Who’s auditing your company’s user experiences?
Organizations try to make sure their financials follow best practices, but they must do the same for their digital user experiences
I was recently booking family travel through an airline’s website. Intending to use frequent flier miles to cover some of the cost, I soon realized that it would require two different transactions — one for the tickets I was paying for and another for the tickets I was acquiring via the miles.
Since the site didn’t allow booking a trip with these two different purchase methods, I was forced to bounce between two browsers just to ensure my family would be seated together. Ironically, the experience of interacting with a loyalty-based program was so negative that it challenged any sense of brand loyalty I may have felt toward the airline.
Digital experiences are among the most important assets of the modern enterprise. Whether it’s a website for the public or internal employees, a customer-facing app or a core business application, digital is where and how work gets done. But with an emphasis on the technology and functionality of these tools, the qualities of learnability, usability, efficiency and satisfaction — the user experience (UX) — often get overlooked.
High-quality user experiences are more than a “nice to have.” They directly impact customer satisfaction and loyalty, employee efficiency and retention, and software development and support costs.
Failing to focus on UX
The success of an application, and its return on investment, depends on how well it is learned and adopted, yet many organizations do not effectively scrutinize their digital experiences.
There are several reasons why companies fail to deliver satisfactory user experiences. In some organizations, immature software development processes lack methods that focus on the end user. Software development is driven by assumptions and then launched with unpredictable results.
Other organizations have mature processes but struggle with resource constraints or overly ambitious timelines that ask for “right away” instead of “right.” In other cases, teams launch well-designed user experiences, but fail to maintain and refine them as users, technology and business needs continue to evolve.
The UX audit
Regardless of how a digital product originated, you can always assess the quality of its UX. Like a financial audit, a UX audit is a detailed, independent and objective assessment that measures how well a user interface meets standards and practices for usability, accessibility, design and human-computer interaction. Areas of analysis may include content readability, layout consistency and data visualization clarity, to name a few.
Like performing a financial audit, effectively and efficiently assessing digital experiences requires specialized expertise. The outputs of a UX audit include a report of findings, prioritized recommendations and design concepts that illustrate improvements to the user experience.
But there’s more to be done
While a UX audit is a highly recommended first step to identify key areas of focus, it leaves out the most important element of the user experience: the users themselves. Designing (or redesigning) requires direct input from them, and no level of digital expertise is a substitute for user-focused research methods, including:
- Usability testing. This is a structured approach to observing and measuring representative participants as they attempt to complete relevant tasks on an application or prototype. The outputs from testing include both quantitative results, such as task success rates and error frequencies, and qualitative data on participant satisfaction and feedback.
- Contextual observation, or ethnographic research. This is an in-depth methodology for understanding the workflow and interactions within a digital ecosystem. Researchers spend substantive time with users in their actual work environments, identifying pain points and opportunities for innovation.
Culture, not tools
Critics often point to the technology limitations that inhibit effective user experiences. Returning to the airline booking example, there’s likely a fundamental system constraint that prevents ticket purchases with both dollars and points in a single transaction. Nevertheless, organizations need to creatively solve customer pain points within known limitations. For example, they could provide a single, stepped workflow that allows travelers to flow through each of the two transactions without having to duplicate flight searches and data entry.
Methods such as UX audits, usability testing and contextual observation provide the information required to improve the value of user experiences. But organizations must treat these methods as integral to their software development processes and culture, not as after-the-fact fixes.
With earlier access to better data, product development teams will be better informed during the development life cycle, leading to more effective applications. As a result, customers will benefit from greater efficiency and satisfaction, leading to increased brand loyalty.