There are no short cuts to good user and customer experience

When making purchase decisions, consumers have for long valued user experience over technical features. Even in B2B market, the purchasing decisions are not solely based on the price and technical features of products. People are making these decisions, and their decisions are influenced by their impression of the use and user experience of the product, which can be based on actual use or expectations. How is the user experience formed, and is it possible to influence it? After all, we are talking about personal preferences and individuals’ personal interpretations of their perceptions.

Companies providing business applications are beginning to see the light when it comes to the importance of user experience. It is tempting to play with the thought that user experience could quickly be added to products, with the help of a suitable consultant, for example. However, user experience goes much deeper than just applying design to the surface – it must be built into the product. As such, there are no short cuts to implementing user experience. It does not mean constant wow surprises while working with the product. Instead, it refers to a well-designed tool that supports the users’ skills and expertise, and thus provides them a feeling of competence in their profession. Users feels that they are in control, in terms of their work and the tools.

Step into the user’s shoes

In the FIMECC UXUS programme that will be completed this autumn, we have worked with Finnish metals and engineering companies to develop a methodology to design for user experience. While a good, excellent or even best possible user experience is a commendable target in itself, it is easier to attain if the user experience is specified in more detail. What is using the product/service/system supposed to feel like?

With FIMECC UXUS companies we have managed to specify visions and concrete goals for user experience in their products and services. This specification process requires in-depth understanding of the user’s work and its objectives. What is the user trying to achieve? What creates challenges or a feeling of competence? Once designers gain an empathic understanding of the users’ work, they begin to understand what it is about and how to best support it by technological means. Gaining this kind of understanding takes time – the organisation as a whole must be willing and able to listen to the users and put themselves in their shoes. This is the only way to specify the kind of experiences valued by the users. After this, it is possible to use design methods to enable desired experiences, be it piece of mind in the control room of a process plant, or a feeling of presence and control during the remote operation of a machine. People, technology and the operating environment form a complex ecosystem in which a desired user experience could, for example, mean that, instead of feeling like a bystander, the user feels part of the whole.

Set goals for user experience

In addition to empathic understanding of the user’s work, the user experience goal-setting can be approached by means of theoretical understanding of human actions and technological opportunities, such as what kind of user experience can be supported by the increasingly common augmented reality applications? Or, what kinds of threats they pose in terms of user experience? Is the company’s brand user-oriented; does it provide the means for specifying the kind of user experience the company wants to facilitate with its products? And if not, should it? Or, could the company’s user experience vision be inspiring and steering further product renewal and innovation? Would it be possible to identify goals for user experience by studying a product from a completely different sector?

Also consider customer experience

In the B2B market, users of the products or systems do not typically make the purchase decision. They hopefully get to have their say, though. On what grounds does the customer organisation make the purchase decision? Who is involved in the decision-making process? During the lifetime of a product, various actors in the customer business may be involved, such as those participating in the purchasing process, those implementing the product, maintenance contact persons and users of the products and services. Focusing on user experience is not enough; customer experience is also important: what are the touch points with the customer, either in person or through e-services? What kind of customer experience is provided? Would it be possible to adopt a common goal of “getting it right first time”? Regardless of contact method or issue, the company will look after the customer and get it right first time. Even if the customers cannot clearly express their need or they end up contacting a wrong department.

Customer experience is often referred to as something that can be measured, based on the idea that customers’ preferences and needs can be monitored. While this is partly true, regardless of from where and how the data is gathered, most important is to utilise the data to gain understanding of the customers. Customer understanding facilitates putting oneself in the customers’ shoes, being genuinely interested in their world and giving empathic consideration to their needs.

From user experience to brand experience

Good customer experience is a fruitful basis for the much-talked-about co-design. When the customer is truly valued and comes first, it is also possible to work with them and gain valuable information for the purpose of further development of products and services.

Ponsse’s CEO Juho Nummela gave a talk at the MPD conference in Tampere in June about genuine customer-orientation made possible by Ponsse’s corporate culture, the “Ponsse Spirit”. While Ponsse has many small customers, it wishes to listen to each and every one, and values all of them. Ponsse’s culture is based on upholding the original values of the family business. During their participation in the FIMECC UXUS programme, Fastems, KONE, Konecranes, Rocla, Rolls-Royce, SSAB and Valmet have gained a broader view of user experience and customer experience, and further, of brand experience. Other companies can follow these pioneering companies in this respect. A good way to start is to consider the user experience of the company’s products, then to consider the wider scope of customer experience and finally, to take a look at an organisational culture that enables it. In the last phase, the company can consider its entire brand in terms of how it reflects customer-orientation and how the brand promise reflects a unified user and customer experience.

Eija_Kaasinen_kasvokuvaEija Kaasinen

Principal Scientist

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