Wayne Gretzky once said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Designing and building a great product is a lot like hockey. You need to know the strengths of your team, understand the bench strength and be aware of where the market is headed. Of course, you need to know where your competition is too. But as we learned in the Pragmatic Institute Focus course, you want to avoid feature wars with your competition. Price battles and feature wars are seldom won without injuries. So, how do you get ahead of the competition? The answer is simple: UX.
UX is the experience the user has when interacting with your product. It is most commonly associated with digital assets. However, it applies to any product and to that product’s packaging and maintenance. Think about it: When you buy a car, you’re looking for a specific experience that extends long after the purchase. That is the user experience.
A client of mine discovered the importance of UX the hard way. This client originally delivered a successful luxury art and jewelry business by catalog. However, when they changed their delivery focus to an online website, sales decreased well below targets. I was asked to conduct a UX review of their website and recommend improvements.
The client’s catalog business was successful because of a loyal customer base. Customers often discussed the products with internal sales representatives, and built relationships over time. Price was never an issue. It was a rich, personal shopping—and buying—experience. But the online UX was well below expectations, and once-loyal customers turned to competitors like Amazon, Blue Nile, eBay and Etsy.
During my review, it became apparent that the UX didn’t live up to that of the competition. Amazon allowed shoppers to view the product from alternate angles, including a 360-degree view. Other competitors offered customized solutions, chat and direct communication with artists. Given the competition’s improved UX, my client’s prices seemed inflated and they failed to deliver the expected value.
After conducting user research, I collaborated with my client’s product and technology teams, learning about their product positioning, business goals and technology platform. From there, I provided prototypes of the experience their users were looking for. We conducted usability tests and gathered solid user input into the expected UX. The product manager was able to share customer feedback with the CEO and demonstrate interactive designs of the expected experience to get approval for the change.
Upon making the product improvements, my client saw a quick return on their investment. They were able to improve the user experience, increase sales and start to regain market share.
Think about the products and companies that are frequently in the news for their superior UX: Amazon, Apple, Intuit and some others incorporate the user experience into their products. It’s no accident these companies outperform peers on a consistent basis.
For example, Apple conducted extensive user research before designing its Apple stores to ensure that the experience matched user expectations and business goals. And if you read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, you’ll discover that UX, which includes customer service, is core to the company’s values. Zappos continually evaluates UX to maintain and improve its relationship with customers.
Like Apple and Zappos, Intuit has a long history of delighting customers by understanding user pain points and expectations. Intuit’s Design for Delight program (D4D) focuses on delivering a user experience that exceeds expectations and delights customers. However, in 2014 Intuit made some fundamental changes to TurboTax that didn’t delight users.
The TurboTax customer reviews on Amazon revealed the depth of customers’ displeasure with the product changes and it threatened to cause long-term ramifications. However, Intuit followed its D4D core value and listened to the user base. The company responded quickly and publicly acknowledged the issues. Intuit’s handling of the situation rekindled users’ love for TurboTax. Comments such as, “Intuit listens to complaints and takes action” and “You did the right thing and I am back as your customer” summarize the outcome.
To stay ahead of the competition, it’s important to foster a UX that supports user goals and builds a relationship with users that says, “I understand you.” Once you have that relationship, you must nurture the UX to ensure that users continue to use, buy, upgrade and recommend your product—or better yet, demand it. Loyal users will proudly share their positive experiences, which translate into testimonials that reinforce the value of your product and reduce the risk of getting caught in a price war.
Like four-time Stanley Cup winner Wayne Gretzky, when you know your team’s strengths and understand where the market is heading, you can beat your competition by building a winning product through collaboration, understanding your users and delivering a superior user experience.