Making User Experience Count

Photo courtesy: Flickr user Andy BrightWe accept it as truism. Yes, User Experience or #UX counts and is the most important aspect of a product or service. User experience is not just about the design, user interface or measured only when customers are using the product. It is measured across the entire lifecycle. It is about making things easy and frictionless.

Make it easy for prospects to know about your product. Make it easy to buy. Make it easy to onboard. Make it easy to get to results after first use. Make it easy for continued use. Even make it easy to switch.

All these intuitively make sense. But leading with User Experience, however noble this sounds, is no different from leading with tech specs and product features. What is missing in our push for frictionless user experience is data – Data on these key questions

  1. Who is the customer?
  2. Why are they hiring the product?
  3. What are their alternatives?
  4. How do they make buying decisions?
  5. What aspects of the product do they value and are willing to pay for?
  6. What product factors influence repeat business?

Without data on these we risk focusing on improving wrong aspects of user experience. Wrong because those do not affect customer buying decisions or their value perception. Take for instance a widely read short piece on user experience by Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt of NetFlix.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAS1AAAAJDQ4YTI4Mzk5LTRlNTUtNDU1Yy04NTg0LWVjZjA3NzYyOWJjZANeil makes a case why the toiletries at hotels are poorly designed and present bad user experience. He describes the profile of user (wears glasses) and context (about to take bath) and puts forth a recommendation.  He goes on to make design recommendations for better user experience. Makes sense.

But have we answered the six questions on customers?  Take for instance the question of how these customers make buying decisions. How many travelers – leisure or business – do you think will make a buying decision based on user experience of shampoo bottles?

Answering this or the list of six questions is not difficult. We have several methods at our disposal like ethnographic research, conjoint analysis or randomized trials (like AB testing) to get customers to reveal their preferences.

Before getting that crucial data why go down the path of optimizing user experience of one small part of the lifecycle? At best you please those who are already your rabid fans and at worse you incur huge opportunity cost of not focusing on the the right things that drive adoption and grow business.

For instance, an observational study may reveal customers assign more value to check-in process and free breakfast over shampoo bottles at the bathroom. You may be delivering better experience with design change but won’t move the needle on what matters.

User experience is indeed key but leading with it is same as leading with technology (feeds and speeds). Start with the customer and answer the key questions before solving the wrong problem.

What can we learn about business from Sophie?

Sophie is an international star. Sophie is no ordinary person, it is a rubber teething toy for children. It brings in $29 million a year in sales. Only six years ago it was doing less than $8 million a year.  No teething trouble here. For all these big numbers, Sophie is not backed up by big company with large marketing budget.

While Mattel and other toy makers are plowing billions into new product development and marketing, a small company in France captured the hearts and minds of millions of parents and gums of their children. The revenue numbers and growth trajectory of Sophie are no child’s play.

Their journey to this state, their product decisions and marketing methods teach us valuable lessons for running a business, especially startups.

What can we learn about business from Sophie?

  1. Sophie is simple: Your product cannot be any more complex than this remarkable children’s toy. Less is more. Cut everything possible and deliver a minimum product the customer is willing to pay for. They will bite. Set the price to $25 too.
  2. User Experience must tap into all 5 senses:
    “The CEO hired a psychotherapist, who concluded the rubber chew toy tapped into all five senses: sight with its strongly contrasting colors; hearing with its easy squeak; taste because it is easy to chomp on; and the touch and smell of the natural rubber. The toy’s petite size made it easy for babies to grip.”
    Your product’s User Experience cannot be just about color of the buttons. Remember, with iPad and other devices your customers touch your product. Sooner or later, with next new iPad, they will be tasting it too.
  3. Turn customers into marketers:
    “Parents create pressure on other parents”
    Enchant your customers with a remarkable product. Delighted customers will create significant social pressure  for their friends and peers and create an environment where use of any other product will be a shame. rabid fans will be recommending your  products on a scale of 0 to 10.
  4. Stick to what works:
    “The manufacturing of Sophie has changed little over the years”
    Do not chase every new technology that comes around in the name of efficiency and cost reduction. Your product’s intrinsic characteristics are defined by how it is made. When you change how it is made, you are changing the product and the User Experience.
  5. Pivot: Sophie got its start  as rubber ballon used to spy on German lines during WW-I. Then as their business model changed and the company got out of the building and talked to their customers, it became the present day adorable product. It is clear that they applied all the lean startup principles, failed fast and pivoted by hypothesis testing.

What is your excuse for not growing your sales four-fold like Sophie did?