The business software user experience challenge

A couple of days ago I was having a discussion on the user experience of business applications. We all agreed that in many situations the user experience wasn't very good, but there was no clear solution either. During the conversation I mentioned: If RunKeeper can motivate people to go for a run (as they do with me) it must also be possible to motivate and encourage people to use business software.

The whole discussion got me thinking again, actually during one of the RunKeeper motivated runs, and I found a new perspective on the matter that I want to share with you. It clearly differentiates from earlier arguments on conservative customers and user versus vendor debates. Lets first list some pretty complex products with heaps of features that are very commonly used and actually make many people very happy:

  • Photoshop and other photo editing tools
  • Various video editing tools
  • Microsoft Office
  • AutoCAD
These products are day in day out used in many workplaces and in general have a high satisfaction rating of their users. So what do these products in common that might be applicable to business software too? 

The users of these products all have a common goal and that is to tell a story! They use images, video, text, presentation, drawings, etc. all to support the goal of telling a great story! They are using their creativity to create something and they constantly see the progress of creation shaping up. The photo, video, text, presentation, drawing, etc. is always the center of the attention, as it should be when you try to achieve a goal. This is the reason why these product have such a high satisfaction rating.

Now if you look at business software it's immediately a different story. As a starting point the goals are very divers and probably not aligned between the decision makers and the work force in the organization. I still have to meet a sales guy that loves their CRM system and a consultant that enjoys the daily hour registration and that is absolutely understandable. The goals between the decision makers and the sales guy and consultants are very different. The decision makers have a goal to drive efficiency, while the sales guys goal is to make more commission and the consultant is looking for a promotion. The challenge for business applications is to define the various goals and provide visibility and emotional feedback on the progress of reaching the goals.

The other day I was catching up on my business administration with a clear goal. I wanted to get my quarterly tax declaration out of the door. Last quarter I was late with the payment and this quarter I set myself as a goal to be on time. The used software nicely puts an alert and link on my dashboard: Do Q3 Tax declaration and clicking brings me to a screen where I can take some action and fill in some information. All very nice, but it the execution of the tax declaration and it's not guiding me to the goal of doing a tax declaration. I first have to make sure all my purchases, expenses, sales, bank etc. are processed and up to date. This is usually much more work than doing the actual tax declaration and it would be nice if the software would guide me towards the goal and on the way gives me a feeling of accomplishments, because that is what motivates people. The software just allows me to register heaps of transactions and run a zillion different reports and overviews, but they are not the center of attention for reaching my goal.

I recently got a little bit of funding and started a business. Money is tight and stuff is expensive so I'm actively monitoring my spending related to the set budget. Various tools help me doing this, but neither of them understands my goal, all they can do it present the numbers with ice cold + or - percentages associated with them. Never the software manages to give me a pad on the shoulder and tells me well done. I understand this, because even with the thousands of features it doesn't know my goals.

Fortunately there are also business software examples where my goals are made the center of attention and immediately they are more pleasant to use. When I've successfully completed a consultancy job I want to quickly invoice the customer to create some cashflow and make new investments. Invoicing is an important goal and I love the fact that creating the invoice looks like the actual invoice the customer receives so I can clearly see how the personal message I leave for the customer looks like in the printed or digital invoice they receive. Pressing the big green button: Print the invoice gives a great level of satisfaction and it motivates to get at that point again. 

Business software can solve their user experience challenges to dive deeper into the goals of their users and make the goals the center of attention, give emotional signals of achievement and leave the users with a feeling of a job well done and great achievement. 

I'm available for short term consultancy jobs to see what this could mean for your business solution.