User Interface Time Bombs and Why We Need to Look at Customer Experiences Holistically

Think Through the Series of Interactions

OK – we’re all on the design train right?! Good – we should be! Design is how we think of our customer and how we contribute to solving their problem in a way that allows them to enhance their life. Design is an intentional manipulation to change a behavior.

User experience and user interactions are pieces of this design puzzle that facilitate the intended change we are creating. So we know we need good interactions – how do we create these and sustain them? Touch points.

Touch Points and Time Bombs

Touch points are the interactions we have with our customer and they create the perception of our platform. The touch point interactions culminate into a comprehensive view into you and your company for the customer. We are who we act like we are – not what we say we are.

So far so good? In order to have a good perception we need to design touch points that all align with our brand strategy and what/who we are as a company. Too abstract? Yeah, maybe. But think about touch points and therefore user interfaces that manifest into micro time bombs

These time bombs can be explosions of Happiness/Joy/Love/Loyalty or they could be Negative/Detractors/Bad/Iamleavingthiscompanysofastitllmakeyourheadspin. These time bombs all accumulate over time and over each interaction a consumer has with a brand. 

Once a consumer has enough interaction with a brand an explosion happens and it’s going to be a positive or a negative (This depends on the person and the interactions – so, um…know your customer!). It’s up to you to be aware of these trigger points, find which ones cause more damage and then take action to mitigate and remove the negative time bombs from the experience.

Example time. Pretend you receive an email from your telecomm co regarding your bill. You see that this bill is higher than expected. There’s no explanation why its higher on the email. (-) time bomb. You logon to your account and see this bill is for real. You think: “I need to talk to them, now!”. You see a chat invite on the bottom of the screen and click to talk to someone. (+) time bomb. The chat says you’ll need to wait about 5 minutes. (-) time bomb. You wait it out… The chat representative comes on and you have to give your account information to them and its on a different screen entirely. (-) time bomb. The rep is able to answer why the bill is higher than normal, but you disagree. They have to escalate it and you’ll need to call in. (-) time bomb. You call in and wait on hold for 5 minutes after going through 10 IVR prompts. (-) time bomb. You get the point here.

All these small interactions, when looked at individually are perhaps understandable or even manageable. What happens when you add them up? An overwhelmingly horrible experience – an explosion of negativity. This prompts customers to detract you and shop elsewhere.

Think about this… every interaction a customer has with your brand, influences their perception of you and their experience overall with you. EVERY INTERACTION.

I believe that this is where most companies get it wrong. Not looking at the customer’s user flow or interaction flow holistically causes massive conflict. All these micro moments add up and impact the perception a customer has on the brand. It can be easily combated with thoughtful UX design that acknowledges the desired customer need, anticipates where the need could be strained and then counteracts it to create a positive, easy outcome.

In order to have these thoughtful designs, you have to get out and talk to and observe customers. I don’t think there is really another way to fully empathize and understand the person’s desire without talking to them or observing their behavior. This provides us designers with the Purpose. What problem are we truly trying to solve for – this must be top of mind and must guide your vision. When the interaction is created, you have to solve this problem and deliver the purpose.

Once you get the purpose right, you can then start to shape the experience. Add your (+) time bombs and really deliver on who you are as a company. But we first have to back things up and start with the true job to be done and then holistically (from start to finish) deliver on our value promise to the customer.

So how do I nail the purpose? Glad you asked. You create a customer profile. You can do this quite easily by just asking your customer trigger questions. I like to focus the profile on 3 main things: Gains, Pains and Jobs to be done.

Jobs to be done.

The “captain obvious”. At times, this is the easiest thing to find – yet we overlook it and try to solve for something that isn’t an actual problem. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the one thing you couldn’t live without accomplishing? How do you approach this? What are the different contexts in which your customer is in when trying to complete this task?

Get deeper by asking about their emotional state in trying to accomplish a job – what gives them satisfaction in completing this job? How do they want to be perceived for completing this job? How do they want to feel?


What is the customer’s outcome or benefit? Are these wished, required, expected outcomes? Customers have an outcome or benefit that they are trying to achieve when they do an action. They set a goal, act and receive feedback. You have to understand why they set that goal, what they were expecting to happen and what they think about the possible outcomes. What are the different levels of quality? Ask them to describe another company’s interaction and why they liked it. What do they dream about?

These questions drive customer motivations and help you identify what makes your customer tick. The emotional connectivity that they have to your brand is in here – what makes them become loyalists. You’ll gain insight into the customer’s subconscious (which drives their consciousness, i.e. purchase your product). Make sure to key in around functional, social, cultural, emotional and pragmatic gains.


What annoys your customer most about trying to get the job done? Where do those pains lie and why do they cause pain. What are the consequences of not being able to do this job? Social ramifications? Employment impacts? Emotional impacts? Don’t settle with the answer of “I don’t know, I just don’t like the thing.” DIG!

Note that in each one of these targeted areas of questions, you dig into the customer’s functional, emotional, social and even cultural rationales. It’s important to understand their meta-level of thought and their hierarchy of need. I also use customer as a general term. This can be “user” or “consumer” – universal to your setting of design.

Next steps

You’ll take these answers and map them into themes and then you need to go back and prioritize with a team or the customers directly. Which insights are most important? Once you have this – create pain relievers, create the gain desired and model your value proposition to complete the jobs to be done. Then TEST, TEST, TEST, TEST, TEST. You are never done. 

A good interaction, value proposition, anything needs to be tested over and again and continually refined. This is not easy. It can be time consuming, at times humiliating (to learn you were completely wrong) and it can also be pretty rewarding when you get it right!

Now take a step back. In order to have a holistic approach to user interactions and thus your brand, this investigation needs to be done throughout the company. If you want to create (+) time bombs that create an explosion of COMPANY LOVE <3 <3 <3 – then we need to be serious about how all the parts work together and know truly, throughout a company, what our customer’s real job to be done is.

It’s a mindset of experimentation and always pursuing the customer’s needs and desires and looking at how the different interactions rely and depend on each other.
Its up to you to become customer obsessed and design everything you make to fit into a holistic goal for the customer.