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Digitalization helps automate processes, use artificial intelligence for better insights and machine learning and connect systems and devices with each other. However, at the core of the digital transformation is always the need to make things better and easier to use.
Usability and UX (user experience) are often used synonymously but they do mean different things both on a technical and a design level. However, it is very rare that they don't connect, since good usability usually involves taking the UX into account and vice versa.
The term usability describes how a product, software or system can be used, specifically, how easy and intuitive it is to use and how efficient it is in the end. This includes:
Bad usability therefore means that a product or system is difficult to use and learn, that it's easy to make mistakes, that it takes longer than necessary to get results and that it's hard to get the right information.
Usability is part of product design. This entails functionality but also look and feel. Things like a cleanly structured website or a colorful button that draws your attention are just as much part of usability as a complex payment process.
Eslam Tawakol defines good design as follows:
"Good design is one that fills the gap between business goals and user needs." (source: "Good Design vs. Bad Design: Examples from Everyday Experiences")
There are many different lists of specific "principles" or key attributes of usability and nearly every single usability expert will have their own set. However, there are commonalities that are usually named in one way or the other:
Clarity - Information should be easy to get and discern. This starts with looking at an interface and knowing where to find specific pages, functions or information. Clarity can also include designing interfaces and processes in a way that it doesn't take extensive trainings to "grasp" the operations.
Control - Mistakes happen which is why it's important to give users the chance to reverse them. Whether through double-checks when deleting something, by undoing an action, going back to a former version or back out of a process - giving users the freedom and control to make mistakes without irreversible results inspires more experimentation and creativity.
Standards - Standards can be dry and boring but they serve their purposes. Using the universally accepted terms, symbols, and structures for processes, interfaces, and actions is actually much more enabling than trying to re-invent the wheel. Additionally, it's important to keep things consistent across business units, platforms, and processes so people don't make mistakes simply because the prompt is misleading.
Accessibility - Whether you work with user profiles or not, any software, app or website should be easily accessible which includes fast loading times, mobile responsiveness, correct links, and accessibility features such as alt text for images and other ways to make it easier to get all necessary information.
For further reading: The Daily Egg | Nielsen Norman Group
User experience is seemingly self-explanatory. It describes the entire experience a user has with a product or system. However, this is not just about usability but also includes more abstract concepts such as subjective impressions, emotions, even expectations towards the experience.
User experience is therefore both the feeling a user has while using the product and also the lasting impression. This can include the value it provides, the mood it puts the user in, and even the fun that usage might bring (or the absence of it).
The biggest difference between usability and user experience lies within the goal. Usability has the goal to create an easy, intuitive solution that is efficient and has good results. User experience, meanwhile, is supposed to elicit positive emotions and impressions. This is why usability is crucial for a positive user experience, after all, frustration due to complicated processes or irreversible errors don't usually make us happy.
UX and usability are important to support the customer journey. The easier a customer can navigate on a website or perform certain processes and the more they enjoy the experience, the more likely they are to repeat that experience.
However, it's not just customers that profit massively from great UX and usability. Employees, partners, third-party vendors and other stakeholders are just as important when it comes to the adoption, usage and efficiency of digital solutions and products.
According to the 2022 CRM Impact report by SugarCRM (PDF), 76% of survey participants state that their biggest frustration with CRM is a system that is too complex, not intuitive or user-friendly, or can't be customized. However, the ease of use for any solution is closely tied to both its adoption rate (how many people will use the solution regularly) and its efficiency (the value brought by the use of the solution).
Additionally, a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey found that 55% of executives believe that it's impossible to create great customer experience without providing great employee experience (EX). However, only 22% actually prioritized EX as one of the top 5 investment topics. Given that digital transformation is a top priority on almost every company's 5-year strategy, it seems counter-intuitive to not include a great employee experience in terms of training, culture, and technological enablement.
Users across different business units continuously lose time when they have to correct faulty processes, research hidden information or clean up data. This can lead to frustration and hurt time-sensitive tasks. Furthermore, it usually detracts from more strategic or creative tasks which in turn can't reach their full potential.
Even more so, in direct customer contact, a clunky solution can both impact the employee and customer experience. A smooth-running solution that is easy to use and provides necessary information usually results in faster reply-times, more relevant information for the employee and the customer, and a general positive outcome for both parties. A happy customer gives positive feedback and is more collaborative which makes the employee happy and motivates them for their next ticket. It might be a cliché but it's true: a happy employee is much more likely to provide a customer experience that goes above and beyond.
For example, according to a study by Lucidworks (via globenewswire.com), service employees are not happy when they have to use multiple platforms to provide answers to their customers' request. Additionally, crucial communication tools such as internal chat are not always provided or - in case of one third of all respondents - don't work efficiently.
This shows that the provision of these tools is only the first step, they also need to be set up in a way that enables employees.
By the way, other stakeholders such as vendors, third-party suppliers, etc. also can profit from usability and UX, especially when it comes to data transparency, smooth processes, and keeping the brand experience aligned.
An intuitive, clean interface that ideally can be personalized to show the most important information and functions is key because it is the main "hub" for most users.
If it looks nice and modern, it automatically elevates the experience (unless the modern look comes at the price of functionality).
Especially the option to personalize the dashboard, thus only showing those elements, reports, and next steps that are important for the day-to-day-business can enhance every single employee's experience and even aid their personal work style.
Automated processes that are easy to set up and work with help reduce manual efforts and open up resources for tasks that require more skills and creativity. Low-code or no-code functionalities are a great way for users to create their own solutions and automated processes without needing any programming know-how. In general, a system that allows users to automate or at least partially automate easy routine tasks can drive efficiency, reduce errors, and connect processes with each other for more transparency across all business units.
From my own marketing perspective, it is also important to be able to change and edit any active process for optimization (or simply to remove a typo from an automated email).
It might seem like a small detail but the way things are named plays a big part in how intuitive a system is. This covers button descriptions, filter options, menus, etc. My personal opinion is that no one needs to reinvent the wheel when it comes to names. Sometimes, using the standard description is the best way to make something understandable for the majority of users.
It is important to note that terminology is not something that should be taken "out of the box", though. It can make sense to look at the terminology of a standardized system and define whether this fits the company terms or whether it needs to be adapted.
Just like too many cooks can spoil the soup, too many things on one page can confuse the user. There is a real art to finding the right layout and structure for a complex system such as a website, a CRM system, etc. I am quite sure that there never will be the one perfect way to present a solution for all users but there are definitely developers out there who know how to create interfaces that support usability.
Especially when it comes to internal apps and customized systems, users should be involved for testing from the beginning. As much as user interface (UI) &UX experts know about best practices, the people who will actually use the software should get input on how they want to and will use the solution.
Also, without being superficial, a good-looking interface will be more popular than an interface that could come straight from the 90s. Of course, function will always trump form but often, an nice form can aid functionality.
Smart search functions as well as an easy access to relevant data is at the core of the digital transformation - and of productive work. Central data management is crucial to enable every user and to avoid data silos and time spent gathering information.
Mobility and offline capabilities of software can further enhance the extent to which field staff (e.g., in service or sales) can perform their tasks, document customer visits and look up information.
In general, file sharing and file access is a big topic for usability and UX, since it often is not just about the platforms and software that are used but also about the setup and structure which can be incredibly individual for each company or even business unit. As with Terminology, standards across all business units can help to make it easier for everyone to find and access the right information (and use it securely).
I am a big fan of the little question mark that hovers next to a button or field that I have to fill out which will tell me what I need to do in case it's not fully clear. The support given both within the system and in the help center should be considered part of the user experience, since it will be the first thing users will look for when they encounter an issue. Since these are moments that are often closely attached to negative emotions, UX needs to be at the top of its game in any service and support environment.
A pro-active support - whether via human help or AI - usually gives information directly, often for example with a pop-up, a chat window or otherwise visible next steps to guide the user through the process.
A few years ago, I watched a video about Google's augmented reality development of the HoloLens. One of the key developers explained that they tested different ways of interactions for sliders. Now, given that it's virtual, an AR slider doesn't have to do anything but perform the action it's supposed to do. But apparently, it was incredibly satisfying for users to "grab" the virtual sliders and hear its movements via auditive signifiers.
Additionally, people used either their finger or their entire hand depending on the button's size even though no real pressure was needed.
Now, these are seemingly minor details but the way a system, software, website, etc. feels, sounds, and looks can heavily impact how fun or satisfying it is to use it. Gamification can play a big part and doesn't have to involve elaborate actions. Simple things such as progress bars, playful elements such as a creative loading wheel or even a satisfying button use can enhance the overall experience and make it "fun".
For example, I am a big fan of drag & drop widgets on website builders. Since I am not a developer, they give me the ability to create my own landing pages and they are fun to use since they remind me of playing with Lego. Since I have fun using these widgets, I am much more inclined to try things out, optimize, and even volunteer when it comes to a new page.
UX and usability go hand in hand when it comes to positive experiences and efficient, simple processes. This is not just true for customers but for all users of any software, app and system within a company. It is therefore important to not just map customer journeys for optimization but also look at the general user journeys and adapt them if necessary.
Read, how we supported 11880 by replacing the CRM solution and turning their complicated CPQ and contract management into a smart, easy-to-use solution.
Juliane Waack is Editor in Chief at DIGITALL and writes about the digital transformation, megatrends and why a healthy culture is essential for a successful business.
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