In the technology industry, some of the biggest elements that can hurts customer experience — and by that I mean B2B and B2C customers — are overly-complicated product design. You have probably bought something, opened up the box from Amazon, and looked at it like “Where do I begin or how to connect this module with another module and how will this action or ‘click’ impact the overall enterprise or software usage and customers understanding?”
In this case, the product or service is too complex.
Now think about B2B. If you are a leader at a company buying hardware or software, just spent millions potentially, and it’s too complicated for everyone to use and adopt it. You’re having problems with the basic usage and the on-boarding programs are not enough to generate adoption. This can be a real issue in technological product and usability design and a major issue in B2B companies after expending such amounts of investment on developing technologies. Complexity is hard to eliminate but it’s worth it to achieve it.
Companies and their leaders need to know how to beat back complexity.
The four initial questions
In order to solve this problem, tech providers need to ask themselves four key questions:
- How do you know if your product is too complex?
- What is the power of simplification for your company
- How do you simplify your product, services and technology experience?
- Which features do you remove to cut complexity?
We are going to address this in four articles. The focus of this article is the first question: how do you know if your product experience is too complex?
Step 1: Understanding complexity vs. simplicity
There are constant discussions in the business world today — especially in the tech sector world — about how complicated our solutions for human problems has become, in part because of the size – design, usability, customer mental models of perception and global processes and reach — of several companies such as Microsoft, Genesys, Software AG, Pega, Oracle, Intel, SAP, etc. Global companies are obviously more complex than ever before. Demands on global companies include more processes, unnecessary silos, more markets to understand, more product requests, better features, easier adoption , better relationships to build, customer retention, and business responsibilities and revenue targets to delivery.
Complexity is a part of our daily business life and I assume we all agree on that. I also believe we should agree that complexity should not be the norm. We should make the world of business the least complicated as possible. Focusing in delivering better and easy adoptable products and services during our customer experience lifecycle with us. Less complexity can also mean a longer life cycle of customers loyal to our companies.
Complexity is actually tremendously “good” way to turn your customers off and damage your bottom line. Simplicity generates adoption, loyalty, and revenue and oftentimes impacts your brand value and perception positively. Complexity reduces the customer experience aimed impact and diminishes your brand value in the same way. We know, it’s not easy to design and deliver hardware and software products in simple plug and play dream solution for your customers and the end user. But that needs to be the goal if you want long-term business success.
The idea of complexity vs. simplicity takes three forms:
- Internally (how you lead organize your design, and innovation culture, strategy and processes)
- Externally (how the products/services/experiences are designed and how customers perceive them)
- Onboarding (how you ensure customer success)
All three are important, and are constantly discussed by all of us. For example, joint research from Stanford University’s School of Business and School of Engineering has shown that simple, more effective products do better in the marketplace. SAP even created an entire focus on simplicity in their Berlin office, where a Chief Designer presides. When external partners come there, they say “Wow, this is SAP?” A once-complex software company is simplifying around design and experience, and people are noticing. Check out this video from Martin Wezowski, who runs the Berlin office. His whole focus is moving from complex to easy in UX, UI, and design.
Here’s what you need to understand at Step 1, then: while we often think of parts of our products, and activities with enterprise solutions as complicated and we have lots of time constraints, emails, stuff to deal with, process, slide decks and, KPIs, etc… work is often done better when it is simplified. Technology in the Google, Uber, era must to be easier to deal with. That applies in two ways: how you simplify internally (how your team works on products) and how you develop your products, and how you simplify externally (how your customers view what you produce or serve). Above all, though, simplicity is important if you want to ensure your brand longevity. Easy to use is imperative for customers. Frictionless experiences are key to yours and your customer’s positive outcomes and revenue generation capabilities. Shep Hyken always reminds his readers about the importance of how less complexity means more customers.
Step 2: Some basic ways to know if your product is too complex
This is going to be a few basic ways. If you just want to skim, consider this section before we get more detailed about complexity especially in technology and customer experience:
- Can you quickly summarize what the product or service is supposed to do? Someone considering a cloud option wants to know: Will it be secure? What will be my cost savings if we migrate to the solution or to your cloud? How will we operate on the cloud with our data-driven services? Will we need your managed services or we can lead by ourselves? If you can simply answer those initial questions, good. If those questions add more complexity in their answers, that might be inside the limits of too complex as a product. Bear this in mind, though: technology will always be associated with a certain degree of complexity in the eyes/minds of any customer. If you can guide them through that complexity in a simple way, you’ll win business and referral. That is also a challenge there for the sales and solutions teams not just for the R&D and design team.
- Does the marketing require lots of complicated resources? People don’t like to read marketing materials. It’s not fun for most of us. If it’s going to require lots and lots of marketing to explain this product/service, that’s going to be a harder, longer sales cycle process on the market — longer than most of the tech sector.
- While designing this new product/service/solution, are you focusing in creating a user experience that is intuitive and easy to learn? If you are testing it, what are the responses of your co-creation, testing and community feedback in the initial phases? Is your team happy with the initial outcomes or not yet there? If your team is unhappy or tired and rethinking more than normal period of your solutions, it’s likely too complicated.
- Do you need excessive onboarding materials or do you have the right boarding material to make easier? Or is the product/service largely intuitive enough that onboarding can be minimized to an extent? Are you using Userlane , to make easy and intuitive the experience for your user even if complex software or hardware?
- What does the data say? Do you have information on users and how they interact with your product or service? Do you have data-driven products (such as hardware/sensors/etc.) that allow for preventative and proactive changes where necessary? This can help you to see patterns of both customer behavior and friction points. Ask beta users and your community of users. Salesforce typically does this in their 1.3 million member active community, and 2 million overall community of users. Also check in your Voice of Customer feedback, and all channels your organization have to interact and receive feedback online or face to face for customers feedback in the early stages of your development. The cornerstone of design thinking is always listening to feedback and iterating from that feedback, and that is how organizations create better products and services as organizations. Annette Franz mentioned this in a recent article entitled “Act On What Your Customers Are Telling You.” That’s what you need to be doing. Especially in cloud, where you can constantly be updating and developing better products as the customer keeps working without any issue.
Step 3: The software side of the issue
Jon Kolko, who was VP of Design at Blackboard, and author of the excellent book Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love, describes the current landscape of CX and UX in software companies well:
“This category of software is typically characterized as “feature-rich.” In fact, these products are sold as lists of features to C-suite executives, and the conventional wisdom over many years has been that the package with the most features wins. Unfortunately, the executive who signs the check rarely has to actually use the product he just bought, and so those features that look so good in a “PowerPoint” actually manifest as a mess of unusable complexity for the individual contributors in the company.”
For years, the idea has been that design for B2B must be more complex – more feature, functionalities and many options for solve one process or problem for users, etc. — and the design for B2C can be simpler because it can be more emotional and high-touch and consumers don’t necessarily need to manage 100 features for solve issues or to enables better results for customers’ accounts, or several features and functionality parameters for anything. Why not adapt and personalize it exactly for your end user, then you can deliver a better easy much better designed solution? SAP is doing that, Salesforce is constantly improving and Amazon did that level of individual personalization in their sector.
But now the major differences among B2B and B2C are blurring in user and customer experience, and you’re seeing more B2B companies doing emotionally-driven, human design, in both digital and customer-facing experience design work instead of trying to overly-complicate their products. Look at what SAP is doing in Berlin, that we mentioned before. SAP is a company that understands, like Google or Salesforce or anyone, it does them no good if their products are complex. If the product is complex and not enough people can use them, can they generate more revenue? No. So the goal is simplicity.
Simplicity is What Generates Great Technology Design in Services, Products & #CX ! In Your Enterprise Simply… Simplify by @RicardoSGulko
Step 4: Are you meeting users where they already are?
One of the ways to know if your product is too complex is to look at adoption rates. In the CRM, space, for example, 74% of companies report poor CRM adoption. There are some great companies in the world doing CRM, though — Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce, and a host of smaller ones — so if these companies, with all their research and usability testing, are still seeing low adoption rates, what’s the problem?
One of the problems with B2B tech adoption is that the product or service needs to integrate with how the company buying it already works in several cases. For example, many people spend a lot of their day on email — so if you consistently have to move from email to CRM and back again, that is a simple example of a bad and unfriendly usability (#UX). This problem is now solved in some companies but this s a simple example to make easier to humans. Complexity, will always lead to low adoption rates. It’s too complex for an average user. Why not integrate both? This is the mindset necessary to design our existing and new technologies.
When I work in BI or CRM software, one of the things I always worry about is this: when I touch this module (clicking this”, and it impacts a few other modules? Is there a visual way to make easy for the user to understand harmoniously the areas of impact?–, or is it intuitive? If pressing one button triggers other reactions you didn’t intend, and you have a hard time to understand that that’s overly complex too.
Step 5: Remember that complexity is going to vary by context
For example, a particular user experience may work well for a B2B software company with long sales cycles. But try that same user experience with a fast paced B2C outbound call center selling widgets with 30-minutes sales cycles. It just won’t work. There is no such thing as a user experience or tool that meets all users’ needs universally. However we found a new German start up company that believe in universal solutions for complexity, called Userlane. Their solution enhances the existing UX and UI with on-screen guidance, and since this makes it easy for everybody to interact with any piece of technology even SAP Ariba is currently planing on working with them.
In my point of view, no user experience meets the needs of all users universally, even though some may think differently. So you need to know YOUR customer and users as best as you can. If they are telling you either in surveys, personally, through the website, or on customer service, calls that the product is too complex or they are barely adopting it, then, make it easier now, because it is probably too complex. And it’s time to change it.
Always remember what Don Peppers said in one of his articles, “Satisfied” Customers Aren’t Enough!”: surveys are one-source feedback. We need to engage customers with great customer experience and usability design to create frictionless experiences.
Our next article will be about what and how to simplify products and services (Part I and Part II).
Your experiences are very important to us
Would like to hear from you:
- How do you know if a product is too complex?
- How do you tell the company that makes it? Social media, email, call?
- If a product is too complex, do you keep it?
- How hard in your industry is to switch tech suppliers?
- Give us some examples of complex products you remember seeing or buying