Too many companies want their customers to "have an experience" with them. Unfortunately, customers don't have time for this; they've got way too many things to do.
Alfred North Whitehead once said that "Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them." If you consider how busy your life has become, it's easy to see that a fundamental requirement for maintaining sanity is your ability to run Automatic Behavioral Scripts.
Automatic Behavioral Scripts are like little subroutines your brain executes in a way that enables you to accomplish predictable tasks without thinking too much about them. If you're like most people, you have Automatic Behavioral Scripts for tasks like: driving to work, getting a cup of coffee, going to the bank to make a deposit, etc... You can accomplish these tasks on "automatic pilot"... allowing you to pay attention to more pressing matters. So, when you go to the bank branch to make a deposit at lunch, you can be thinking about your meetings this afternoon or what you'll do this evening.
As the customer experience design has become a hot topic, we've seen many companies attempt to create highly engaging and innovative experiences with their customers... and pay no attention to the Automatic Behavioral Scripts that these customers are using to execute the current experience. In many cases, all they end up doing is distracting and annoying the customer. If you do interrupt the customers' script (called an Orienting Response), you had better deliver something the customer perceives as valuable in exchange for getting their attention.
As an Atlanta resident who travels frequently, I've gotten very used to making reservations on Delta's website. The previous version of their website was quite easy to use and most reservations could be made quickly from the homepage. It was the kind of thing that fit with an Automatic Behavioral Script that worked well. Over the last two years, however, Delta has "upgraded" their website in a way that even the simplest tasks now require navigating through layers of menus. Now every time I make a reservation, I shake my head and think... these people just don't get it.
Capturing the customers' attention... creating that Orienting Response... is a very powerful way to differentiate the experience. However, it should ONLY be done if what you're about to deliver is one of a very small number of signature elements of the experience... elements of the experience that are deliberately designed and clearly make it worth having gotten the customers' attention. In every other way, the experience should be designed to make it easy for the customer to run their Automatic Behavioral Scripts.
More on the subject of the Cognitive Ergonomics of experience design in future posts.