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In User Interfaces, Color and Tone Matter

Don't underestimate customers' reactions to 'trivial' variations
By Vicki Broman and Georgios Tserdanelis - Posted May 8, 2015
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Every customer interaction channel contains a user interface (UI) which determines how the customer interacts with a business to achieve the expected results, setting the stage for all two-way communications. While some variations in the interface elements may appear trivial, numerous disparate factors impact how a person reacts. Perhaps most fundamental in this world of highly significant insignificance is the importance of semantics, font, and colors.

Semantics and intonation for voice, and color and typography for Web, apps, and chat, along with the ways they are used, can make or break a system. Some companies create new words (neologisms) or use idiomatic expressions (slang). The following examples are from an actual IVR system: "You've reached Shoephoria" and "Please hold while I transfer you to a fellow shoe-lover." Such wording adds humor to the interaction, even promoting a mutual love of shoes between customers and agents.

Those in the business of scripting a verbal message intended to be heard or read must understand all of the ways it can be interpreted. While the choice of words and grammar is essential in providing information, slight variations in pronunciation or use of varying typography and visual schemas for the same words or phrases are also critical.

For example, the difference between "thanks" and "thank you" is one of style (informal versus formal); in addition, you must decide which accent to utilize or whether to incorporate idiomatic expressions. These components, combined with the gender or accent of the recorded prompts, help create a unique customer experience.

Furthermore, while the use of neologisms such as "Shoephoria" might work well for a female clientele, most men would not relate to them. As this particular company caters mostly to women, it has the freedom to be more playful. For a department store with a mixed audience, this approach could be risky. The user base must be properly identified and possible semantic connotations of the neologism thoroughly researched and analyzed to achieve a balance between novelty and familiarity. While successful UI designers may wish to employ emerging trends, tweaking them to adhere to a company’s philosophy, they should never lose focus of their overall purpose: effectively providing information and assistance to the customer.

Fonts and colors not only signal aesthetic preferences but also trigger different expectations for the user. A good UI designer should be aware of both functional and aesthetic requirements of the target user base, tailoring the scripting and audio/visual presentation accordingly.

For visual modalities, colors and fonts are the visual equivalent of intonation in a voice system. Studies of the brain stem and limbic system have proved that humans have universal automatic responses to certain colors: One may cause stress while another evokes calm. Color can affect your mood, your likes, and your dislikes. One color can make you believe that a product is affordable, while another will make you feel the item is impressive or expensive. Red is used in many fast-food logos because studies have found that red stimulates appetite, and also gives the impression of quick service. Blue evokes feelings of trust and compassion, while white gives a sense of sterility and pureness. Even the color of the clothing worn by people in Web site photos is important: A photo of a man wearing a blue tie will elicit more trust than the same person wearing a red tie, as the flip side of action and speed is power and aggression. Want an attention grabber? Put the font in red. Want the readers to remember what you wrote? Change it to blue. With colors, even small decisions can have a big impact. The same is true for intonation and the "coloring" of voice prompts with varying accents, emphasis, grammar, and vocabulary.

When thoughtfully utilized, these components will help to design the perfect customer interface as a complement to your company's messaging, and ensure that your customers will have successful interactions, unmarred by these influential intangibles. 

Vicki Broman is the manager of the voice user interface (VUI) design team at eLoyalty, part of the Customer Technology Services division at Teletech. Georgios Tserdanelis, Ph.D., is a VUI designer for eLoyalty.

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