Digging Beyond User Preferences (Mental Models)
In my research, writing, and consulting work over the past decade, I have focused on a single concept (satisfaction) and what it means to people in the roles of customers, users, and learners. I began by exploring the relative value of concepts we collectively call “individual differences” and individually represent by concepts such as prior knowledge, preferences, and motivation.
Digging into what people expect, want, and even require of the products and services we provide, I see increasing value for the need to understand the way they see the world in terms of their experience with providers, whether that be with a business relationship as customers or from inside the products and services as users, learners, and other roles. As we carry about with us a world view in our minds, the mental representations we make of our experience in these roles is of vital concern to anyone who is conducting customer, user, or learner research to determine the nature of their individual experience.
One of the most potent and revealing of these mental representations is a “systems” view we call a “mental model.” It represents the totality of our experience in such a way that we can envision ourselves in it with almost the same clarity as if we were present in our customer, user, and/or learner activities. To test your mental model, close your eyes and count all the windows in your house or apartment. That type of visualization is actually a “running” of your mental model of where you live. You also have mental models for your customer experience.
Tapping into someone’s mental model of their experience seems like an ideal way to gather more robust and potentially useful data to drive our management or at least support of their positive experience. Unfortunately, this individual perspective is not examined as much or as deeply as it should be done and I believe that the customer experience cannot be managed as well if our customers’ mental models are not understood and addressed.
With this challenge in mind, I invite you to explore this video of a presentation by a researcher describing her observations and findings about the importance of customer/user mental models in the early stages of CEM design.
I welcome your comments in reply not only about concepts introduced in this video, but also your suggestions for how we might discover and apply understanding of people’s mental models to improve their experience.
Notes on using video: It is a long, but interesting presentation at a Google seminar (1:03). If you are short on time, cut to the chase by dragging the time-elapsed slider under the video frame to the 25:47 point for her description of mental models and user interviewing, and at 39:39 for her data visualization of user mental models based on user data.
To play the video, click on the play arrow in the center of the video frame below (or the play button below the video frame). You can expand the video frame to full screen by clicking on the expand icon on the lower right and also click on the speaker icon and use the audio slider to set your speaker volume to hear the audio.