There have been increased efforts to improve the usability and the user experience for enterprise software solutions. The user experience is much more than utilizing software – it's all the interactions that occur during the life cycle of the software for a particular set of end users and customers. This is why the term user journey may be the best for describing the ongoing "relationship" between users and vendors and the software they provide. To engender better post-sale end user experiences, software vendors must integrate that journey with two other journeys: the software design phase user journey and the buyer journey for purchasing software. Although different roles may inhabit these three journeys, this is an opportunity for convergence in terms of how to go about creating software that people want to buy, use, keep and recommend.
Enterprise software often provides a less satisfying experience for the end user journey. Enterprise software vendors really need to do a better job of focusing on the end user perspective, particularly to improve software structure and usability as much as possible. Perhaps larger vendors should take a lesson from smaller vendors: adopt a core focus with the end user at top of mind, and simply break down what is essential to achieve what users really need and want – no more, no less.
There are opinions that choosing SaaS / Cloud offerings is the no-brainer solution to poorly designed enterprise software -- but it's not that simple. In particular, larger enterprises have complex problems that usually require sophisticated software solutions that provide a lot of capabilities. Vendors should pay attention to the key word sophisticated: create clean, smooth-performing software through thoughtful design to enable great user experiences. Many enterprise customers / users' would like easy-to-consume little packages of software to handle needs but not all problems can be solved that way.
The Chicken and the Egg
The three journeys. Logically the order would be: 'software design phase' user journey; 'purchase of software' buyer journey; and post-sale end user journey. But I don't think that things really work that way when creating and selling software. Let's forget about the first release of a software offering and instead concentrate on the journeys that kick in thereafter. After all, when software is first designed it isn't about the user or customer as much as it is about the "vision" of the founders, or worst case, "cool technology".
The sequence I see: buyer journey, design phase user journey, and post-sale end user journey.
Each of these three journeys is distinct, and each journey serves up roles that comprise the Customer. Nice and confusing – and I believe that the lack of integration for how these journeys are handled by traditional software vendors has contributed greatly to the existence of far too many software offerings that do not achieve the work that "customers" need to be successful in their own enterprises.
In the sales process for traditional enterprise software, the customer-as-buyer often is a composite of roles: mid-level managers who choose the software, VPs who approve purchases, CEOs and CFOs who influence or dictate purchase decisions, and even staff in accounts payable who enact purchase transactions. Defining and engendering excellent experiences for a customer or buyer journey comprised of all of these roles will require a lot of work. But this is work that should be done for vendors to understand their "customers".
Things get messier when the "customer experience" extends to the two end user journeys – the composite "customer" has become more complex, requiring even more work to reconcile what it takes to deliver software that enterprises will want to buy, that users get value from for their work, and that will earn customer loyalty. And since, like so many aspects of enterprises, the three journeys usually persist in silos with little movement towards convergence, improving the customer experience will require vendors to understand a lot more about how these journeys should integrate and interoperate.
Why So Much Bloatware?
Bloatware has become the not-so-great hallmark of enterprise software. Many software companies fail to assess whether they have achieved a good core competency before branching off into other areas. If the knee-jerk reaction is to start adding bloatware, then it's time to re-examine the direction of the company, how it views the solution space, and the current business model. What gets lost in the arms race to add more features is the user experience. A degraded user experience leads to lack of adoption, continuous dissatisfaction with the software offering, and potential defection to another vendor. The inability of software vendors to see the three journeys in an integrated "big picture" may be one of the chief culprits for enterprise software bloat.
But there are other culprits. Buyers frequently focus on business goals and more strategic outlooks, so their requirements often do not always match what end users need. But business goals are also enacted by the day-to-day work of the end users who depend on software to get the job done well. The creators of software should keep both of these camps in mind.
End users are also guilty in the bloatware escalation. The users of software can make requests for features and functions that may only matter for current work needs. If the "customer" (composite of all the different roles) insists that these changes must be made to keep the account, vendors often cave and add more and more features over time. Many of these features may not even matter to the bulk of current and future end users.
Source: Creating Passionate Users
First Journey: The Buyer Journey for Purchasing
For enterprise software, it is the buyers of the software that many vendors see as the "customer". On the buyer journey, customers go through various stages to reach a decision about purchase. The buying process for enterprise software can be complex and involve multiple steps. Adding to complexity, the buyer is that schizophrenic composite of multiple roles in the enterprise. Since the buyer frequently is not the end user, the buyer's organization already has a serious disconnect between the decision makers and the employees who have to make use of the software in support of work to be done.
Most enterprise vendors want their sales teams to close deals quickly as possible. So vendors don't want sales teams veering off into extensive discussions of end user needs and requirements. These sales people are dealing with the composite buyer of the software and are more focused on the process to gain approval from all buyer roles.
The harmful disconnect between the enterprise software buyer journey and the end user experience is articulated by Michael Krigsman:
Economics and strategy lie at the heart of why traditional enterprise software is so unloved. For the most part, vendors sell these products to budget holders, who are primarily managers and executives, making end-user satisfaction a secondary consideration. When large companies buy software, selection committees focus on many factors, starting with the product's ability to address "organizational needs." This common approach incentivizes vendors to prioritize management goals over creating delight for end users.
Enterprise software still doesn't care about users. Its focus continues to be serving executives, rather than employees, because executives make buying decisions. Therefore, we see all the song and dance about BI and in-memory computing, while employees continue to suffer with terrible UIs and no options.
We are at a point where not only software vendors must better understand end users, but the buyers of software need the same education. If a company is buying software technology to improve performance and competitiveness, then the company had better focus on key contributors to success: empowered end users - their own employees - who deserve to have highly usable and reliable tools to carry out the work of the company without wasting a lot of time each day on software that is difficult to use and doesn't meet requirements.
Second Journey: Software Design and the User Experience
In software design and development phases, the user experience and user journey should be important aspects. The software companies that are improving the usability of their offerings realize that they have to understand how the software is used in the 'real world'. There can be multiple user roles that have different routines and reasons for interacting with the offering. It's likely that the growth of SaaS and mobile apps has been a significant factor in pushing more traditional enterprise vendors to take usability seriously, as expectations for what technology should deliver evolve.
Doing a good job with usability and the user experience is much more difficult for traditional enterprise software, which is often complex, with a lot of steps to complete tasks. Consumer apps and SaaS offerings have an easier time with usability due to much smaller scope for what the technology accomplishes. For designers and developers of enterprise software, a constant awareness of the various end users throughout all phases of software design and development is essential.
- Repeat to refine. Successive cycles of exploration, creation and evaluation should generate a clearer understanding of the needs, better solutions to meet these needs, and stronger evidence that the needs are met.
- Test early and test often. Perform quick tests with rough prototypes, early enough in the process that meaningful change is still possible.
- Strive for simplicity. Simplicity is powerful but elusive, it requires a clear and succinct vision of what the product is about. Ask "can you do it with less?".
- It's normal to be different. In addition, it's normal to want different things and do things in different ways. Understand diversity amongst your customers. Understanding disability is only one part of understanding diversity.
- Consider the whole user journey. Satisfying user goals involves designing for end-to-end journeys that takes place in real-world contexts.
- Detail matters. Dig deeper to uncover and address the things that people really do, really want, and really need.
- More than just users. Consider the needs of stakeholders such as regulators, shareholders, manufacturers, retailers, purchasers, installers, supporters, and maintainers.
- Challenge assumptions. It's easy to get stuck in thinking that the way things have been done is the only way they could be done. List your assumptions and ask "why?".
- Let ideas breathe. Give wacky ideas the chance to become great ideas.
- Prove it. Complement opinions with evidence.
- Wear different hats. Be creative, be critical and know when to switch.
In the article Why User Experience Cannot Be Designed, Helge Freheim discusses Hassenzahl's "Model of User Experience":
Several models of UX have been suggested, some of which are based on Hassenzahl's model. This model assumes that each user assigns some attributes to a product or service when using it. As we will see, these attributes are different for each individual user. UX is the consequences of these attributes plus the situation in which the product is used.
The attributes can all be grouped into four main categories: manipulation, identification, stimulation and evocation. These categories can, on a higher level, be grouped into pragmatic and hedonic attributes. Whereas the pragmatic attributes relate to the practical usage and functions of the product, the hedonic attributes relate to the user's psychological well-being. Understanding the divide can help us to understand how to design products with respect to UX, and the split also clarifies why UX itself cannot be designed.
Hassenzahl's "Model of User Experience"
Often software vendors push their teams to complete new development as quickly as possible, imposing impossible schedules on work-constrained teams. With this approach, design and development teams are not given adequate time or even resources to properly pursue user experience improvements. Some teams may not even be interacting directly with product management or architecture teams – instead they are handed tasks to complete without benefit of the big picture or concern for the end user journey.
Design and development teams can be in silos cut off from other teams, and cut off from the 'customer enterprise' and its end users. Software design often calls out the importance of "stakeholders" -- often the reality is a rocky course through a poorly coordinated "ecosystem" of disparate non-unified groups with conflicting agendas. Often the stakeholder with the least power is the end user of the software.
Third Journey: The User Experience After The Sale
Often we think of the post-sale experience as the traditional customer lifecycle that focuses on all interactions between software vendor and the customer after the sale. However, the customer life cycle is usually concerned with the business aspects between the customer and the software company and not on how the customer continues to use and interact with the software itself. The "customer" in the customer life cycle may not even be any of the end users.
End users do have ongoing relationships with the software and the vendor as each user role utilizes the software solution in support of work to be done. Each end user experience is colored by the sum total over time of usability, performance, meeting needs, reliability, training, customer support, and so on.
End user adoption and success with the software should not be the responsibility of the buying company – it is the responsibility of the software vendor, if that vendor wants renewals, customer referrals, fewer unhappy customers, protection against competitors. Many software companies have developed genuine interest in helping end users achieve successful experiences and strive to create software offerings with the end user in mind. Vendors of complex software solutions often implement user enablement programs as guidance for accomplishing different projects and tasks, to help users get up and running more quickly.
Another approach to aiding and improving software user experiences is through monitoring technology. Monitoring technology measures, and at times manages, how end users work with enterprise software. The purpose is to help improve user experiences, to improve the adoption rates of software by enhancing the successful use of the software. Interactions can be analyzed on a user by user basis. However, most of these offerings are "application performance management" solutions where most of the focus is on the performance of the application in a given IT infrastructure, and not really on the people and their experiences.
One of the most empowering ways end users let vendors know about their experiences with software is through independent well-organized user groups, such as Americas' SAP User Group (ASUG). As with any community, end user groups provide a stronger voice for expressing the good, the bad and the ugly about the software in different ways: directly to the vendor, in discussion forums and other social media, in publications, at user group events.
One of the barriers for software vendors understanding end users comes from the customer enterprise itself, which is usually comprised of silos with poor cross-team collaboration and communication. There may be no concerted effort by the customer enterprise to find out what software end users want and need, and what they don't want. Successful user-focused software design requires constant and deep communication with end users. Vibrant interactions lead to better designs and better usability. Often thedesign team is not allowed direct access to end users – by the customer enterprise.
Source: Creating Passionate Users
Where Do These Journeys Lead?
It can be confusing when considering these three essential journeys that greatly impact the success of software offerings, both for vendors and customers. Terminology is confusing at times, with references to customers, buyers and users. All the more reason to understand what these journeys are about. Software vendors could greatly improve the usability and desirability of software offerings if they would understand and support interoperability between these customer/user journeys and experiences.
Many traditional software vendors lag in adopting an outside-in approach to creating, selling and supporting applications. Often the focus is not on the buyer or user, but on internal goals that can conflict with the needs of customers. Vendors follow paths to success that frequently are disconnected from customer success and end user experience excellence.
For many software vendors and their customer enterprises, the three journeys exist in silos, with disconnects between the teams that are involved in supporting and enhancing each journey. Integration and interoperability between the journeys must take place on both the vendor and the customer sides. And the vendor should see every aspect of the three journeys as an opportunity to demonstrate brand quality and reliability.
The software user experience, just like the customer experience, only belongs to the user. You can design software in support of the user experience, design for enhancing and improving the experience the user can potentially have, but you can never design the experience itself.
About the author: Julie Hunt understands the overlap and convergence of many business processes and software solutions that once were thought of as "separate" – and how this impacts both software Vendors and Buyers, as well as the strategies that enterprises implement for how technology supports the business and its customers. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategies for B2B Software Solutions: Working from the Customer Perspective