We’re all familiar with the way companies such as Uber and Airbnb have brought fundamental disruption to their respective industries. Taxis and cars for hire existed long before the advent of Uber. But one of the core differences Uber offers customers is the user experience (UX).
Consider the ease of simply clicking a button within an attractive user interface, following the vehicle as it comes to your door and enjoying a smooth ride. For all the talk about their technology, their business model and their strategy, experience is what ensures customers continue to use the service. This idea has brought me to the concept of UX as strategy. It’s the idea that today, more than anything else, your UX will determine the success or failure of your software and your business.
A killer UX creates deeper customer engagement and loyalty.
A powerful and engaging UX doesn’t just make your product easier to use — it helps you engage more deeply with your customers, ensuring they stay loyal to you rather than looking to your competition. It builds brand loyalty and increases the chances that your customers will become your most effective advocates. Your UX also plays a key role in enrichment, ensuring your customers purchase additional products and services.
Your UX now forms the heart of your competitive differentiation.
I don’t believe I’m writing anything new in highlighting the importance of UX for software and applications. What is new, however, is how your UX can form the basis of your competitive differentiation. Building long-term, sustainable, competitive differentiation is one of the toughest objectives that executives face. In today’s digital world, the UX of your products and services plays a fundamental role. People engage with brands and companies via their software, and thus via their UX.
It is your brand, plus highly satisfied customers and fans, that will result not just in your business growing, but in building competitive differentiation. For example, it’s incredibly hard for other companies to match the loyalty of people who love Apple’s products and services. Even when other manufacturers build products that can compete on a technical and functional level, and that may even sell at lower price points, people remain loyal to the brand. Apple has been at the forefront of blending the concept of a brand with people’s identity, their image of who they are as individuals. Apple’s UX is at the very heart of this.
Making UX Your Strategy
At a high level, I recommend the following actions as you make UX your business strategy:
• Link your design metrics to your business metrics.
Those individuals responsible for the design of your software are now at the heart of the success of your business. As a result, we also need to ensure that their success, and that of your design, becomes linked to your business’s key performance indicators.
• Use the latest technology to build hyperpersonalized services.
Increasingly, in order to build these powerful experiences, organizations will need to use the latest technologies, from automation to machine learning. Customers now consider such personalization the norm, part of the overall experience of using your software. Airbnb’s personalized travel recommendations after you book a trip, such as offering a tour of Boston’s live music scene just after you reserve a stay in the city, is one such example.
• Build design systems.
Leading organizations such as Adobe and Salesforce have increasingly spoken about the need to create “design systems” to build these powerful user experiences. These are the systems and processes that enable them to scale their design best practices, rather than constantly reinventing the wheel. Forrester analyst Gina Bhawalkar points out that they also play a key role in linking your design team to your development team. She mentions that design systems should “also include the reusable code behind those design elements, and for this reason they should be created as a partnership between design and development teams.”
• Foster a product-centric culture and mindset.
If you listen to any of the founders of the UX-centric companies I’ve mentioned before, you will realize that they obsess about their products and the experiences their customers have with them. I would argue that if it’s not their top priority, it probably ranks very high. This is something easy to achieve as a startup, but much harder when you are, for example, a large financial institution that is used to thinking that your “product” is a checking account or a home loan, instead of the app or website your customers use to buy and manage those financial solutions. I often wonder whether the top executives at large firms even use their software products because some of them are so bad.
The democratization of technology helps drive better UX.
Ultimately, this is all part of what many people have referred to as the “democratization of technology.” This is because, fueled by cloud computing and new open-source technologies, it’s not just large companies or tech giants that can create these compelling user experiences.
So while effective UX design is one of the hardest aspects of product development, new technologies, tools and approaches are making it possible even for startup teams on a budget to build these compelling digital experiences. We’re seeing organizations take advantage of this to move nimbly and build light, attractive, mobile-first experiences. This is what it means to make UX your strategy, and in 2019, I believe it is the only way your organization will achieve success.