user experience

The ingredients of Good Experience

New York Hairdresser

I’ve been fortunate enough, in the past week, to be the recipient of excellent user experience in the ‘real world’. It’s got me to thinking – are there some key ingredients that constitute a good experience and how might they translate into work we do online?

It all started last Thursday night when I braved the cold, wet weather (no, I’m not in London yet… Sydney is just doing a good job of preparing me for it!) and headed out to visit my hairdresser for the last time. (*sob*)

A client/hairdresser relationship is an exercise in extreme user experience. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who is ambivalent about her hairdresser. She has either found one she *loves* or she’s on the hunt for one to love. It’s a trust thing.

Of course, the number one criteria that a hairdresser must meet is that they must be able to do hair in a way that pleases the client. (It’s important to note that this does not necessarily mean that they do hair well, or tastefully… that’s all too subjective, and people want to do some crazy stuff with their hair).

I like how my hairdresser does my hair. He knows that I don’t spend much time maintaining it, so makes sure it pretty much does itself in the morning. I know he’s good at his job, so I don’t tell him what I want, I ask him what he thinks I should do.

He’s earned my trust by plying his trade well, but he does even more than that.

My hairdresser makes me feel like I’m a really valued customer. He does this in a couple of key ways. Firstly, when I’m there, he looks after me (and I should say, it’s not just him, it’s his entire team, they’re all great). He makes sure I’m comfortable, that I have a drink (wine? champagne? a coffee? what would you prefer?), he has good magazines, he checks in on me regularly when I’m waiting for my colour to do whatever it does in that 20 minutes.

The thing that really astounds me though is that he remembers me. He remembers little details of our conversation from six weeks before, and what’s going on in my life. If I was going on holidays between appointments, how my work was going last time. He remembers my husband’s name and where I live. (does this sound creepy? I can imagine how it might sound creepy, but as part of the ‘user experience’ it’s great!).

This is what I’ve learned this week. The essential ingredients of good experience: do what you do do well, boy (I can’t resist a country music reference), and show me that you care about me (and a musical theatre reference… these ingredients are now officially unforgettable, by me, at least!)

Do what you do do well, boy.

To get real customer love, you need to do whatever you do brilliantly. You can’t just do the job. Good enough is not good enough. You need to sparkle. You need to impress. And you need to make it look easy (for you, and for the customer/user).

Show me (that you care about me)

What makes the different between people who are really good at their work and people who create amazing user experiences is caring (or, at least, being very good at creating the perception of caring). Things like the glass of wine, the regular checking in to see that I’m ok, remembering conversations… (or whatever equivalents work in the situation you’re thinking of now) all of these things combine to make a customer feel really valued. Customers like that. They keep coming back and they tell their friends. All of this is very good for business.

When I went shopping for a camera the other week, I went to a few different shops.

  1. Big name store. The guy who served me really seemed to want to look after me. He offered me a $30 discount on an external hard drive I was going to buy with out me even asking. Unfortunately, he didn’t know much about cameras… except the one he’d bought 4yrs ago and had at home.
  2. Specialist camera store. Knew lots about cameras. Really didn’t want to spend time with me.
  3. Music discount store that I didn’t even know sold cameras. Knew *lots* about cameras. Really looked after me – both pricewise, and also answering all my annoying questions, asking lots of questions of me so that he really understood what I needed (and compared that to what I thought I wanted).

Guess where I bought my camera.

What does this mean for a ‘digital’ user experience?

Good enough isn’t good enough. You need to make the user experience ‘sparkle’. Spend time on the details, really think it through. Talk to your users and understand them. Test your work and refine it. Make it purr.


Find ways that you can ‘look after’ your customers. How can you do the equivalent to the glass of wine, the checking to see that your user is doing ok, the remembering of past conversations. But, don’t take this too literally! Every project will have very different opportunities to better look after users. We need to remember though that every ‘statistic’ that interacts with our interface is like a customer on a chair in a salon. We have the opportunity to make their experience with us amazing, or we can give them the Price Cuts equivalent. I know what I aspire to.

So, and if you’re in Sydney and looking for my favourite hairdresser, get yourself to Phillip Gallo on Crown St. His website is a bit dodgy, but his customer experience (and his hair cuts) are fabulous.

Anyone got a good recommendation for a haircut in London?

And I got my camera(s) from JB HiFi. (Who knew they sold cameras?!)
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14 thoughts on “The ingredients of Good Experience

  1. Totally agree on the hairdresser thing–I found one immediately once I moved to Denver, what a relief! I never found a good one in Hawaii.

    Are you moving permanently? Did I miss a post where you talked about your brilliant career plans (assuming that’s why you are going to London)?

  2. Excellent, Excellent piece.

    This in particular resonated with me:

    “To get real customer love, you need to do whatever you do brilliantly. You can’t just do the job. Good enough is not good enough. You need to sparkle. You need to impress. And you need to make it look easy (for you, and for the customer/user)”.

    I think it takes true collaboration to pull off truly desirable “digital experiences”—but at the micro level, I also think it takes a certain kind of creative mind that’s not limited to just “creative” people.

    I have a theory about this mind (based off practice/experience)

    Anyway—it’s just my perspective.

    I really like how you captured the essance of a “real-world” exprience with all the details intact. We all need to be looking at the world this way for inspiration and reference.


  3. Great piece!

    In banking, we are trying to emulate exactly what you outline in a great hairdresser within our offices. To genuinely be a friend to our customers with the opportunity to provide them great financial advice and the vehicles to acheive their goals.

    Web 2.0 will hopefully enable us to extend the same user experience to our web site.

  4. hey Anne,

    we’re moving ‘indefinitely’… have a 4yr visa, a one way ticket and a lot of plans… not sure how long it will take to do the UK thing. We’re off on Thursday afternoon, with stop overs in Singapore (a few days), and a beach in Thailand (a couple of weeks), then a brand new adventure in London.

    V. upheaval, but v. exciting. You can follow travel related adventures at

    I have some potential career plans at the moment that are very exciting, but mostly it’s a life-exciting move :)


  5. hey David,

    thanks for your comment. I love your ‘anatomy of the creative mind’ – it makes a lot of sense to me. I really enjoy the diverse activities and responsibilities (almost… I thought about that word a while and it’s not quite right)… that ‘creative’ people have today.

    I guess I’m a little reactionary around the leeway that has been given to traditional ‘creative’ and ‘design’ people in the past… that their ideas were beyond explanation and beyond questioning, because they were so special because they were creative. Like creativity was some kind of spiritual calling that you either did or you didn’t have…

    (disclaimer… this is a bit of a subjective response based on my own experience/insecurities etc. I’m not sure if it should be taken seriously or not just now…)

    What I like about your ‘anatomy’ is that it has so many ‘thoughtful’ components.

    I’ll be thinking about that some more in weeks to come I think,


  6. hey Jeff – well, from my experience, the banking world could definitely use some people setting out with the objectives you describe. (although, on that note, I have to say how incredibly impressed I’ve been with ANZ online banking lately, since I’ve been demanding quite a deal more of it lately and it’s delivered every time!).

    you could definitely do with some work on the website tho’! :)
    will be interested to see where you end up with that.


  7. Please do think about it. YOU are creative. As are IA’s, ID’s Experience Designers or whatever you want to call these areas that we collaborate and participate on. The whole point of the visual is that creativity is not limited to aesthetics. In fact, aesthetics are becoming de-emphasized as the other areas of the “creative mindset” grow. (though good aesthetics still help differentiate as you noted with your “pretty design pending”)

    People need to think about creativity differently just as people need to re-think design. The team of individuals who plan, architect and design a navigation system through an airport are in my opinion all creative.

    Traditional creativity is evolving. That’s my point.


    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I really enjoy the thoughts on this blog. You are a great storyteller.

  8. Considering the title of the blog posting, this made me laugh: “Good enough isn’t good enough.”

    Perhaps Good Experience should be Great Experience?

    Very good piece and very real world. This is the kind of stuff the pushes the boundaries of user experience and usability. Keep up the excellent work.

    Need some humor?

    The First Annual MySpace Stupid Haircut Awards

  9. Go to this place in Shoreditch. The best haircuts and they are lovely gorgeous people who look after you well. Bradley is the top geezer, owner etc, but the whole crew are really good too, especially Shinobu and Belinda. They have two places really near to each other. (rubbish site, great haircut)

  10. update on this: so, I was going to take your advice and go to Taylor Taylor, I checked out their website (yes, it is rubbish, but it did make them seem as though they *would* want to look after you!)

    unfortunately, the girl who I spoke to on the phone was SO unfriendly and SO unhelpful that I decided to give it a big pass.

    So now, I’m back looking for a great London hairdresser… oh, and now I’m desperate!

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