Posts in Category "Rich Internet Applications"

User-centric: how much UX is too much UX?

Originally posted on the @bitpakkit UX/Customer Experience blog. This is part of an enterprise UX and architecture whitepaper that a few folks at Adobe have been working on for release soon. This particular part has been removed from that paper in the ‘edit’ process. I share here because I feel it is worth sharing and since I claim some part of the credit for this along with Craig Randall, Marcel Boucher, Rob Pinkerton and others.

Consumers need or expect a compelling experience across devices, channels and, in some cases, on and off-line. Design and experiential symphony are the new competitive battleground in modern commerce. For business managers, this represents a new method for acquiring customers…or a threat if they lose customers to competitors providing a better experience. The company who provides the best sales or service experience will grow.

Today, most user interface re-design efforts amount to applying lipstick on a pig. This is because it is either a pure design function (aesthetics) or because it is left to developers and technical teams to ‘skin’ the application based on data or functional requirements. There are important differences between UI (user interface) and UX (user experience). UI is about chrome (frosting); UX is about interaction (cake). Better together, the properly layered and frosted cake symbolizes both the unique innovation and the repeatable approach to delivering sweet experiences.

Efforts to link existing systems to provide comprehensive data integration are valuable, but have less to do with customer experience on the front end than with transactional automation on the back end. Such strategies may prove useful for improving customer service through existing systems but even then you might consider integrating information where it is used, in and by the client application or browser. User-centric technologies are designed to induce customer participation from an evolving consumer who wants to modify, create, and respond to product and service offerings in-context and at non-traditional intersections in the customer communications model. Businesses that can reach these customers through experience will grow their customer base and increase revenue opportunity. Unforgiving users will create new business opportunities as well. Customers disappointed with experience will seek new firms for their business.

Performance and blended environments
Personal computing environments are outperforming workplace computing environments. Employees and consumers mix and match their own blended IT environments to optimize performance – and challenge the traditional role of IT. To the business manager, this represents an opportunity to harness employee productivity outside the traditional workplace environment and to reach customers through new touch points. User-centric computing enables telecommuting, personalized workspaces and hour access for employees allowing them to work the way they want to work and increases productivity, loyalty and contribution. To access the participatory customer, there are new opportunities to communicate online, offline, on mobile, and securely through traditionally unsecured channels. Such access provides opportunities for constant contextual analysis and delivery of services based on improved customer insight.

User-centric computing can turn amateurs into professionals, consumers into prosumers, enabling deeper participation and ownership of interfaces and how people use them. Customer participants should be nurtured as human capital as well since they will invest in developing, improving and evangelizing products and services. User-centric technologies provide the tools and access to the machinery of innovation – content, context, communication, collaboration. Employees can design business processes to meet changing market conditions. Customers can design products to meet their specific needs and this dynamic intelligence can be aggregated to unearth new business opportunities.

Opening up traditional business process boundaries provides new opportunities for customer contact and regulatory compliance: User-centric technologies create a complete paradigm shift as they perforate the traditional enterprise border. Business process automation and information security are typically constrained by a network, a machine or a disk. The companies who extend their business outside the traditional enterprise border will generate new business opportunities and can reduce the burden of regulatory compliance.

These boundaries are challenged by new technology delivery models such as SaaS and pervasive client infrastructure such as PDF, Flash, HTML. These new delivery models promise opportunities to delivery superior service with less cost, reach large audiences for compliance without systematic burden and communicate rich, personal information with complete security. Over time I have adopted a refined approach for measuring categorical leadership across three core capabilities that should be inherent in your design thinking and application delivery strategy:

• Reach – you will want your applications to reach the most customers in the most contexts possible with the least amount of effort to provide for these various contexts; e.g. browser, application, mobile

• Experience – You must leverage best practices in experience to deliver on three key opportunities to excel; during customer acquisition or the first touch point, during any interaction dealing with customer service throughout the life of the customer, and enhancing our communications both personal and mass inclusive of all documents and ongoing outbound touch points to provide new levels of interactivity and response

• Optimization – Tireless improvement and betterment as part of a measured approach to bringing these great experiences, enabling us to manage highly responsive environments, constantly optimized both physically and from a content and delivery perspective.

These three core capabilities empower your opportunity to deliver this new breed of applications: high touch, collaborative, everywhere and instilled with a constantly improving and agile sensibility. Further we see an increase in applications built by enterprises to service their customers, leveraging web and enterprise technologies to optimize outcomes by focusing on defining factors that invoke push/pull relationships between systems and users, leveraging dynamic content, rich data visualization and capture and finally social interactions to increase engagement.

Much of your time as an architect is concerned with how to sensibly partition an application into a set of inter-related modules or at minimum recognizable “chunks” of software. Software systems are designed according to human motivations and desires, and any reasonable architecture process should not remove the human element from the architectural design process. Essentially a focus on users both from the perspective of knowledge and environment as well as goals and activities is the best combination, since a pedagogical focus on what users want infers too broad of a set of cases, and conversely a pure focus on activity will not produce the desired results from a user input perspective.

Building permanent bridges to great customer experience

Many executives and IT management I have met with over the past year share the pursuit of customer experience excellence but they also share a similar pain point – you have to start somewhere and you can’t do it all, at least not all at once.

When marketing and technology come together to support a paradigm shift this large it creates natural pressure to get it right and get it right now.  There is no shortage of data that points to real business justification for building stronger ties to your customers.  Consider these data points from Forrester, Gartner and others in the space:

  • Companies are increasing their investment in their most important asset – customers – with 90% seeing this as the most important investment they need to make
  • A company could increase revenues by over $12 million annually in the research and sales process, while the cost savings for improving service could reach $2 million by improving online customer experience
  • Increasing customer satisfaction by 10% for Global 500 companies can lead to additional $200M in potential revenue (on average)
  • Four attributes will characterize the next phase of development – experiences will be: customized by the end user, aggregated at the point of use, relevant to the moment, and social as a rule, not an exception.  Forrester’s Megan Burns refers to this as the CARS principle.
  • 50% of customer service applications are custom built and the packaged customer service app market is highly fragmented, often focusing on a single channel of interaction
  • 57% of online customers will abandon a purchase & 65% are very unlikely to return if you do not provide a good online experience

Productivity experts clearly favor the most successful strategy for any large to-do list as breaking it down into manageable pieces and this is no exception.  There are some things you could consider in your breakdown to help you prioritize, such as:

  • Finding a quick win that will produce fast or high return and does not require a long project to implement
  • Choosing a starting point that will build in a platform or cultural shift that will support further projects or broader change
  • Using data to determine where you have low satisfaction or bottlenecks that could ease conversion or increase loyalty
  • Focusing on people’s passion or commitment to get behind a specific area of change

Many of Adobe’s customers who are focused on transforming their customer experience have done exactly this.  By focusing on key touchpoints in a customer’s journey around points of conversion (acquisition) or complex support interactions (service) they were able to identify projects that were addressable, had clear KPIs, and would help them put in place a signpost for future change and a platform to support that change.  What follows are some great examples of companies who have tackled the customer journey one step at a time, and they were able to start and finish with a clear and attainable goal.

EBS (more info)

The team at EBS recognized that information technology is a powerful tool in delivering value to the business and to members. EBS had an aging client/server technology for mortgage origination that lacked flexibility and did not offer members intuitive and engaging ways to do business with the organization. Driven initially by the need to replace this mortgage origination system — a crucial tool for specialists in 100 branches across Ireland selling mortgages to members — EBS embarked on a major IT modernization project by starting at the beginning of a customer’s journey with them.  Along the way they realized some substantial benefits:

  • Reduced time to process mortgage quotes by 62%
  • Determined member needs based on age, savings, debt, and other factors, using information from disparate systems
  • Linked with multiple systems to recommend a complete array of relevant financial products
  • Increased value of every member transaction
  • Transformed back-office system into dynamic, front-office sales tool
  • Cut total cost of ownership by leveraging existing SOA infrastructure

Another factor driving technology and business process transformation at EBS was the need to comply with “Know Your Customer” (KYC) regulations. KYC requires financial institutions to identify new clients and gather relevant information prior to conducting financial business with them.

“We stay ahead of the industry curve, and we wanted to be among the first to comply with KYC rules, but we saw KYC as more than just a compliance requirement,” says David Yeates, head of IT for EBS.. “We recognized that KYC was an opportunity to more efficiently gather new members’ financial information up-front to serve them more professionally and efficiently, and to tailor product and service offerings to their individual needs.”

EBS put in place a technology solution built on Adobe LiveCycle ES using Adobe Flex that leveraged its Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), existing IBM WebSphere application server and IBM mainframe environment.

Other companies that also benefited from this focus on initial interactions and the purchase process include:

  • impuls systems, who signs up new customers online and streamlines closing contracts, strengthening competitive advantage and doubling online engagement. More
  • Verizon Wireless, who built an online storefront for engaging customer experience and increased revenue from online media assets. More

It starts with conversion, but don’t stop there

Another key area to consider is the second call a customer makes. This is the call a customer makes after they have signed up and configured their product or service and are experiencing a service, product or administrative issue that is going to require some help.  If you acquired the customer online, you have a much better chance of successfully serving them online but you need to invest in this touchpoint to make it as seamless and effective as possible.  According to Forrester, more than 70% of customers still abandon online service and support situations in favor of more expensive support channels and this is hurting your brand image, impacting customer satisfaction and costing you money every time it happens.  For many executives I talk to this is the most important touch point and even if that is debatable the value of getting it right is not.

Rooted in the firm belief that there is no better place to receive medical treatment than in the healing environment of the home, Janus Health set out to transform the delivery of in-home care for doctors and patients. Janus built a rich Internet application (RIA) workspace leveraging Adobe LiveCycle ES solutions that enables doctors to provide full-service, compliant medical attention to patients in-home.

This initial investment not only provided payback in terms of the quality of care provided, it also helped the IT team to put a platform in place that they can build further projects on, effectively increasing the ROI of each subsequent project.

C. Gresham Bayne, an M.D. and Janus Health co-founder, told Adobe, “Escalating healthcare costs can be reduced dramatically by offering acute care in patients’ homes. Adobe LiveCycle ES provides vital tools for solving the complex information and business processing requirements for in-home healthcare.”

Along the way they also realized some other benefits, including:

  • Streamlined compliance with privacy and Medicare regulations
  • Increased number of housecalls possible in one day
  • Reduced Medicare program administration costs
  • Automated processes for ordering prescription, imaging, equipment, and other critical services

You have to start somewhere

Your customers, partners and business suppliers interact with your company in a myriad of ways across multiple channels and using increasingly sophisticated systems and devices to do this.  Having a technology platform that can help you detangle the problem is a good place to start but an even better place to start is based on what customers need and how employees can help them.

According to Patricia Seybold, whose initiative strikes at the heart of this work, “You should realize that this is probably the most challenging and gratifying work you’ll ever do in your career. The satisfaction that comes from working on applications that touch the customer directly is immense. The continuous feedback you get from customers as they use these systems gives you clear, unequivocal priorities for each of your releases.”

When you realize additional benefits along the way this is your customer karma and it’s performing an important task in building your overall reputation.  It’s bringing you happier, higher value customers and empowered, satisfied employees all based on the simple fact that together they can get things done and they can do it in a rewarding, engaging and frictionless way.  This feeling, coupled with some customer data and proofpoints prove that your efforts are focused on the right things.  Cultural and technology shifts will empower the next wave of even more successful and even more rewarding customer experiences.