Why Customer Experience Is the New Buzzword

EPISODE 36 | Guest: Sean Matthews, president & CEO, Visix, Inc.

Customer experience, consumer experience – it’s all about the impression you make on your audience. As people become used to always having touchscreens with them and around them, it becomes more and more important for organizations to offer information in a familiar way.

Looking at communications as an experience is the modern approach, and helps make sure that people are actively engaged in what you’re saying to them. Instead of simply replacing posters with screens, you need to maximize and personalize your digital signs and their content to match viewer expectations.

  • Explore how customer expectations have changed over time
  • Understand how interactivity effects the customer experience
  • Consider what content is compelling for each viewer
  • Learn how a voice-user interface can make any screen interactive
  • Think about future-proofing and greening your technologies

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Learn more about this topic in our white paper Touchscreens for Audience Engagement


Derek DeWitt: There’s a lot of talk in the digital signage industry about creating a more consumer-like experience, which makes sense because we are consuming data at a phenomenal rate. We’re creating data and consuming it through smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions sometimes. Most of our day is spent in some way, shape or form interacting with devices and applications that allow us to get data. And the way that we do that is very individual.

In fact, it’s so individual that some people are predicting that when the technology gets there to be able to identify how someone uses said technologies, that that is better than a password because no two people use it exactly the same way. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about why customer experience is the new buzzword. I’m here with Sean Matthews, president and CEO of Visix. Hello Sean.

Sean Matthews: Hello Derek. Thank you for having me here today.

Derek DeWitt: Thank you for coming. And thank you everybody for listening.

Derek DeWitt: Okay, so CX, UX; business loves acronyms. They love to be jargony. Customer experience, user experience; same thing, different things?

Sean Matthews: Yeah, it’s basically the same thing. I think when you think about digital signage technology and how it’s being used, you know, obviously there’s a lot of customer experience situations, particularly in quick-serve restaurants and places where you might interact with kiosks.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, more and more all the time.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. But in the world of corporate and campus communication, it’s the same thing. We’re trying to create a personal customer experience or user experience because the days have evolved. It used to be that digital signs were designed to replace printed placards and posters and that kind of thing. But it’s moved way beyond that because, quite frankly, now with displays getting larger and better and more dynamic, the reality is, is that interactive displays and interactive devices are, they’re ubiquitous. And so, you have one in your pocket with you every day. And so, you expect the same experience or better from a very large display in a corporate lobby.

Derek DeWitt: Anywhere you go, now you see little fingerprints all over the screens because people automatically walk up and say, “Oh, can I…? No? Okay.”

Sean Matthews: Yeah. In fact, there’s a little bit of [a] sense of rejection or failure if you can’t interact with the display.

Derek DeWitt: Disappointment.

Sean Matthews: Yeah, disappointment.

Derek DeWitt: Oh wow, these guys are so five years ago.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And so, what’s interesting about that though, of course, is that it does put additional burden on the content creators because now they’re having to create a personal experience that that person can interact with. And your interactions might be different than mine.

So, it’s not just one of part of the screen, it’s multiple zones on the screen need to have interactive elements built into them. So, the content creation responsibility and experience is much different, and it’s more sophisticated and more elaborate.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. And it’s interesting this has happened in rather a short period of time. I mean, I remember back in the, I guess it was the mid-80s, mid-late 80s, I had one of the very early IBM clones (as they were known) the 386. You know, you had your choice of green text on a black background or, if you were super fancy, amber. And that was it. And I actually saw, when I moved to Europe, I saw at a university campus the earliest form of the internet, when it was all texts, it was all DOS, it was all text. That was the whole thing. And then the mid-90s, here comes the web with this different way of looking at things – Apple pioneers icons and all of this, and it just transformed [it].

Think about those early websites compared to, say, websites today. Compared to now, clunky, cumbersome, slow, difficult to negotiate, difficult to figure out. Some people didn’t even know why they needed them. And then over time it’s changed.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And I think when you look at the consumer expectation of what’s happened since you, you noted the world wide web shows up in the 90s and you have this sort of 1.0 web period. But then, you know, we quickly get into Apple introducing the iTunes store and I have access to whatever type of music content that I really want to get my hands on, right? It just cost a little bit of money. But then RSS feeds came along. So now I can curate news channels and things that I’m interested in. But when you talk about the speed in terms of time, Myspace is in 2003, Facebook is 2005.

Derek DeWitt: Right. People mock Myspace now, just like the mock Napster, you know.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And then when you keep going further, in the amount of time that we’re talking about, YouTube comes along in 2006, which is now the second largest search engine in the world. And then you get Twitter about the same time. And then, after all of that, the smartphone shows up.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, what is that? 2008, 2009, something like that?

Sean Matthews: So, if you think about that, in the past 10 years, our experience with interactivity and our ability to access “whatever we want”, I mean, it’s off the chart, right? I mean, the experience is insanely efficient, and now your expectation is the same of that 70-inch display in the student center. You want to interact with the event schedule because that’s what’s on screen and your expectation is there’s more to that event schedule. And I liken this with my kids when they watch Netflix all the time. In fact, you know they’re the, mine are the kids that they don’t even use cable anymore. It’s just streamed.

Derek DeWitt: Cable? Isn’t that a physical thing, Dad?

Sean Matthews: Yes.

Derek DeWitt: Why would have that? How did you walk around with a cable?

Sean Matthews: That’s true. But what’s even interesting about watching them interact with Netflix is, so yes, they’re interacting to find what it is that they want to see, but even within whatever it is that they’re viewing, if they want to learn about Scarlet Johansson, they can actually drill down into her while watching, you know, something that she’s in.

And so, to me it’s just an expectation that I can interact with that screen. And you’ve provided me with the content that I’m looking for, in some way, shape or form, depending on how I drill into or interact with the material that’s on screen.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. You know, it seems to me those early websites were very much like (it’s not a nice visual metaphor, but it is, the metaphor that comes to mind) is, you know, leading cattle through the maze on their way to slaughter. There’s one way to go, and that was just it. And then over time it got much wider and now people can interact. It seems like the way you want to offer information now, or data, is here’s a bunch of data, as much of it as possible. All you can eat buffet; you choose what you like.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And I think that what you’re describing there, which is very different than (again) the digital sign replacing a poster. You know, it’s always been this phrase in our industry, “content is king” and it’s kind of a, it’s a cute little thing to say about material that’s on screen, but there’s more to content than just putting pretty images or effective messages on screen.

Now content is comprised of data and information that I want to use and access for the purpose of making my experience here more rewarding and/or fulfilling. And, you know, it’s my expectation that I’m going to interact with whatever it is that you’re putting on screen.

Derek DeWitt: I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but we’re going to get to a point where everything will be a touchscreen.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. I mean, and if you think about the challenges of that, on the surface…

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, on the back end, that’s a very complicated project.

Sean Matthews: Right. Because you know, if you take it today, things like wayfinding are becoming ubiquitous in lobbies and things like that. And of course, it’s easy to look at things like donor boards and mission statements and virtual tours, that kind of stuff. But the reality is, is that it can be much more interactive and that’s what you’re going to see. You know, event promotions and surveys and sign-ins and your ability to respond to social media content there at the screen.

I mean, it’s much more than just a static display or static communications. We’re looking for creating a memorable experience that you’re going to take away with you. In fact, we might even add RSS plugs in the design, so that you can take that experience with you in the form of a URL, right? So, you can extend that experience with your friends or somewhere else.

Derek DeWitt: Right. I can foresee a future where there’s something, say on the digital sign, that piques my interest for whatever, and I just tap my phone to it and it just transfers that information over. It transfers a link or something like that, so I can just go, “Oh, tap!” and then I walk away with it, “Oh, that’s kinda cool. That’s interesting.”

Sean Matthews: Recently, I was with a client at a church in Houston, and they had this video wall that was comprised of like 10 screens and there were two little children in the lobby of this facility. And the customer had already said that they were experiencing some problems with some of the interactive displays. And they said that people were touching them with multiple fingers. And these were multi-touch displays. But it wasn’t until we got there…

Derek DeWitt: Not 40 fingers!

Sean Matthews: Right. And we observed little kids literally slapping the displays with their hands, you know, to try to interact with these, because they thought there was going to be some experience. And there was. Obviously, it wasn’t designed for children.

Derek DeWitt: It’s just an error code.

Sean Matthews: Yes. So, you can imagine two little kids standing there just slapping these displays and running from display to display. And you know, it was an eye-opening experience for me because to see two kids, you know, maybe four or five years old.

Derek DeWitt: And they’ve never known a different world.

Sean Matthews: That’s correct.

Derek DeWitt: They’re like, “Of course you can interact with it.” And then, you know, 20 years from now they’ll say, “Of course it’s a hologram.”

Sean Matthews: Yeah. And you know, for us, we’re talking now about touchscreen, interactive displays, but you know, we’re already moving forward to the next generation of that experience, which is simply talking to the display. In the same way you talk to Alexa or Siri or whatever. You know, you’re going to see the same thing from companies like Visix and others. We were the first to show that technology at a trade event, not too too long ago.

And then of course, we’re going to extend that from a development perspective, so that you can just drop in our widgets and add voice commands to those widgets so that if you want the weather, when someone talks to the weather or asks what’s the weather going to be like, you know, you can set parameters for it, providing three-day forecast, four day forecast or whatever.

So, the entire experience of interacting with the display is going to move beyond just physical interaction, but also just audible interaction to get some of it.

Derek DeWitt: So, you just walk up to the sign and say, “Hey dude, show me the weather.” And it does.

Sean Matthews: And it will do that. So that’s the next stage in this sort of interactive experience. And we’re excited.

Derek DeWitt: It’s cleaner. It’s cleaner than a physical touchscreen.

Sean Matthews: Well, you can imagine hospitals are obviously those that are asking for this type of technology.

Derek DeWitt: Sure, sure. Voice-user interfaces, VUIs, that’s the next step. What’s going to come after that? I mean everybody keeps thinking “Minority Report”, you know, where it scans your retina and says, “Hi Sean Matthews, would you like to buy another pair of shoes? They’re having a sale.”

Sean Matthews: Well, you know what’s interesting about technology is that often we see people, you know, pioneer certain technologies and let’s say augmented reality with digital signage, for example.

Derek DeWitt: Which people are trying.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. But we demonstrated augmented reality five years ago and it never took off. And so, when you also think about using interactions in the air, you know, and not even having…

Derek DeWitt: Right! Gesture interfaces.

Sean Matthews: And so, when you think about that, you know that technology has been around for a while and lots of guys have experimented with it and it just hasn’t taken off. So I’m always reluctant to say, like, what does the future hold? Because some of these things have already been disclosed but yet have already been rejected. If you think about or Google Glass.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, what happened with that? I can’t remember their name, Q Brick or something, I can’t remember what they’re called, but that interface that was used in the movie “Minority Report”, where they’re just gesturing in a kind of a 3D projected-into-the-air computer interface, that was actually a real company. They weren’t that far along but they were getting there. And that was quite a number of years ago and that company is still languishing. And I think that that’s because they’re getting leapfrogged.

The change of pace is so fast in technology now that someone comes up with a great idea, and then before they can really develop it and convince the public that that’s the way to go, the next smart kids on the block have already found a way to overtake them and do everything it can do plus more.

Sean Matthews: That’s the challenge of being in the technology business, right? And maintaining a business life cycle in that competitive environment is always a challenge. And so that’s why every day, you know, we’re having to look at other ways to interact with these displays.

Derek DeWitt: Never a dull moment. You know, I think a lot of companies might get, because of this, “Oh gosh, what if I go for a voice user interface and a year from now something better comes along? Am I going to be stuck in the past? Am I going to be in this?” But I think that it behooves companies, especially larger companies with, say, an enterprise-wide deployment, to think more long term than they may be accustomed to. Much longer than a quarter or even maybe even a fiscal year. And think about how that innovative tech will, in fact, save you money over time.

Sean Matthews: Yeah, I mean that’s obviously an important fact. You know, everybody talks about future-proofing technologies and those types of things. But it is obviously something that is just a function of technology and that’s technological obsolescence. It just happens, and I am reluctant to tell anybody that we will have all of the answers forever. But we certainly have built a platform that, with using best-of-breed-type practices like widgets and apps and other things that we can drop into the platform, using out-of-band development helps us stay more current and provides us with the ability to update the technology more efficiently than we might if we were locked into some legacy architecture.

Derek DeWitt: Today, environmental concerns are very much in the news and on people’s minds. And obviously you’re no longer printing posters and things like this and there are all of those things. You have to recycle them, or they end up in a landfill, they release methane and a bunch of stuff (the ink is toxic and so on). Yet the argument could also be made, yes, but we’re, you know, these things are using electricity. Obviously. Are they more environmentally friendly? I think in the modern age we can say “certainly”.

Sean Matthews: You know, unfortunately that’s a part of technology, and to build technology, it does have an environmental impact, period, right? I mean, everything that’s plastic has some petroleum-based element to it. Your laptops, these displays, computers all have mercury and other things in them that are global contaminants.

But when compared to those other legacy technologies (printing and other things), this is far less damaging. In fact, even if you think about a plasma display 15 years ago, compared to an OLED display today, the energy consumption and the amount of energy consumed to produce them is a fraction of what it used to be.

Derek DeWitt: And to use them is, I mean it’s way, a tenth, it’s way down.

Sean Matthews: Yeah. So it’s not a perfectly clean world to build technology, but I think that the cost to maintain it is less than some of those other technologies that were around for hundreds of years, in printing and you know.

Derek DeWitt: One of the things we talk about today is cars and, “Oh, cars are so dirty” and this and this, and yes, they are. There’s no doubt about them, they throw a lot of carbon into the air. And yet think about what they replaced. They replaced horses. And horses, and what they produce after they’re done eating (let’s just be honest, there) was actually, in cities at least, far more polluting, caused disease, shortened people’s lives, like all of this. So, in fact the car, when it came around (even though it comes with its own attendant problems) was, in fact, the cleaner solution than, say, horses.

Sean Matthews: And I would say the same to this technology as well. It fits the same pattern of technological evolution.

Derek DeWitt: And I think the millennials especially, and the Gen Zers, are so focused on this that it’s pushing tech companies, especially hardware companies, to innovate and make things even greener and even cleaner and cleaner and cleaner and cleaner. And yeah, what we need is cold fusion. And would somebody please just invent it and then this would be finished.

Sean Matthews: That’s next on the list.

Derek DeWitt: That’s next on the list, yeah! I mean it’s a technology-driven business, but it’s used really for communications and (I know something you’re fond of saying) to affect human behavior. It seems to me that really the immediate future of the digital signage industry is an attitudinal shift more than anything else.

There’s so much available in some of these CMSs for digital signage that a lot of companies just aren’t using because they can’t conceive of, you know what I mean? They’re still thinking like, like posters and bulletin boards and things like this, and they’re not using the technology to its fullest potential.

Sean Matthews: I mean, unfortunately that’s the reality of this space. A lot of clients are still buying this technology based on the premise that they’re replacing printed signs. Unfortunately, they’ve not moved beyond that basic philosophy and embraced what the technology can really do in terms of helping them communicate better, and delivering their message in a more effective way, and/or creating an experience that the user will find much more memorable and take with them.

So, you know, I think that’s just a reality of technology and us and others having to do a better job of onboarding clients, so that they fully understand what they can get out of this technology to help them achieve their overall business or institutional objectives.

Interactive displays are ubiquitous. You carry them with you everywhere, and it’s going to be your expectation that whenever you see an electronic sign or electronic device, your expectation is that you can interact.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And it just makes sense for something like digital signage to just say, “Okay, we’ll do it too.” If that’s what you want, then by gosh, give the people what they want. This is clearly what they want.

Sean Matthews: Yep. That is correct.

Derek DeWitt: All right, well, I’d like to thank you, Sean, for talking to me today.

Sean Matthews: Thank you Derek.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you everybody for listening.