When we were approached by Black Rifle Coffee Company and asked to help design their next generation digital user experience, we jumped at the chance. But did we underestimate what we were getting ourselves into?
Although Black Rifle Coffee Company sells coffee through distribution, and it is establishing a U.S. national store presence, over 80% of its revenue is through on-line coffee sales, mostly on a subscription basis they call the “Coffee Club.” Being a mostly on-line subscription business means their two key focusses are customer acquisition and customer retention, both of which were to be the focus (and measure) of our efforts. So where do we start?
‘Surfing’ with Intent
In the early ‘90s, when the World Wide Web was getting started, the term “surf the web” was coined to explain the behavior of visitors exploring the Internet. While this term is still somewhat used today, it no longer accurately represents how people use the internet.
Website visitors today are digitally interacting with intent. And that intent has become increasingly varied as the application of the technology has expanded. For example, visitors often seek knowledge or information; other times they seek entertainment such as music, videos, or gambling. Perhaps visitors want to communicate or interact socially, or perhaps perform a transaction such as making a reservation. These digital interactions replace what would have previously occurred “in real life.”
In the case of Black Rifle’s online presence, digital visitors want to understand what products are available, want help in choosing a product that is right for them, and perhaps want to order a sample to try out. Customers might want to try different coffees, or they may want to establish or update a subscription (or even gift one).
All these experiences have one thing in common: they are intentional, and the visitor is expecting to achieve a specific outcome.
Once we understand that each visitor to our site is focused on task completion, we can create a digital user experience that helps them achieve their specific goal. Ultimately, a website should aim to provide an interface design that enhances the user experience by efficiently moving the user through the journey to complete their goal.
Understanding the visitor’s intent can be nuanced. In the case of Black Rifle, the difficulty of managing the subscription (e.g., pausing deliveries while on vacation) might encourage customers to simply cancel their subscription with the intent to re-start it later. The risk to Black Rifle, of course, is that there is a chance they won’t ever resume their service later.
Now, let’s take a closer look at optimizing these crucial elements: user experience, digital experience, interface design, and user journey.
What is user experience?
Broadly speaking, user experience refers to how users experience a brand as they interact with it. In the case of digital experience, it refers to the feelings and experience the user has when interacting with the brand’s digital properties and content (e.g., website, mobile app, social media, etc.).
What makes a great digital experience?
The method by which the user experience is delivered is the interface itself. That means the design, performance, and mechanical functioning of the interface are all important in providing an optimal user experience. A great digital experience helps users achieve their goals without frustration or confusion.
Let’s look back to the Black Rifle example above. Some might argue that making cancellation difficult will result in higher subscriber retention, since subscribers can’t easily cancel their membership. However, this move risks alienating the customer (which is never good, even if they do intend to cancel). Instead, when the customer commences a subscription cancellation, we can provide them with alternative options such as “pause.” Customers tend to appreciate flexibility and customization options.
Remember, the goal is to help the user complete a specific task. The design, performance, and function of the interface should all work together holistically to make that task easier for the user to complete.
User Interface Design
Getting the interface design optimized is critical. Through its design we impact the subtle, intangible ways people feel about the brand as well as the tangible ability for the visitor to complete their intended task. Good design interface is an opportunity for branding as much as it is an opportunity to help users achieve their goals.
The design of the interface should reflect the aesthetic of the brand (color palette, typography, iconography, layout) which helps reinforce the alignment and leaves the visitor with a sense that the brand is pervasive, clear, and trustworthy. The design also needs to reflect the values of the brand. For example, Amazon has a very simple and clear brand, so the design of amazon.com is intentionally utilitarian with higher concentrations of information and offers that are surfaced more intentionally. The site isn’t overly complicated or “tricky,” which aligns with Amazon visitors’ values: product affordability, comprehensive product ranges, and simplicity of purchase and delivery. Tiffany & Co., on the other hand, provides high end jewelry so utilizes video to immerse the visitor in the luxury experience of the brand before even surfacing product or offers.
Good design can’t just simply look good – it must also be easily usable. Like physical interactions, digital interactions are increasingly expected to be inclusive and legally compliant, such as with ADA requirements. Design, therefore, needs to be easily readable with adequate text contrast for visually impaired visitors. The controls on the page, the buttons, the links, and any other interactive components need to be obvious to locate and easy to interact with. A convenient layout with intuitive controls and adequate spacing helps all users quickly understand the content and interact as needed.
The User Journey
So far we’ve explained the importance of a digital interface that helps users complete their tasks. Now let’s dive into the method by which a visitor completes a task, known as the user journey.
Clearly, good design can make or break the success of a user’s journey. If they can’t find where they need to go to complete their task, they may get frustrated and abandon it. If they find it difficult to read the content on the interface, they may not be able to find the information they need.
Ensuring a logical navigation by placing popular pages more centrally is vital to help visitors task complete more intuitively, more quickly, and with as few “clicks” (or “touches” for mobile) as possible. While we can use historical information such as behavior analytics to map out popular pages or links, one central problem remains: we know our product or service better than the visitor ever will. That knowledge tends to drive assumptions around how visitors will behave or what a user is expecting. Unfortunately, those assumptions don’t always match reality. Since we can’t accurately predict every possible user journey, it’s important to provide multiple navigation methods to ensure that even those journeys we don’t anticipate are successful.
That said, visitors may not always know specifically what they are looking for or there may be additional opportunities to provide visitors with “offers” to help give them choices. As Steve Jobs said about product development: “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.” The same is true for a digital experience and represents both a need and an opportunity for providing an optimal experience for the user.
The Mission for Black Rifle’s Coffee Club
In the case of Black Rifle, our first step was to understand all the aspects of the business model and to then provide a more standardized site architecture (e.g., to standardize the language of subscription as the Coffee Club, to centralize where customers manage their subscriptions to one location, to declutter and standardize the design).
As mentioned earlier, Black Rifle’s need to increase customer acquisition and reduce customer churn (subscription churn) is a central goal.
To improve acquisition, our design needed to improve where offers were made, incorporate elements into the coffee product pages (such as tasting notes to improve product affinity and incentives such as Coffee Club benefits over single purchase). We had to design an improved coffee quiz to account for varied tastes and help connect the customer to a preferred tasting product.
To improve retention, we needed to implement an easier subscription management portal and an improved and better integrated loyalty program. We needed to enable customers to relate to the company’s mission of supporting military veterans through methods such as gifting subscriptions as well as discounts for veterans and active service members.
Whether you need a sophisticated eCommerce site like Black Rifle Coffee Company or to design a simple informational website, the same design principles apply. Understand your audience and their needs and expectations, then design for clarity and brand alignment, but most importantly, to help the user complete their journey.