In an earlier post I started to talk about the intrinsic value of usability for software products — the satisfaction and value that customers perceive about the product they bought and how it might map to and made the statement that usability should be viewed as important as any other aspect of the product development lifecycle and gave a few statistics to begin the support of my argument. Now I want to delve into some specific examples of how excellent software usability principles can provide significant positive impact to achieving a company’s business objectives:
How Usability Impacts a Software Company’s Costs
- Reduced Engineering Costs: From a software company’s perspective this is the first, and often only consideration on usability. The statistics are there to show that the majority of defects and re-work costs — up to 80% — come from omissions and mis-interpretations of requirements and related errors in design. To mitigate the disconnect, many companies have utilized visualization tools like iRise to help translate the intent of product managers and clarify requirements to software development teams, vastly reducing the number of defects that are injected into the code, which result in more re-work, development and test cycles. This is especially useful in geographically distributed development organizations where communication and collaboration can be a challenge. However, visualization is not the same as usability engineering. It’s merely creates a representation of how one person believes the user interface should look like but does nothing to remove design or navigation flaws which w0uld still need to be fixed later on. But usability engineering + visualization can make a real impact on the performance of the R&D organization.
- Fewer Support Incidents: For every problem that poor usability creates, resources have to be expended to resolve it and soothe the feelings of the customer and make them feel happy again with their purchase. Now most companies put a lot of effort into coming up with ways to reduce their cost of delivering support services, using FAQs, self-service options and community-driven support. But that addresses the symptoms, not the cause. The real, sustainable way to reduce support costs is to reduce the number of incoming service incidents. Improving the usability of the product, making it easy to find, access and use features can go a long way in achieving that goal.
How Usability Positively Reinforces Your Customer Decision to Purchase
- Faster User Adoption, Improved User Productivity and Lower Training Costs: When companies buy software products they buy the promise that they’ll be able to do great things. All the demos they’ve seen make it look easy to use. Especially with enterprise software, they’re promised that their employees will be more efficient and their business will run more smoothly and profitably as a result. But we know from our own experiences that when the vendor leaves, the implementation rarely looks like the demo. Sometimes it’s because features aren’t turned on or configured properly, but more often than not it’s because the new software operates differently than the way employees have been performing the business process/task at hand. There can be a significant learning curve, or worse a requirement that the customer changes their business process to fit the software rather than adapt the software to the process. And the problem is often that there is a general lack of intuitiveness of how to use the product. I look at my 5 year-old daughter when she uses my wife’s iPhone. She picks it up and starts using it. No training, no pouring through a user guide (although she can read at almost a second grade level…yes I’m a proud papa). Menu-based navigation often leads users struggling to figure out where a certain function is hidden and almost often lacks contextual guides which automatically puts the next or adjacent activities within easy reach. If more research and care was put into how users work, training budgets would be slashed dramatically, employees would move up the productivity curve faster, and companies would be able extract the value they thought they purchased more rapidly.
- Advocacy and Loyalty. Building off the last point, happy customers happily, and often without prompting advocate for products that they enjoy using. Look at how passionate Mac/iPhone owners are about their products. Even when they bemoan AT&T, iPhone owners still proclaim the greatness of the device itself. So in a world where people buy products increasingly based on peer recommendations and social platforms like Twitter give a voice to happy customers and connect them easily with prospective buyers. They are your best and cheapest advertising. Moreover, happy customers are fiercely loyal and have a selling cost of close to zero. And in today’s software industry, where maintenance revenues are 4x new license sales, client retention is KPI #1.
Do you think your company invest enough in usability? If you’re a product manager, how much of your budget and effort do you allocate to this topic? Let me know.