A Proven Method For Showing The Value Of Good UX

by Jared M. Spool

For a while now, this has been the most common question I get:

How do I convince people in my organization to take user experience seriously? I’ve tried giving brown-bag sessions on the importance of UX, but nothing has happened.

They’ve shared every case study they could find. Nothing changed.

I tell them that I’ve never had success with brown-bag intro sessions either. But there is a way to get user experience taken seriously.

When pressed for time, I often give the short answer:

You don’t have to. There’s a high likelihood there’s someone important in your organization who already takes it seriously. They just don’t know it yet.

However, there’s a more helpful, albeit longer answer. And it goes something like this…

Step 1: Start With Frustrations Caused By Poor Experiences

Organizations that aren’t fixated on creating great user experiences are usually saddled with poor user experiences. A great user experience only comes about through constant diligence and attention. If the organization isn’t paying attention, it’s unlikely they stumbled on one by chance.

We can measure the experience that comes from a product or service’s design on a scale that ranges from extreme frustration to extreme delight. At any given moment, the design is either frustrating or delighting the person using it. By definition, a user experience is good when it delights its users and poor when it frustrates them.

Yet, it might not be the direct users—those people who interact with the product or service directly—that a poor design might be frustrating. There are indirect users, often within the organization, that find the design frustrating. Here are some common examples we’ve seen:

Salespeople trying to sell a product that is hard to demonstrate or explain. The sales team is trying to get prospects to fall in love with the idea of a purchase. If a competitor looks simpler or the prospect doesn’t understand how the product or service helps them, they won’t want to sign up. A salesperson, looking to meet their sales goals, would find the product extremely frustrating if it’s causing them to lose sales.

Call-center management responding to a poor design that generates support calls. A product with a poor user experience might put an excessive burden on the call center team. The manager of the call center, always trying to keep their costs down, may very well be frustrated by the increased call volume, even when the answers are easy to dispatch. (“Have you turned it off and on again?”)

Production managers dealing with lost worker productivity. An internal application (such as a case management system) that has too many steps or is poorly integrated with other tools will force production work to take longer. This creates backlogs and slows down overall productivity.

Development managers watching their teams rewriting the interface code. When the developers get the user interface wrong the first time, they spend time refactoring it to be easier to use. A better informed design process could’ve gotten closer in the first release.

Development managers learning that built-out features aren’t ever used. It was a waste of resources to build functionality into a product that customers aren’t using, either because the feature wasn’t wanted or the product was too complicated for the users to take advantage of the features.

In organizations with a history of producing poor designs with frustrating user experiences, it’s usually not hard to find frustrated indirect users like these. If the designs are frustrating enough (and they often are), the indirect users can become the key to build awareness in the organization.

Step 2: Identify The Frustration Costs

Almost always, when there is extreme frustration coming from a product or service’s design, that frustration shows itself somewhere on the organization’s bottom line:

Frustration costs due to lost sales revenue. Sales are going to competitors, the salesforce is discounting to compensate, or customers are taking a long time to sign up.

Frustration costs due to increased support costs. Call-center representatives are spending time answering calls that come from the user’s poor experience.

Frustration costs due to lost productivity costs. Backlogs are requiring more working hours or preventing the organization from being efficient.

Frustration costs due to wasted development rewrites. Development costs are higher because the team rewrites the same code multiple times.

Frustration costs due to unused feature development. Development costs for never-used features is a resource that could’ve been used to build something else.

With a little digging, we can calculate these costs. If the problem is lost sales, we can ask the sales team to estimate the amount of the sales they’ve lost. Or if the sales team is discounting to win against a competitor with a more delightful design, we can add up the discounts they have to give out to win the business.

If the frustration costs are coming from support calls, we’ll calculate how much those calls cost. We find out the budget for the call center, then divide that by the overall number of calls they get. That gives us the average cost for each call. When we multiply that average by the number of calls needed to deal with frustrating user experience features, we have the cost of that frustration.

We can do something similar with the lost productivity numbers: Figure out how much those personnel are paid and calculate how much time is spent dealing with the waste from the frustrating user experiences, either working with it (production workers) or creating it (developers). Multiply the percentage of time by the total personnel costs and you have a rough estimate.

Often, these rough estimates are all you need to get someone’s attention. After all, if this is the first time the organization is thinking about user experience, it’s likely the costs are pretty high. In one instance, we found that the costs of handling password resets at a large bank were costing the call-center support team $75 million each year. That large number was enough to quickly get the attention of senior bank management.

Step 3: Find the Person In Charge Of Reducing Those Costs

This is where luck plays in our favor. In most organizations, especially large ones, there is already someone in charge of dealing with the costs of frustration. However, they may not realize it yet.

It’s very likely there’s someone already assigned to increasing sales. There’s someone in charge of reducing support costs. There’s someone with the job of making the production work more efficient. There’s someone who is very interested in making developers more efficient.

These people are often easy to find. And they’re rarely in the design team’s direct chain of management. They are often in parallel organizations, outside the design organization.

Once we find them, they’ll probably be surprised that we are thinking about their problem. It’s likely they’ve never thought about how the product or service’s user experience is a root cause of their issue. They’ve either never noticed the frustration, or if they have, they didn’t think anything could be done about it. (Or they were told it was too hard to fix.)

Yet, now we have numbers. An estimate of what this is actually costing the organization. And because our number is focused directly on their charter, they often have the role power and the political influence to make something happen. Suddenly, UX is important.

Step 4: Ask The New UX Champion To Sponsor A Lean UX Project

Chapter 3 of Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden’s seminal book, Lean UX: Designing great products with Agile teams, is called “Driving Vision with Outcomes.” They talk about how product and service teams have traditionally focused on features, by driving projects with requirements and deliverables. They suggest there’s another way.

“Lean UX radically shifts the way we frame our work by introducing back the strategic context for our feature and design choices and, more important, how we—the entire team, not just the design department—define success. Our goal is not to create a deliverable or a feature: It’s to positively affect customer behavior or change in the world—to create an outcome.”

Reducing frustration costs are an ideal outcome. And with our new UX champion, we can get support for a pilot project.

Lean UX is an ideal approach. We can start by testing the hypothesis that our rough estimates are close to correct.

We’ll ask our new UX champion for help putting together a multidisciplinary team to uncover where the frustration is coming from. By assembling a small task force with members from all over the organization, we can collect more accurate data about the frustration and ideas about how to start to whittle those costs down.

Calculating the cost of the frustration, wherever it’s coming from, is an ideal metric to drive the project and create a measurable approach to valuing design efforts. By finding a high-ranking champion outside the design team, we get exposure at a key part of the organization. And without wasting a minute in a brown-bag lunch lecturing on the importance of good user experience, we’ve shown the organization how good design can make us more profitable.

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is a co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE. In 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, he opened Center Centre, a new design school in Chattanooga, TN to create the next generation of industry-ready UX Designers. They created a revolutionary approach to vocational training, infusing Jared’s decades of UX experience with Leslie’s mastery of experience-based learning methodologies.

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