Surprised by Empathy
Show your customers you know what it is like to be your customer.
Table of Contents
I recently gave Paperlike a try, a screen cover for iPad that makes the screen feel more like paper. I’ve since become a big fan of Paperlike, not only because the screen cover works really well (which it does), but because of how carefully they thought through what it is like to be a customer.
In fact, the whole process was so well designed, it was like a master class in reassurance.
Reassurance #1: Ordering the right cover size
First, their website leaves nothing to chance. The order page offers a visual list of iPad sizes to help you pick the right cover.
And right within the same page is Paperlike’s shipping and refund information, quickly answering objections that might have made me hesitate. “What if it doesn’t fit properly?” “What if I accidentally ordered the wrong one after all?”
This is especially important when making a purchase from so far away. What could be worse than ordering something from Europe only to discover you can’t use the thing when it arrives?
Reassurance #2: Clear communication and expectations
Second, they communicated very clearly about how long it would take to arrive. I happened to place my order back when COVID was first rolling across the world, so I was impressed that they had so quickly adapted their shipping dates to account for over-taxed delivery systems. Rather than the “5-14 days” they normally estimate for Canada, they cautioned that delivery could take more than 3 weeks. Timely updates like this help me to trust a company’s communication when I can tell the information is current.
Plus, the tracking code for my order allowed me to keep an eye on things as it made its way across the world. Truth be told, I probably checked the shipping status a thousand times more than I needed to, but it was reassuring to have a tracking code nonetheless.
Reassurance #3: Well-written instructions
When it finally did arrive, I felt like I was 12 years old again, unboxing my first disc-man. I waited until I had a good chunk of uninterrupted time, and prepped my iPad for “surgery”. I laid out all the materials that came with the cover, and loaded up Paperlike’s installation video.
Everything was clearly marked and colour-coded, matching the video instructions perfectly. This kind of consistency removes the potential stress from the situation. I had invested weeks of anticipatory time and money into equipping my iPad for easier drawing and writing, so consistency between the company’s promise and my experience helped me to feel like “everything is going well.”
But then it was time to apply the cover, which brings us to #4:
Reassurance #4 (and the most significant one for me): Thinking through everything that might go wrong so that everything goes right
One of the last steps in installing the screen cover is to use a thin plastic card, like a credit card, to squeeze out the air bubbles that get trapped when applying the cover to the iPad’s screen.
I managed to get all the bubbles out, but then noticed with sinking realization: the card left crease marks all over the screen. In that moment, I was sure I had damaged the cover. Just moments away from being able to use it, I had ruined it.
Or so I thought.
Then I watched the last step of the installation guide. “Now peel back the protective sheet to reveal the cover itself, and you’re done!”
With great care I separated the sheet and gently peeled it away from the underlying cover.
Perfection. No crease marks. Just a clean, smooth, beautiful surface.
I can’t even tell you how relieved I felt. The cover costed only $60, but I had waited weeks for this moment. And I had high hopes for it, looking forward to writing more freely and working on some illustrations for a children’s book I have in the works.
This last little step removed the weight of doom I had felt after discovering the creases my bubble banishment had caused. In that moment, I could feel the careful planning that went into this product. I imagine the design team had tested the installation process hundreds of times, accounting for everything that might go wrong.
Maybe there was a time when they didn’t use a protective sheet and witnessed the damage a credit card could do. Then maybe they fabricated a plastic covering resilient enough to absorb the pressure of the card without leaving any marks on the cover beneath.
This type of careful planning made me feel cared about as a customer, and showed they were aware of the anxieties and stresses I might experience.
The Principles at Work
The reason Paperlike was able to provide such a good experience is that they had anticipated all the objections and pains that might arise throughout the entire customer experience.
- Objection: “I’m not sure I’m ordering the right one.”
- Solution: Design a simple, highly visual ordering process to help me make the right choice.
- Objection: “What if I accidentally order the wrong one? What if it doesn’t work the way I want it to?”
- Solution: Communicate information about shipping and refunds right there on the product page without interrupting or delaying my purchase.
- Objection: “What if it gets delayed, or something goes wrong as it passes through so many countries and traverses the ocean?”
- Solution: Provide a tracking code to allow me to see at a glance where it is right now.
- Objection: “What if I have difficulty installing the cover on my iPad?” And also, “WHAT IF I RUINED IT???”
- Solution: Prepare good instructions, and supply installation materials that match the instructions. And give thought to what it is like as a regular human to install an impossibly thin, sticky-sided sheet onto an expensive piece of equipment.
This is “user experience design” at its best. Not just “user interface design”, which takes only the digital interaction into account. In user experience design, the whole customer interaction is subject to design planning. It is important to recognize that the customer’s “journey” isn’t only digital.
My interaction with Paperlike was so positive because their attention extended beyond the purchase, right into the physical world as I awaited a delivery and handled installation with my own hands.
Whatever it is that you do for your customers, whether you sell digital or physical goods or do things for people in person or online, you will impress your customers if you can demonstrate that you understand what it is like to be your customer.
That is the essence of kind design.