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Bridging the empathy gap through microinteractions

Jennifer DeRome  |  March 21, 2019

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” many times before. While the sentiment behind it is great life advice, it doesn’t necessarily apply when you’re in the business of creating great experiences for your customers. Throughout the product development lifecycle, various teams will likely have some big goals on their minds. Yet, as experiences become more digital it’s important to continually find ways to connect with customers on a smaller scale. Sometimes, it’s the little things like microinteractions that count.

What is a microinteraction?

As the name implies, microinteractions are small interactions users have with a product. They have a single purpose, which can range from conveying information, prompting the user to take a specific action, helping prevent errors, or expressing a brand’s personality, just to name a few. These interactions are swift and can be subtle, but when done right, they offer a unique opportunity to bridge the empathy gap and help interactions feel a bit more human. Twitter or Facebook’s ‘like’ feature, are great examples of microinteractions (turning on a light switch would be an example for the physical world). These tiny interactions that many of us engage with on a regular basis probably aren't ones that we give much thought to—until something about them changes.

The massive impact of microinteractions

Imagine logging into Twitter only to find that the ‘like’ and ‘retweet’ features had suddenly disappeared. That scenario recently spread throughout the Twittersphere (and everywhere else) and had users of the platform in a panic. Small as that interaction may be, it’s a major part of the Twitter experience, and users were ready to grab their pitchforks if Jack planned to go through with the change. Twitter quickly went into damage control mode to calm the masses, ensuring millions of users that the idea is just one of many product changes they’re considering. Although there’s no telling if Twitter will ever make the change, it’s important to point out how important even the smallest of interactions can be to customers.

How to sweat the small stuff

Whether you’re starting with an existing experience or you’re creating a new one, chances are your team has some big ideas in mind, and you should! But those larger goals and initiatives shouldn’t overshadow the opportunity to inject smaller opportunities to reduce friction, delight, and have fun with customers. This is where regular customer research, throughout your development process, can help.

Testing wireframes and prototypes

You’ll already have specific goals for testing wireframes and prototypes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t uncover opportunities for microinteractions at the same time. Observe users as they explore the wireframe or prototype and note where they get stuck, frustrated, or confused. While some of those insights will drive larger changes within the product, they may also signal points of friction that could benefit from microinteractions. For example, imagine that you’re testing an app that lets you transfer money to friends via a mobile device. Once a user has confirmed the transfer and taps the ‘send money’ button, what happens next? How can you reassure the user that the desired action was completed? This is a perfect opportunity for a microinteraction. While a simple ‘thank you’ screen might suffice, an on-brand animation, screen, or button that reassures the user of exactly what just happened—and what to do next—is a great way to make the whole experience feel more human.

Competitive testing

Finding opportunities to connect with customers don’t always have to come from testing your own products. Try watching users interact with a competing product and see where they get frustrated or even just underwhelmed with the experience. Use those insights to find ways to inject more personality, guidance, and reassurance in your own product that your competitors have overlooked. It doesn’t need to be a huge feature—it could be as simple as incorporating an informational message that helps clear up any uncertainty or makes an otherwise forgettable action more memorable.

Discovery interviews

Sometimes the best way to learn about your customers is to talk to them, face-to-face. Whether you’re chatting about your product, concept, or a common problem you’re hoping to solve for, having a one-on-one discussion will reveal a ton of insight that can identify opportunities for microinteractions. For example, if a customer absentmindedly taps a button when using an app, then comments under their breath, “I always say ‘yes’ here, but I don’t really know what that means.” That’s a great opportunity to connect with them, right in the app.

Microinteractions=human interaction

At their core, microinteractions are all about the user. Their entire purpose is to guide, reassure, inform, and delight the human at the other end of the experience. As digital interactions continue to fuse with our everyday physical world, it’s more important than ever to make sure those interactions don’t feel robotic or formulaic. Microinteractions are a subtle, yet effective way to help bridge the empathy gap between experiences and consumers.

Want to learn more?

Learn more about Product Insight, UserTesting’s app designed for the unique needs of product teams, and register for our upcoming webinar, How to make great products in real time using fast customer feedback. To learn how UserTesting can help you understand your customers through on-demand human insight, contact us here.

About the author:

Jennifer is a Senior Content Strategist for UserTesting. When she's not dreaming up new ways to connect with audiences, you can find her traveling around the world or enjoying a glass of wine with friends.