxor - Calorie Adjustment in Fitness App
Calorie Adjustment in Fitness App

Don’ts:

Be insensitive to the user’s social context:

For instance, if a prepaid mobile service app keeps prompting “Recharge / disconnection reminders” even after the customer does a recharge, it’s really annoying. It implies distrust and lack of commitment towards the user. More importantly, the app is wasting precious screen space by displaying something totally unwanted to the user, and that’s a big No-No.

Apxor - Unwanted Recharge Messages
Unwanted Recharge Messages

Show the negative lists:

A regular purchaser of an online grocery would expect the frequently purchased items displayed more promptly in the UI. That’s obvious. What’s not obvious is the negative list — If the buyer never purchases meat or liquor and there are prompts for these items too, you are earning no favours from him/her!

Apxor - Grocery App Showing Recommendations from the Negative List
Grocery App Showing Recommendations from the Negative List

See how your home feed optimization can help in early user activation.

Tools for aiding UI personalization

Fine-tuning the UI to optimise the user journey is like a shot in the dark if you are not equipped with appropriate data about the user’s past actions. That’s where an analytics tool like Apxor could prove invaluable.

  • You could first collect customer metrics about each user’s engagement
  • Then segment the user and analyse his behaviour
  • Run contextual walkthroughs to on-board the user with minimum effort
  • Create user behaviour cues for deeper insight
  • Generate correlated event logs to build a complete user persona
  • Finally, you can create appropriate actions to plug the leaks and user exit points. Or nudge the user towards a desired usage path
  • Evaluate the improvement in user engagement and see which are the campaigns that work best

Taking the online grocery app example forward, let’s see how the use of a product intelligence platform like Apxor could enhance the user experience. Firstly Apxor would help collect usage metrics about me (as a user) — how often do I purchase, for what amount, my frequent purchases and so on. This would help to segment me as a regular, frequent, infrequent or first time user. For new users, the onboarding process is greatly assisted with contextual walkthroughs. Click here to learn the art of perfect onboarding.

If I get stuck frequently at payments stage, a context specific walkthrough could help navigate from ‘adding to cart’ to ‘making the payment’. Using the analytics features, a periodic review of my engagement with the app will then give greater insights and scope for improvement.

Delivering user experience perfectly tuned to suit an individual user is a sure way of gaining high customer engagement with a product or app. No wonder companies all over the world are calling user personalization their top most priority!