A few months ago, I went to the Mayo Clinic for a checkup as part of its Executive Health Program. The plan is set up to let you see a handful of doctors and specialists in a tightly choreographed one to three days. If you need any extra tests or consultations during that time, you get them. It's a magical experience overall, but one thing really stood out.
You begin by meeting with an internist, who acts as your primary care physician during the whole visit. You sit down and chat for a good 45 minutes, just to get to know each other a bit. In passing, I mentioned that I was pretty tired and had a cold, probably because my wife and I had had a kid a few weeks before. This was one little point I mentioned during an extensive conversation, but the doc took note and must have entered it into the system, since over the next two days, every person I met asked me how my son was doing.
It was a small thing, to be sure, but, man, did it mean a lot. I'm not used to so many people in so many departments communicating so clearly--especially in the health care system. But Mayo prides itself on putting patients first, and this little experience proved it walks the walk.
No matter your business or product, there's something to learn from that. Much as in personal relations, a small kindness can turn even a good interaction into a great one--the kind of thing you tell people about. It's one of the basic but often overlooked elements of great user-experience design, and it can take many forms.
Google's Chrome Web browser gave me a tiny example recently. I usually have at least a dozen tabs open in my browser all day, because when I come across something I want to read, I often just right-click the link and send it into a new tab. Sometimes I'll do that many times in rapid succession, blasting a handful of links into tabs so I can check them out later. All too often, a jingle starts playing or a voice starts talking to me right after I've done this--I'll look around the room and scan the page I'm on before I realize it's an ad on one of the tabs I just opened. But which one?
Someone at Google clearly recognized how annoying this could be. After a Chrome update last year, if there's audio playing in one of your tabs, a tiny speaker icon appears next to the name of the tab. And it pulses, so you can spot it easily. Mystery solved! Click, click, relief. It's a thoughtful little touch--a favor that doesn't add functionality but simply makes using Chrome more pleasant. And once you are aware of it, you can't imagine not having it.
When you start noticing these small amenities in other companies' products, it's a good reminder not to overlook them in your own. We're thinking about something in the same spirit right now at Basecamp. We've long had a policy that anyone who wants to try our project management tools gets 60 days free, just to kick the tires, no restrictions and no commitment. Most companies' free trials are half as long as ours, but sometimes even ours is too short. People sign up planning to give us a thorough evaluation, but life gets in the way, or other work comes up and takes precedence, and sometimes they'll write us and beg for more time. We always grant it, but it's always bugged me that people have to ask. Why not give them the ability to extend the trial for a couple of extra weeks themselves? Wouldn't that be the friendly, trusting thing to do?
So we're tossing around a variety of ways to make it work. It won't cost us anything, and we'll probably get some new customers out of it, not to mention goodwill. It's a small thing, but we think it'll mean a lot.