As a software user, I would like think that all software providers care about the user experience. Just like, when eating out, I would like to think all restaurants care about safe and tasty food. But that analogy can be twisted in many ways that show why it isn’t always the case (a Dad paying for pizza at a kid’s birthday emporium or a remote hospital cafeteria perhaps).
All vendors do the basics around user engagement: user events, community websites, and evangelism. If the metric for user engagement is “number of branded water bottles per licensed user”, most vendors are doing just fine.
But when I say “care about the user experience” I mean the vendors that consider user experience (UX) a core competency of their organization.
In other words, management considers UX part of the strength that defines their organization and competitive position. It is a foundation for growth and opportunities to deliver value to customers. Treating UX as a core competency involves skills present across the organization.
This doesn’t imply that they got the best UX – at least not at first. It means UX is a shared value across the organization and there is a commitment to continually improve. In fact, the vendors I have spoken with over the years that were insistent their users love them were often among the most deluded. No product is perfect and a willingness to face its faults is necessary for improvement.
But UX is just one of many business concerns. Users (with a few exceptions) are not buyers. There are only limited resources and attention to go around. Trade-offs must be made. The balance looks different for each software provider, but I have found that there are some common elements that move UX higher or lower on the priority list.
Software vendors that gain more from UX improvements
- Users have discretion over whether to use the product or how deeply to use its feature set
- Markets with significant competition, particularly where capability differentiation is difficult
- Per user pricing (even more for usage-based pricing)
- Frequent renewals (SaaS, for example)
- Preponderance of early stage deployments (the ramp up years are most critical for UX)
- Those with high cost of new customer acquisition
- Happy users are part of the messaging and differentiation strategy
Software vendors that have less to gain from UX improvements
- Captive users. The product is non-discretionary, both in terms of whether to use it and how to use it
- Lack of competition
- Products whose interface has not changed in a long time; more current users who had invested in mastering it than potential new users who would benefit from a better UX
- Enterprise pricing, not sensitive to activity, with longer (2+ year) renewal/update cycles
- Products that most users are not aware of (such as infrastructure only seen by administrators and buyers)
- Very sticky products, high sunk costs, high switching costs
This should not be taken as a pass for providers that see themselves in the second list. Most software checks off a few boxes on each list. Complacency creates a weakness that potential competitors can exploit. Sometimes all it takes is a food truck pulling up outside to realize how much pent up demand there really was.