The Five Essentials: A framework for better customer and employee experiences and journeys.

In my last article, I shared how and why journeys go wrong.

So how do we make them go right?

Through continual measurement and improvement. 

There are a variety of ways to do this, but one of my favorites is what I call The Five Essentials: a flexible framework that can be used to measure and improve just about anything your organization creates.

Specifically, it measures the five, non-negotiable qualities that all good customer, user, and employee experiences and journeys must have:

  1. Findability
  2. Accessibility
  3. Usability
  4. Reliability
  5. Lovability

I’ll explore each essential individually in a moment. But first…

Four things you must know about The Five Essentials.

1) It’s about your people, not your organization.

You’ve probably noticed that businesses and organizations are obsessed with data these days.

The problem is, most datasets and measurements are organization centric. Revenues. Profits. Sales. Return on Investment (ROI). Marketshare. Followers. Visits. Conversions. The list goes on and on.

Now don’t get me wrong: you should absolutely measure these things because you need to know whether or not your org is succeeding.

But your customers and employees also need to succeed. That means you must measure things from their perspectives as well, and The Five Essentials can help you do exactly that through a decidedly more human-centered approach.

Specifically…

2) It measures whether or not forward progress is happening for your people.

What do I mean by forward progress? Well, remember what I’ve been stressing throughout this series of articles:

We’re all on a journey in life, and we all want to keep moving forward in that journey. We all want progress:

An illustration of straight, direct, easy-to-use pathway.

Meanwhile, we all hate friction. None of us want to be slowed down, stopped dead in our tracks, or forced backwards in the process of meeting our wants, needs, and goals:

An illustration of a long, convoluted maze with numerous disconnects that cause friction, frustration, and confusion.

Well, as you know, journeys happen in phases, and friction can rear its ugly head in any of those phases.

For example, a journey could start well, continue smoothly, then fall apart near the end.

Likewise, a journey could start so terribly that it ends immediately without even progressing to the other phases.

As a result, The Five Essentials aren’t just non-negotiable qualities of journeys and experiences. In most cases, they also represent phases of interaction and levels of achievement.

The higher the quality measurement and satisfaction within each phase, the more likely the person will move on to the next phase, achieve forward progress, and reach their ultimate goal.

In other words, the more friction you eliminate, and the further you help them go in their journey, the happier they’ll be — which is why The Five Essentials are listed in the order they are, with lovability listed last.

That said…

3) There can be exceptions to the order of the essentials.

For example, in some situations, lovability can become an important factor much earlier in the journey (I’ll explain soon).

Also, with websites, after initially finding a site on a search engine, a user may loop repeatedly between unique phases of accessibility, usability, and reliability depending on how many individual web pages and features are encountered during their journey — and that’s OK! In fact, that’s the beauty of The Five Essentials…

4) It’s an extremely flexible and adaptable framework.

When I say The Five Essentials can be used to measure and improve just about anything, I mean it.

Long journeys. Short journeys. A journey within a journey. An experience within a journey. Products. Services. Digital. Physical. Marketing. Sales funnels. Customer service. HR policies and procedures. Environments. Organizations. Anything goes.

Also, have you noticed that I haven’t defined a specific, required unit of measurement yet? That’s because there isn’t one.

Every journey, and every phase or experience within a journey, is unique. As a result, the specific methods of research and measurement will often differ from org to org, situation to situation, and journey to journey. Options include, but are definitely not limited to:

  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Analytics
  • Heatmapping
  • Usability Testing
  • Accessibility Audits
  • Market Research
  • Search Engine Optimization Testing
  • Product Testing

Obviously, some of these (like usability testing) are very specific to a certain essential. Others could be applied to any essential.

I’m not going to dig too deeply into any of these here because I simply want to introduce the concept of The Five Essentials in this article. Plus, research methods are complex in their own right and really deserve standalone articles of their own.

Instead, for now, all you need to know is this:

The Five Essentials framework gives you the flexibility to choose what to measure, and how to measure it. You’re free to apply it in whatever way is most beneficial for your people.

Let’s take a deeper look into each essential.

Findability measures how easy it is to find or discover something.

If you’ve ever searched and searched for something specific — perhaps a new place to live, or maybe a new job — but couldn’t find a match, then you know why findability is so important.

In fact, this essential is arguably the most important because it’s the first step in every journey. Without it, the subsequent essentials won’t happen.

There are multiple forms of findability that you should pay close attention to, including:

Findability related to marketing, communication, and awareness.

This is arguably the most common form of findability.

Every day, billions of people go searching for something they want or need, usually online. Your organization may have a perfect solution for their needs — but it’s all for naught if your marketing is non-existent or poorly executed. They’ll never find out about it in the first place, and it might as well not exist.

In fact, a findability mindset is a perfect fit for modern marketing because it puts the person in the driver’s seat, not the seller.

After all, nobody likes cold calls and other old-school, hard-sell tactics that try to force them on a journey they aren’t ready to take. Instead, when a person is actively trying to find something, they’re telling you they’re ready for the journey you’re offering them. In other words, you already have their consent, so it makes the journey much easier — and the outcome much more rewarding — for all involved.

Findability within products and services.

After you successfully find a desired product or service, there are often many additional layers of findability within the product itself.

For example, in cars, critical levers or important info about tire pressure are sometimes put in hard-to-find places. Likewise, on large websites, it’s sometimes difficult to find a very specific feature or document buried layers deep because the search function stinks. Once you find it, it may be straightforward and easy to use — but if it was hard to find in the first place, that’s a big problem.

Findability in retail environments and merchandising.

If you’ve ever gone up and down every aisle of a grocery store, but you couldn’t find the one simple ingredient you were looking for, then you know how important findability is in retail environments.

Findability in organizations and bureaucracies.

Have you ever worked for a company where you knew a certain perk or program existed within HR, but yet it was a complete mystery as to how to learn more and apply? Unfortunately, it happens more often than you’d think. As a result, findability needs to become a bigger factor in the design of organizations, bureaucracies, policies, and procedures.


Once a person has found what they’re looking for, then it’s time for the other essentials to enter the picture, starting with accessibility.

Accessibility measures whether something can be equally entered, used, or done by all people.

In other words, are there any obstacles present that could deny access to someone, either accidentally, arbitrarily, or discriminatorily?

Sadly, this is the essential that most organizations either get wrong or completely forget. As a result, inaccessibility is rampant. The net effect is that most organizations have the equivalent of a bouncer at their front door that’s selectively denying access to some people, but not all.

There are multiple forms of inaccessibility you must consider and combat:

Disability-related inaccessibility.

Most of the time, when we talk about accessibility, we’re talking about eliminating obstacles for people with disabilities. You likely have at least a little familiarity with this because of things like elevators and wheelchair ramps in buildings. But you may not realize that:

  1. Accessibility isn’t just about people with physical disabilities. There’s also a wide and diverse range of other disabilities, including visual, auditory, cognitive, and speech disabilities.
  2. As a result, there are a lot more people with disabilities than you probably realize. In fact, 15 to 20% of people are living with disabilities. That’s between 1.17 and 1.56 billion people worldwide!

Bottom line: Because of the number and diversity of people with disabilities, accessibility is about more than just the physical attributes of your building. Your websites, apps, products, services, marketing, customer service, HR, and just about everything else needs to be highly accessible, too. Otherwise, you’re risking a costly lawsuit, and driving away a significant number of potential customers and employees.

Economic inaccessibility.

Sadly, this is becoming more and more of an issue, especially in the housing market where many people are being priced out, and homelessness is on the rise. And the COVID-19 economy is making economic inequality even worse since unemployment is much higher than is being reported. If your products and services are too expensive, or designed without considering all socioeconomic groups, you may be contributing to this inaccessibility.

Race- and gender-related inaccessibility.

These obviously continue to be major issues, especially in the workplace where systemic obstacles continue to deny opportunities and equivalent salaries to some, but not all. And when it comes to products, if your design processes and teams aren’t inclusive, the consequences can be serious.

Language-related inaccessibility.

Part of this is obviously about multilingual communication — if a significant portion of your audience speaks a certain language and you exclude them, that’s a glaring inaccessibility.

But regardless of the specific language involved, there’s also an epidemic of complex verbiage that is overloaded with acronyms, insider jargon, legalese, PR spin, and corporate speak. You need to work hard to simplify every bit of content you create so that absolutely anyone can understand and benefit from it, without exclusion.


As you can see, there are many facets to accessibility, which can be intimidating. That’s why I’m developing a YouTube channel dedicated to demystifying accessibility (stay tuned, it’s launching soon).

For now though, let’s move on to the next essential…

Usability measures whether something is simple, efficient, and satisfying to use or do.

When you hear the word “usability,” you probably think of easy-to-use websites and apps — but that barely scratches the surface. Literally anything that people use or interact with can be made more usable.

For example, let’s say you own a property with some trees that need to be maintained, so you need to buy a chainsaw. All chainsaws will do the job of cutting wood. But if you’ve ever used a power tool, you know that some of them are way harder to start than others. A chainsaw that’s easier to start is a more usable chainsaw.

Same with cars — they all do the job of getting you from one place to another. But a car that rides more smoothly and quietly, has a more responsive steering wheel, has seating that is more comfortable and ergonomic, and has a dashboard and controls that are safer to use and easier to understand, is a more usable car.

There’s obviously a lot more to usability, but we’ll have plenty of time to cover those details in future articles.

For now, just understand that features and functionality are great — but not if your people have to fight them.

Instead, you need to design and incorporate those features in a way that integrates as effortlessly as possible into the lives of your customers and employees. That’s what usability is all about.


Next up…

Reliability measures whether or not something can be depended on, especially over the long run.

In other words, whereas findability, accessibility, and usability tend to become clear early on, reliability can usually only be experienced and judged by someone later in their journey.

Reliability comes in a number of different forms, including:

Trustworthiness.

This is a big one, and it’s especially important in terms of content, language, and relationships. If you and your org communicate with your people in a factual, truthful, honest way, you’ll be seen as trustworthy and reliable. But if there is any kind of deceit or inaccuracy, even unintentionally, it will be very hard for you to gain back your standing as a reliable source.

Durability.

Obviously, this refers to quality and sturdiness. Typically, these are attributes we assign to physical products like cars, tools, and appliances.

However, durability also plays a role in digital experiences. For example, if a website is heavy and bloated in terms of content or code, it won’t load quickly (or at all) on slower internet connections and mobile devices. Similarly, apps that aren’t tested thoroughly before launch could have bugs that cause freezes and crashes. Either way, you’ll frustrate your users and cause them to doubt the reliability of your digital creations.

Environmental Sustainability.

When cars and electronic devices last longer between charges and fill-ups, it doesn’t just help the environment (and all of us who live in it). It also helps people reliably go further on their journeys without interruption.

Organizational Sustainability.

Organizations are always looking to come up with new ideas and implement new strategies. The question is, can they actually do it and keep it going long term? All too often, the answer is no because the initiatives are completely unsustainable in terms of budget or labor.

If you run out of money or cause your employees to burnout in the process of doing something ambitious and new, then your org will have proven itself to be unreliable in the worst possible way. Turnover, downsizing, and going out of business are terrible for all involved.


Finally…

Lovability measures whether something puts a smile on your face, literally or figuratively.

I’ll admit, this is probably the cheesiest-sounding essential. In fact, some may argue it’s not essential at all — but I say it’s critically important.

Practically speaking, in most cases, lovability is the natural result of success in the other four essentials.

In other words, if you create something that is findable, accessible, usable, and reliable, your people are going to love it — and love you — because you helped them reach their goal. As a result, they’re likely to become loyal, vocal supporters who are motivated to share how great your brand is with everyone they know. 

But lovability isn’t just about a final outcome. It’s also about extra-mile actions and intangibles along the way, including:

  • Sending hand-written thank you notes.
  • Including mints or chocolates with every bill at your restaurant.
  • Giving a gift card or coupon to a customer with a note of apology after a bad experience.
  • Remembering your customers’ and employees’ birthdays.
  • Adding a whimsical smiley face to your computer operating system that greets the user during startup.

Finally, building on the smiley face example, we’ve got to acknowledge the role that design and aesthetics play in lovability.

If you’ve read my earlier series about design, you know I’m a big believer that the form vs. function debate is usually a false choice.

Yes, function is clearly more important, and it should always win if there’s a conflict with form. That said, we’re human beings, and we have emotions. We frequently find ourselves attracted to things that make our hearts sing.

Nowhere is this more evident than with cars, houses, and other consumer products and experiences. For example, if you’ve ever gone shopping for a car, you’ve undoubtedly experienced that lusty feeling of “oh my, that car is so hot in that color, I want it.”

In fact, this is the situation I teased earlier where lovability can become a major factor much earlier in a journey. When you first start shopping for a car, it’s probably online, and as you begin to see pictures of cars on-screen during the findability phase, lovability hits you right between the eyes. You like what you like, and you know it when you see it.

So go ahead, humanize your experiences and journeys. Design them to be attractive, cute, funny, seductive, whimsical — whatever works best for your people. As long as you’re not sacrificing the other four essentials, there’s no harm in helping them feel alive and happy along the way.

Final thoughts: Is The Five Essentials framework a form of journey mapping?

As I see it, yes, because they share a lot in common. They both:

  • Involve journeys, either at a macro or micro level.
  • Define phases within a journey.
  • Help to define and fix friction within those phases.
  • Look at things from the journeyer’s perspective, not the orgnization’s.
  • Force organizations to break down silos and think beyond individual moments or experiences.

The difference is, in most cases, the purpose and end result of the journey mapping process is a brief, at-a-glance visualization of the journey, much like the ones shown in Nielsen Norman Group’s excellent primer on journey mapping.

Meanwhile, I believe The Five Essentials can be very useful with or without actually drawing a journey map. That’s because my focus in creating the framework wasn’t the map itself, but rather to encourage deep, meaningful exploration, measurement, and improvement within the five phases. In other words, if the journey map is the summary, The Five Essentials framework is the strategy.

Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter whether you view them as one and the same, or two peas in a pod. They’re both critically-important tools that will move your organization and its people forward.

Need help bringing the power of journey mapping and The Five Essentials to your organization?

Shoot me an email, and if it sounds like a match, we can schedule a no-obligation Discovery Call via videoconference to chat and learn more.