The term UX seems to be trending a lot these days in job specs, blogs, company mantras, office talk and meetings. So what is UX, is it really everything, and how can it influence how companies are managed?
UX (User Experience) refers to how well designed a piece of software or website is with regards to its usability and takes a very holistic approach to the design and build of software and hardware. But what if we apply this holistic concept that UX is Everything (https://blog.recurly.com/2013/11/ux-customer-support) and look through this lens to how companies are run, or potentially could be run, to the benefit of its customer, it’s potential customers and ultimately the bottom line? What would the challenges and benefits be to applying this concept of UX to everything the company does from product design through to finance?
I will start by defining what UX is, then I will illustrate seven areas which can influence UX and arguing that UX really is everything, that it can effect how the whole business is run. I will conclude by arguing that there are numerous opportunities to get UX right but to get it wrong could be potentially disastrous, particularly in the digital age.
UX is User Experience is the relationship a person has with a piece of software. This relationship can therefore be fleeting or long term. If this experience is positive companies and organizations would ultimately want to convert a fleeting experience to a long term and fruitful series of experiences with the brand, particularly with regards to websites that sell product or provides access to regularly updated information.
If you were to look at customers and potential customers’ relationship with the whole company UX is as much about an individual’s interaction, say with the customer support staff, the brand as whole, the product and company marketing as it is with the product itself. UX therefore should encompass all areas of the business, much in the same way as data or web analytics [DA] does in the way that DA, in a well run and transparent organization, measures and influences how companies market, sells and interacts with it’s clients or potential clients.
SO HOW IMPORTANT IS UX IN THE DIGITAL AGE?
The Digital Age brings an enormous opportunity to market and sell products around the world through the internet. However this increased exposure of a companies products also of course supports greater competition from old and new rivals who can now operate on a more level playing field through their websites. The digital age also provides a platform for increased social awareness and increasing ways for a customer to comment and complain through more open and accessible social media channels such as YouTube, social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn and blog sites such as this one. Many sites also have a space for customers to write their comments on products and services, for example Amazon, and there are sites whose primary purpose is for the public to write about their experiences of a products, an event or location to enable site visitors to decide whether or not a product is suitable for them or whether or not to go themselves: TripAdvisor is a prime example of this.
UX is also coming under increased scrutiny from within companies, in large part of course due to the increasing number of ways in which individuals can complain in public about their own experiences of a product or service, as above. But also because as more and more products are available online and services are increasingly delivered by through automation, such as on-line stores, self service checkouts, increasingly powerful ATMs at banks and Amazon’s recent experiments with shops without staff, or provided remotely through offshoring to call centres. Where products and services are delivered in person this human interaction becomes a major priority for the company in order to compete. I have always been particularly impressed by the high level of service I experience at Starbucks for example no matter which location I visit, the coffee is pretty good too. (I read in Freakonomics (http://freakonomics.com/books/) that coffee is among the least expensive items for a coffee shop, location is at the top followed by staff costs and then milk.)
EXAMPLES OF FACTORS THAT CAN IMPACT UX:
- A lack of clarity for the customer, I recently walked into Kheils to to see how much it would cost for a tube of aftershave but they did not have any prices either on the items nor on the shelves, they appeared to adopt the ‘if you need to know the price you can’t afford it’ philosophy. This seemed strange to me in an era of a large appetite for information in today’s internet savvy public. This hunger for information goes beyond product availability and pricing and extends to not only the contents of products but where and how these contents were sourced. (For food see Cowspiracy; https://www.cowspiracy.com and for ethical standards for other products such as clothing see Naomi Klien’s influencial book ‘No Label’; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Logo)
- Customer service, Chefs and restauranteurs have stated that customer service, ambience and presentation add up to 50% of why new customers go to a restaurant and return, it’s not just about the food (https://youtu.be/92t-X7CgKlw. After all there has been a large increase in the number of cookery shows, cook books and cooking utensils sold. Top tier restaurants employ sommeliers who undertake significant training and earn a large salary ultimately to assist dinners to choose the right wine to go with their food (sommeliers therefore assist the business in providing clarity for the customer over the complexities of wine and help the restaurant in purchasing and stocking the best wines for the menu, a big profit area for the restaurant business). Customer service is not just about face to face contact however, it’s also about all communications sent out by the company, product updates, press releases, even invoices. I used to work in finance departments of major companies and public sectors and was surprised at the number of invoices I sent out or received that were not clear as to what was being billed. Unclear invoices can lead to confusion, wasted time and frustration, particularly in a busy finance department!
- A poor communications strategy, No matter how good a companies products are or how successful the company is even one ill-conceived communication from the company, or even an individual speaking on behalf of the company, stating a controversial view can seriously undermine the company’s brand. An example of which is a Facebook post from Lithuanian producer Ten Wall which contained negative views on gays which subsequently initiated a backlash of cancelled gigs and sponsorship of a talented and successful composer and producer. (https://thump.vice.com/en_ca/article/qkapnq/ten-walls-homophobic-rant-just-cost-him-his-career)
- Lack of knowledge from staff re. the company’s products, in the main the staff at my local liquor store know very little about the wines they stock and are apparently uninterested in learning more. The last time I visited the lady behind the counter was more interested in telling me about how gorgeous the baguettes were from the store opposite than the wine she was selling me! I therefore buy my wine from a different store when I can even though it is out of my way and more expensive. My preferred store also has a wider selection but that also stems from enthusiasm and knowledge not only of the wine but of customers’ requirements.
- Location, location, location, it’s an old mantra but one that is just as relevant today. If a company has physical stores the location/s need to suite its clientele. For shopping malls is there adequate parking and is it easy to find and get in & out of? Coffee shops need to be where people are working, shopping etc. (In Vancouver, where I am writing this, coffee shops are everywhere!) Companies pay a premium for store locations but businesses are unable to survive if customers can’t find the store or are unwilling to travel to it. Large stores such as IKEA or Walmart are sometimes found far away from other stores but have ample parking and are accessible by public transport. Customers are also likely to be prepared to travel to a specific store such as IKEA or Walmart if they know they can get what they want and at the price they are willing to pay. (Both IKEA and Walmart have very effective web sites where customers can check product availability at specific stores.)
- Keeping up-to-date on customer needs/requirements, the market, trends etc. McDonald's, Coca-Cola, etc. are looking at branching out to incorporate more healthy alternatives as an increasing number of people are transitioning to a vegan, or plant based, diet for health, environmental and animal welfare. Toys R Us however appear to be too far behind the curve regrading shoppers habits ( https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-27/toys-r-us-casts-pall-on-christmas-even-without-closing-stores), Blackberry is now arguably more famous for being too slow to adapt in the fast paced world of mobile phones although the company is now bouncing back with a new phone that covers a niche not currently catered for by Google, Apple nor Samsung; a water and dust resistant phone. (https://www.androidcentral.com/blackberry-motion-coming-canada-november-10). With the increased availability of digital radio in newer cars and in the home with some subscription based broadcasters such as Stingray Music (https://music.stingray.com) who wants to continue to listen to traditional commercial radio with its numerous ads? I listened to a local music station in my morning commute of about 40 minutes recently and in that time I heard 3 songs! How influential are radio advertisements in driving revenue these days anyway?
- Keeping happy, motivated staff with low turnover is key to running any business. Benefits include retention of knowledge, familiarity with regular customers, increased productivity, quality of output and reduced sickness absence. The German car industry looks to be a good model of business, staff relations. The likes of VW, BMW and Mercedes produce an enviable level of quality and quantity of output in Germany which is in large part due to the relationship its unionized workforce has with company management. (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/the-end-of-poverty/why-are-bmw-and-mercedes-so-rich)
UX, taken to its logical confusion, covers all areas of the business so there is a lot that can go wrong. However looked at another way these are areas in which companies can make positive changes to increase their relevance and profitability provided they stay vigilant about what is going on within their organization and the world outside.
This page can also be viewed at https://bellanalytics.net/blog-uxandthecustomer