Is UX the new ‘going to the gym’?

25 Mar 2017

Are you as reluctant to go to the gym as this little guy? Image: Brian Goodman/Shutterstock

The importance of UX to a business is undeniable, but are we guilty of putting it on the long finger? Gareth Dunlop investigates.

I have been interested in user experience (UX) for more than a decade and have been selling it on an almost daily basis for the last five-and-a-bit years. Since launching a dedicated UX agency, there has been a direct relationship between my ability to sell UX and my ability to eat. In the simplest possible terms, if I don’t sell, none of us in the agency eat.

So it’s a topic I spend quite a bit of time thinking about.

In those last five years, I have met organisations across every conceivable sector and size; from large enterprises to micro-SMEs; from the most ambitious corporates to public service providers to the not-for-profit sector. Their online goals have varied from e-commerce ambitions to software-as-a-service delivery; from generating a B2B lead-generation engine to customer support and self-service.

And even though I haven’t closed every deal I’ve chased, I have never met anyone who doesn’t believe in UX. No one has told me it’s a bad idea or a dire way to think about design. Occasionally, a prospective client will use a competitor but, more often than not, those who don’t engage just ‘crack on with the design and build process’ in the hope that what emerges from that will meet their customers’ needs.

While our prospects haven’t verbalised this sentiment directly, it’s clear that some see UX as something that would be nice to do. Some day. When they’ve got the budget. When business is so good, they can get the Rolls Royce solution. It sounds like an academic exercise perhaps; something that someone who was a little too straight-laced would do as part of design.

UX is like going to the gym. It’s something that’s nice to do and has a benefit. But we’ll get to it another time.

‘Understanding your online customer is a fundamental commercial imperative, without which design is, at best, merely guesswork’

In such cases, I am always aware that I have possibly failed to communicate the overwhelming business case for investing in your users. This is a real shame because I am increasingly convinced that understanding your online customer is a fundamental commercial imperative, without which design is, at best, merely guesswork. A project must establish its ‘true north’ based on business objectives, related KPIs and user needs before design and development starts.

Even a cursory look at the world’s leading digital products will give strong hints about how they view their relationships with their users (spoiler alert: borderline obsessional).

Jeff Bezos invested 100 times more into customer experience than advertising during the first year of Amazon.

A few years later, Larry and Sergey published their Google manifesto under the heading ‘Ten Things We Know to be True’. This manifesto hasn’t changed in 20 years and the first thing they knew to be true was: focus on the user and all else will follow.

Since its inception, Google has focused on providing the best user experience possible. While many companies claim to put their customers first, few are able to resist the temptation to make small sacrifices to increase shareholder value.

‘By always placing the interests of the user first, Google has built the most loyal audience on the web’

Google is so fixated on this truth that their VC division, Google Ventures, will not invest in a company that doesn’t enshrine the principles of UX and, in particular, Lean UX, as part of their design and development DNA.

Forrester summarised its view of the industry: “When compared to their peers, the top 10 companies leading in customer experience outperformed the S&P index with close to triple the returns.”

The business case varies slightly from opportunity to opportunity, and from marketplace to marketplace, but the fundamentals are consistent:

  • If you don’t understand your users as part of the design process, you are guessing. Not only do you have to design the thing right, you have to design the right thing.
  • Your business is highly likely to fail without happy customers. You need to treat them well online or they will go to competitors, or just go do something else instead.
  • Investing in customers in a B2B context increases website conversion, expressed in phone calls, enquiry form completions, brochure downloads and demo bookings.
  • Understanding users in a B2C environment drives up conversion rate, average order value, lifetime value of customer and likelihood of repeat visits.
  • Valuing customers drives down the cost of customer service, allowing them to self-serve online, getting answers quicker and reducing costs in expensive support centres.
  • UX enhances your brand within its marketplace and can become a genuine source of competitive advantage.

It feels fitting that the final word should belong to the two Google guys, who perhaps know more about profitable digital ventures than anyone else in the world: “Google has steadfastly refused to make any change that does not offer a benefit to the users who come to the site.

“By always placing the interests of the user first, Google has built the most loyal audience on the web. And that growth has come not through TV ad campaigns, but through word of mouth from one satisfied user to another.”

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing.  Clients include Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Tesco Mobile. 

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.