Serendipity and Reliability

Why the best product experiences manufacture both surprise and trust.

Serendipity and reliability are two of the most powerful forces that can be captured in designing a product. Do what it says on the box extremely well or surprise me (positively).

These two things may seem slightly at odds but I have found that the most engaging products have elements of both — they tend to be either serendipitously reliable or reliably serendipitous.

In the latter, a user is consistently surprised by how dependable a product is in increasingly challenging use cases or environments. There may be a bit of “overpromise, underdeliver” to this.

In the former, a user exposed to “manufactured serendipity” that arises when a product consistently delivers on a core proposition, but in a way in which the path to that value delivery is often unknown ex-ante.

I experienced examples of both of these today:

Krisp — Serendipitous Reliability

On the box, Krisp says it mutes background noise in any communication app. This has been extremely valuable for many over the last six months of confinement as our personal and professional lives came crashing together. And the product works incredibly well in this context.

But today, it handled something I wouldn’t have imagined was possible. While a power drill was breaking through a concrete floor in the room next to me, I was able to do a call with Krisp turned on and the person on the other end had no idea.

This may be an extremely example, but is illustrative of how elements of positive surprise can be injected into products billed as utilities.

Clay— Reliable Serendipity

Clay helps users be more thoughtful with people in their professional lives. Clay scans a user’s calendar to automatically collect who you have met over the years. It then populates all their relevant social information including their bio and your meeting history. There is also an activity feed populated by Twitter bio changes and articles about your contacts.

The user doesn’t do any manual work to populate information about their network.

It takes some time to trust a product like this, especially for someone like me who enjoys tagging things. But over time it earns trust by delivering a multitude of unexpected paths towards the end objective of being more thoughtful with people.

One such serendipitous path: I noticed a contact’s Twitter bio had changed and clicked into their profile. My attention was called to a meeting on my calendar (that was eventually cancelled) from six years ago that I had no recollection of. Over the past year, I have gotten to know this person relatively well but had totally forgotten about the “missed connection” from six years ago.

A nice surprise that also gives me confidence in the product’s ability to fill in the “hidden context” of my relationships without my explicit input.

I’m sure there are a number of other examples that fit one of these two archetypes. If any come to mind for you, let me know on Twitter.

Quick disclaimer: TechNexus, the firm I work for, is an investor in Krisp.

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