Do You Really Need To Worry About User Experience Design? Absolutely, And Here’s Why

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Imagine yourself going through the process of making a purchase or using a particular product, whether that be online or in the real world, regardless of what you're trying to achieve (make a purchase, complete a task), you have a pretty clear expectation of what your experience should be… right?

Now imagine if the business you're attempting to buy from or the product you were using paid no attention to your needs or expectations, made you jump through a bunch of irrelevant hoops or forced you to go through a process “their way”, because they're the experts in their own product(s) after all.

You'd probably find a way to do avoid using that business or product. I know I've done that in the past, actively chosen to find another business to purchase (the same product) from or elected to use a different piece of software or app in order to get closer to the experience I want.

And that is one of the big reasons why you need to worry about User Experience Design, your customer has a choice and if they're not satisfied with their interaction with your product or service, they can go elsewhere to find the experience they want… and history shows this to be true.

Who remembers Blockbuster?

Ah, the good old days of going down to your local video rental store and hoping they had the movie you wanted, getting home and discovering it hadn't been rewound (or the DVD/Blu-ray was scratched), having just the one or two days to fit in watching it, before going back to the store to return.

Today, you can watch just about any movie you want online, on demand and there's nary a late fee in sight, or the need to trudge down to a store in whatever the weather just to find out what you want isn't available.

DVDs lined up on a shelf in a library

Of course, this wasn't just about Blockbusters User Experience, technology played a huge part in revolutionising the way in which we consume content, however before Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services came along, new ways to watch DVDs arrived, disrupting the market and giving customers a choice.

LoveFilm in the UK was a great example. You set up an account online, choose which subscription you wanted to pay for (monthly usually) and then simply chose what you wanted to watch. LoveFilm then sent your DVDs/Blu-rays to you in the post, you picked when to watch them and sent them back when you were done (they supplied reply paid envelopes for each DVD you watched).

Of course, it's not like the local video store disappeared overnight, but what services like LoveFilm did was take the time to actually consider what people wanted when it came to renting movies. Rather than stick to the “old ways” of doing business, they thought about changing the experience of watching DVDs, they asked themselves how they could make their customers lives better and easier.

And yes, they did do away with the idea of late fees… a winner if you ask me.

But how can optimising the user experience help you?

The short answer is, it depends.

It depends on what your business does, what products or services it sells and who your target audience is. If you don't know who your target audience is, or have an idea of who your customers are and why they are using your product or service then that's a good place to start.

What you'll probably find is that while your customers have a lot in common, there is likely to be distinct types, each with different needs (or wants) that can influence how you design and deliver your product. Recognising that people do the same thing differently can help you to provide a better level of service to your customers.

Not only that, you will discover things that may seem counter intuitive.

Customer using an online application process to buy a product

A great example was found during a project I did for buying insurance online; the business wanted to decrease the number of calls to their call centre, so you'd think that putting a telephone number clearly within the application process would result in more people deciding to call to buy their insurance, right?

Wrong! What we discovered was that people who were prepared to buy their insurance online didn't automatically pick up the phone when they saw there was a number they could call. What it did do though, is give the user the confidence that if they did have a problem they had the “option to call”, which reassured them that their was support available if it was required.

And this was just one of a great set of insights we discovered by concentrating on the user experience, rather than just focusing on what the business wanted (or thought to be true). Additionally, the effort we put into understanding the needs of the customer helped to justify future business decisions, leading to more sales, which was ultimately the purpose of the project.

But what if you're a small business, isn't UX expensive?

Look, it would be easy to fall back on the good old “you get what you pay for” excuse when it comes to investing in User Experience Design and while to some extent that is true, the better way of looking at it is what the impact could be on your bottom line i.e. how valuable is UX in the long run versus the short term cost?

Let's go back to the insurance example for a second. Before the project started, the business was getting approximately a 3% conversion rate, so for every 100 people who started their application and received a quote 3 would end up buying their insurance from this business.

Once we had finished learning about the needs of customer and optimising the process we were seeing conversion rates of up to 9% (during promotional pricing periods) and averaging 6%+ over the course of the year. And not only that, we managed to increase the number of quotes generated overall, which meant there was a compounded impact to the bottom line.

So what could it mean for you?

Graphic illustrating the concept of increasing sales and profit

Let's do some simple calculations shall we (I'll highlight the key numbers. Let's say before optimisation your conversion rate was 2% (not uncommon online, especially for digital products), you usually sell your product for $100 profit (we'll stick with products for now) and you were selling 20 “items” each week.

This would mean that you're making $2,000 profit every week (20 x 100) or $104,000 every year (20 x $100 x 52).

Now let's imagine we increased your conversion rate by 50%, from 2% to 3% (not unheard of), so now you're managing to sell 30 items each week instead of 20. Your profit per item stays the same, but now your numbers look like this:

Your profit has increased to $3,00 every week (30 x $100) or $156,000 every year (30 x $100 x 52).

That's a bottom line increase of $52,000 per year without increasing the number of prospects viewing your offer, if the improvements to the user experience also increase how many people see your offer then the affect of the improved conversion rate increase is compounded, just like the insurance example.

Even if you had to invest $50,000 to optimise your website/app/service, you would recover this cost in the first year and go on to reap the benefits for the long term. And as noted, that example only assumes that your conversion rate increases, with no other changes and as shown in the insurance example if you can also increase the number of people seeing your offer (through referrals for instance), the benefits are exponential.

What will you get from a User Experience Design process?

Depending on your product or service, there are a range of steps that the UX process can take, all designed to help you achieve the outcomes you desire (e.g. more bookings, more app downloads etc. Here are some examples of the things you can expect to happen:

  • Identify desired outcomes: It's no good jumping into a UXD process without knowing what you are trying to achieve, so this step is designed to diagnose exactly what the forthcoming activities are trying to achieve. This could involve talking to business stakeholders, doing research into the industry and competitors etc.
  • Understand your customers: Knowing who the target audience is, how they think and what they are trying to achieve is a crucial step in creating a user experience that will meet customer needs. This helps to challenge assumptions within the business and identify any unknowns or insights that will help the design process.
  • Map the customer journey: Document how users move through a process (or processes), map out how you expect users to behave and then compare that with how they actually behave when observed or based on interviews. We can also use analytical tools to get more data about how a product/service is used.
  • Prototype, test and iterate: Develop the new experience based on the prior steps, be prepared to make significant changes to existing processes and experiment in order to identify which changes have the biggest impact for your customers. Expect to iterate your solution a number of times.
  • Develop design patterns: A design pattern, by definition, is a reusable solution to a commonly occurring ‘problem' within a system e.g. using a dropdown to capture the ‘Title' of a customer. These help to create consistency and commonality across an experience and builds familiarity for users, ensuring they can quickly use other aspects of your solution or product.
  • Style guides: Another tool in ensuring consistency across a range of experiences from your business. These ensure that anyone who works one creating content or designs for your business has a framework to build from, and also ensure your brand and values are represented within the final solution.

That's a pretty high level view of what you can expect from the UX process, with reality being that there are a range of tasks that will be undertaken at each stage to deliver the right outcome. Additionally, depending on your business and product, there is plenty of flexibility as to what exactly you should do, all driven but what it is that you want to achieve… it is not a rigid framework that you are railroaded into following.

In conclusion

It's clear that the answer to the original question of “Do you need to worry about User Experience Design” is a resounding yes. Consumers have a wide choice of suppliers and products to choose from, meaning if your experience is not up to scratch they will vote with their wallets and choose to buy somewhere else.

Customer choosing to provide positive feedback about their experience

Yes, the investment in a User Experience specialist or agency can be significant, but anyone you choose should be able to demonstrate the impact they could have on your bottom line. And the reality is, the return on investment is ongoing, realised over time and will likely extend well beyond that single project.

Putting the customer at the heart of your design process and listening to their needs/wants can uncover some incredible opportunities to disrupt your industry. And just think, if you're not doing it, then it's highly likely that someone else will, meaning your competitors might get the jump on you (not to mention the potential for a new player to revolutionise the market).

So, if you're considering taking at look at the user experience your customers have, take a minute and get in touch with me, I'll be happy to talk through your goals and provide some guidance (no obligation).

Until next time.

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