No company would survive without its customers. If that sounds glaringly obvious, then I have your attention.
A recurring problem in today’s society, however, is that acknowledging that something is true and modifying our actions to account for that truth are two different things.
In the world of digital transformation, for example, there is often a disconnect between knowing that customers and end users are key stakeholders – that a business literally would not survive without its customers – and actually taking customer or user input into account when making major business decisions.
Our existing digital landscape offers users a plethora of options for nearly every good and service they consume. Note, we should always think of our “users” as actual real people and not just a general term. In fact, businesses that don’t actively embrace user-first design and include people in their decision-making processes could find themselves asking where all their customers have gone. And they won’t like the answer.
Simply put, companies need to understand that customers are the platform for success, not only in terms of purchasing power but also ongoing business optimization and product development or innovation. With that in mind, here are three ways to ensure you are evolving in a way that adds value for the people or entities that engage with and use your products.
I have written in the past about the UX maturity scale – a spectrum of how well integrated user experience concerns are to a business’s overall operations.
A common attitude at the low end of maturity is this idea that “I know my customers, so I don’t need to talk to them.” That’s often accompanied by this one: “I’ll follow the market leaders. If Amazon, Facebook, or Google do something, I’ll follow their lead.”
That attitude is dangerous for a few reasons.
First, because every user is unique. Market leaders are building products used by millions or billions of people. They may be happy if 90 percent of their users can use their product well enough.
But 10 percent of an audience of two billion (Google Chrome’s estimated install base, for example) is 200 million – and a smaller organization’s entire user base might be made up of people in that group. In other words, it is dangerous to assume that the choices market leaders make will suit your users.
Another reason these attitudes are dangerous is that any knowledge we have about our users is by its nature limited and backward-looking.
For example, you may have detailed analytics about how people use the software you sell, but that data does not tell you what features your users wish your software included. And it certainly doesn’t tell you whether the ways they engage with other products in their life are impacting the way they would like to interact with yours.
When companies don’t embrace a customer-focused approach in their innovation processes, they can make expensive changes that fail. Decision makers can eliminate features their users love. Or they can deliver new offerings that nobody asked for and miss the mark in addressing customer needs and wants.
To avoid these costly missteps, it’s crucial to adopt user research as a normal, ongoing part of your business decision-making process. For growth-focused organizations, however, user research is only the first step.
One valuable thing you can learn from Google’s ubiquitous presence as the search engine of choice is to think about the users you don’t have – the company refers to this as its Next Billion Users initiative.
Growing beyond its current customer base of more than two billion (according to the latest Google search statistics) will require the tech behemoth to think about how it can reach people who don’t necessarily have access to reliable internet or who only have a mobile device. Some may even prefer voice commands to text.
The same is true for smaller organizations: as you evolve your product or service, you must do it in ways that enable growth. And while one billion users may not be feasible, there is every reason to believe that the next thousand or hundred is achievable.
The good news is that addressing the needs of your current users will likely make your product more attractive to other users. To use an interesting analogy, identifying these needs is similar to how curb cuts – which were designed for people using wheelchairs – are also incredibly helpful to those with roller suitcases, baby strollers, and moving dollies.
From a software perspective, we don’t have to look much further than the rise of Zoom. When the global healthcare crisis became a problem back in 2020, lots of people who had never used the communication portal were signing up and arranging calls with their friends and family. To be honest, many of these new users weren’t as tech savvy as they assumed they were – some of these people had continual trouble figuring out how to mute and unmute their microphones, for example.
If Zoom were invested in adapting its product for ongoing use outside office settings, it might make a more visible mute / unmute button and other controls that are easier to see and use – which would benefit all users. At time of writing, the motion to tell someone that they are on mute is still a recurring segment within the average Zoom call.
Of course, the reality that today’s businesses face is that they are not building products that are strictly in the physical world or in the digital one. Or rather: they’re not building for people who view those two worlds as discrete. Which brings me to my third point.
Facebook’s recent rebrand to Meta was a clear statement of intent in terms of how it sees our virtual lives evolving, with a consensus among design community that there will be an increased requirement to create products for the hybrid digital-physical universe – the metaverse – that people inhabit today.
And while there is no argument that the connected society is still some way from full-on VR experiences being how we work and play, the metaverse itself is slowly creeping into our lives – you can check out this recent article to see how UI/UX will change in the not-so-distant future, for instance.
As businesses think about building things for their users, it’s crucial to remember that we live in an increasingly hybrid world, so the things we build should make transitions between those worlds seamless and easy.
Social media platforms are great at this. AR filters, for example, give users a way to exist in both the physical and digital realms simultaneously, while having an experience that’s more than the sum of its parts.
But what might hybrid experiences look like in other contexts?
Imagine an online user manual with directions for fixing a printer. A more useful metaverse version might be an AR manual that, when users hold their phone’s camera up to the printer, highlights each component they should check to resolve a paper jam.
There are limitless applications like this. And while the general public has been reluctant to put a dedicated VR headset on to date – recent industry research found that that global sales of dedicated devices reached 12.5 million units in 2021 – the potential for these types of experiences is huge.
The important thing for businesses to remember is that their users’ world isn’t static, and the way they interact with other properties (from social media to games to shopping platforms) will shape their expectations and preferences in all areas.
Users Should Affect Every Business Decision
You would not make a major product update without consulting your board, and you should not do it without consulting your users, either.
In today’s competitive marketplace, companies are extremely eager to highlight the differentiators that set them apart but the actual differences between products and experiences can often be almost minuscule. What matters to the average person in the digital realm is that they find what they want when they want it, with a seamless journey not only expected but also a requirement for ongoing engagement.
We should never forget that people always have a choice as to what brands they engage with and, importantly, the ones that they slam the digital door on. The future is already here, but the roadmap to digital success is always one that can be tweaked and improved. Making certain that you think about your customers or end users as key stakeholders in this process should be at the top of your list from day one.
Apexon’s teams of digital engineers and design experts are well-versed in not only solving the toughest challenges but also enhancing your digital maturity. To find out how we do UI and UX right, first time and every time, contact us today by filling in the form below.