B2B UX: The great oxymoron
B2B software and websites do not deliver the same experience as their B2C counterparts. Why? And what should we do about it? I explore this area in depth in the current issue of the IDM Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice, but read on for the abridged version.
Let’s start with what I mean by user experience (UX). UX is made up of all the interactions a person has with a brand, company or organisation. These may be interactions with your software, your website, your call centre, an advertisement, a sticker on someone else’s computer, a mobile application, your Twitter account, over email, maybe even face-to-face. The sum total of these interactions over time is the user experience. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll be talking about UX from the perspective mainly of a website, mobile app or software.
Good user experience is built from a variety of factors:
Flow – Users are so engrossed in what they are trying to achieve that they forget everything else around them.
Delight – Yes, you are actually trying to deliver delight through the tiniest interaction to the final outcome.
Frameworks – These define design patterns to allow users to understand their interaction intuitively.
Hierarchy – A way to ensure the audience understands what’s important.
Control – So users feel in control of the decisions they make, rather than being confused by the options presented to them.
Ultimately, what you’re trying to achieve through the experience are results, efficiencies, advocacy and return on investment. And there’s a careful balance between users’ expectations being served and organisational objectives met.
The User Interface (UI) is composed of more than you may think: written language, graphic design, sound, motion, information architecture, interface design, interaction design and programming — quite a lot more to consider than just ‘a bunch of wireframes, a bit of copywriting and a set of PhotoShop files’, which is what we as marketers tend to buy.
Some B2B UX issues and how to address them
Complexity of the task
Typical B2B products and services can often be complex beasts answering multiple business challenges. Deciphering these and ensuring that the message is single-minded and clear can be challenging. A classic case where ‘Commander’s Intent’ should be applied.
Commander’s Intent is a simple methodology used by the US Army to prioritise decision making. A simple goal is set at the beginning of a process that holds throughout, regardless of whether the situation changes. If you use this principle for every single page designed, it becomes very useful. For instance, if it seems that the page or screen you are designing has more than one primary purpose, you probably need more than one screen.
Or what if, rather than adding more functionality, we spent our time perfecting the functionality we already have?
Marketers are increasingly asked to do so much with so little, and one area that often suffers is user testing— whether because of time, budget, or simply because it can be hard just to find our ‘users’. The key thing for me is to allow time. Time is invaluable for the success of your activity. Pushing to hit a deadline (while important) should be weighed against how successful you want the campaign to be.
And user testing on a budget is possible. Tools such as fivesecondtest.com allow you to send tests to users and gather insights back. Or the slightly more amusing theuserisdrunk.com and theuserismymom.com or simply just find individuals within your business with an aptitude for the web (or apps), ask them to quickly run through a set of tasks, then monitor where they slip up.
Every industry has its jargon, but another issue that can complicate the user journey is obscure terminology that confuses them. Personally, I’ve always been a strong advocate of KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid).
Taxonomy (not to be confused with taxidermy!) is an important methodology of using language to help define a user’s journey through a website. Take the terms ‘success stories’ and ‘case studies’ on your site’s menu, for example. “Success stories” implies instances of people being successful in their roles. “Case studies” on the other hand suggests examples of how organisations have delivered successful projects to their clients. Now, while only slightly nuanced, “success stories” drives user interest at the start of the buyer journey (“How can I be successful?”) while “case studies” may show buying intent to purchase towards the end of the journey (“How did this business do it for their client?”).
The techy guys
Perhaps one other issue is that a lot of B2B products are dreamt up (and rightly so) by those who live and breathe development. These guys have their heads so stuck in code and making things work from a functional perspective that they forget the user and end up building a clunky product. It is almost a case of creating something to a point where it works and then, in true 1998 style, adding a drop shadow plus bevel and embossing and calling it design. OK, so this may be a flippant remark, but the quicker you can get the idea from the developers and test some of their theories, the better the product you end up with.
Read the full version of this article in the IDM Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice.