Ease of use has become the hallmark of a well-designed app. Whether a consumer mobile app or a SaaS product targeted at businesses, we expect our software to be easy to use—with one possible exception. Some believe the enterprise applications that many businesses run on are exempt, not requiring a strong user experience.
Many companies today still run on legacy software, with old and outdated interfaces and user experiences that are lacking, to say the least.
Originally posted on the Humanist blog.
Since the software that runs in back offices or facing the back side of counters are seen by employees and not customers, one belief is that spending time on improving usability has a low return on investment, but this can not be further from the truth.
The justifications are manifold:
- Customers will not see the software, so it doesn’t matter.
- It is an enterprise grade business application, that means complexity is unavoidable.
- Employees will need training to use the software anyway.
- The return on investment to improve the software just will not be there.
- And the list goes on.
Return on investment is only one metric when making a product decision—and internal systems are a software product. Another metric to consider is the cost of not improving the system—called the “cost of delay.” This cost can be high and manifests itself in many ways, while the benefits of taking action to improve back office or employee facing software are high. Let’s explore some of the business costs and benefits driven by the quality of user experience in business applications.
The length of time to learn the system
The learning curve can be especially meaningful if the average length of employment for an employee role is shorter than the average time to master the software. Improved learnability and system feedback to users will greatly reduce the time it takes to learn to use the system, making users more productive faster.
Cost of training
While training may still be required, a more intuitive system with a modern user interface can increase learnability to the point of reducing the total cost of training. This benefit is compounded over time as the software evolves and new features or updates to existing workflow will be easier for existing users to learn and adopt.
Difficult to use software contributes to increased error rates. More intuitive systems and workflows designed to address an employee’s context at the time of use, or better aligned to their goals, lower not only frustration but also error rates—while increasing learnability.
Error messages and system responses that do not inform and guide the user to actionable steps lead to difficult to learn workflows. Such workflows not only take longer to learn but are more costly due to a greater reliance on help desk staff for assistance.
Helper or Task Master
Even the handling of form data validation has an effect on employee efficiency and their perception of the system. For example, a form field that validates the moment a user starts to interact with it. This can guarantee every interaction of typing in a phone number will trigger a validation error (as you type, you will start with less than seven numbers, causing an error), but calling out an error before the user completes their task is distracting at best and at worst, trains users to ignore validation warnings. A better solution is to allow users to complete interactions with the field and validate as they move to the next field, this allows users to spot mistakes early but does not trigger false alerts.
Poorly defined workflows with many screens can cause users to become overwhelmed and lost in a sea of screens. This can result in lower productivity at best, and lost work at worst. During one project, we redesigned a workflow used at the start of every customer interaction. Benchmarked as taking an average of 2.97 minutes to complete, the workflow consisted of seven screens. Completely reimagined and reduced to a single page format the workflow now took only 30 seconds to complete. Repeated many times per day across the entire enterprise, gains in this workflow were magnified to over 200,000 hours per year saved for both employees and customers—time that can be used to increase the value delivered to customers.
Employee Engagement and Happiness
As mentioned above, the way the software communicates with us can have an effect on our perception of the software. Ill-tempered software that requires the employees to conform to it or is difficult to learn can negatively impact overall employee engagement and happiness on the job. When possible, we benchmark satisfaction before and after a user experience transformation. Doing this we have tracked changes in employee satisfaction and delight when using business software conforming to the needs and goals of employees—software designed to work with employees to help them complete their tasks and meet their goals.
Depending on your enterprise, there may be additional factors.
Beyond not realizing the cost of a poor user experience in enterprise applications we must consider the server-side infrastructure that powers such systems. In many cases, it is neither advisable nor necessary to make changes to the core of these mission critical software systems. Building an API layer between legacy core systems and a modern user interface is one strategy to overcome this obstacle.
The question is not, can your business afford the cost of improving the user experience of enterprise software, but can you afford not to.
Originally posted on the Humanist blog.
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