Designing Hospitality into UX
If hospitality is about welcoming guests with warmth, much of the software created today feels like going through the TSA.
On a past vacation in San Juan, I was struck by how much hospitality I encountered, in spite of everything Puerto Rico had been through. And because I’m bad at vacationing, I thought a lot about software and how inhospitable it can be.
We’re forced to keep an eye on every checkbox to see if an app is going to steal our information, act as debugging wizards to work around broken functionality, and play detective just to find a phone number to call when all else fails.
“An agent makes things happen for others. A gatekeeper sets up barriers to keep people out.” — Danny Meyer, ‘Setting the Table’
I’ve always been fascinated by UX design, both good and bad. How does the user experience our service? At the end of the day, it’s the same question as anyone in the hospitality industry asks. As Marcela Sapone, Hello Alfred’s CEO, always asks: how do we build a foundation of trust?
Danny Meyer, founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group, declares that every interaction with a customer can be approached with one of two mindsets: as an Agent or a Gatekeeper. Agents let customers know they’ll do everything in their power to help them, that they’re on the customers’ side. Gatekeepers act in the interest of their business, trying to force or trick customers into acting against their own interests.
“Dark patterns” are designs intended to do just that, trick the user into doing something against their own interests or desires — like a page that has five download buttons, only one of which is the one you want. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to get people to do something they don’t quite understand when you’re optimizing for metrics. Maybe you default the “send me newsletter emails” checkbox to “yes.” You’ll get a big jump in conversions, but you’ve made your software less hospitable. You may get a boost in revenue by defaulting people to a recurring monthly fee without their active consent, but you are not acting as an Agent.
Makers of software have the power to act as representatives of their business to thousands of people at a time. We must, therefore, always act with the user’s best interests at heart.
When you ask them to take an action, make it clear what the effects will be. If they want to cancel an order, make it easy. In the long run, people recommend products they love to others. They’re much more likely to give you repeat business if they feel they’ve been treated with empathy and respect.
It’s also in the user’s best interest to write sound software. That should go without saying, but as a software engineer, I often wonder how people with no understanding of the inner working of apps manage to work through all the buggy programs out there. I have to force quit apps, reset cookies, try different browsers, pop open the developer console and hack away on a regular basis.
There’s just a lot of terrible software out there that make for a lot of equally terrible experiences. It’s code without empathy. We must do better. If something breaks, we should inform the user there was an error and allow them to continue in the best way possible. The quality of the product is part of the experience.
We must also always remember that software is just a facilitator between people. Whether it’s between a seller and a buyer, two dating prospects, or a tax preparer and an anxious taxpayer, software is a tool, not a replacement, for human interaction. Providing good support from real humans is the last line to make sure the user has a good experience. Software will never get it 100% right — humans are, after all, underrated.