(CX stands for Customer Experience, UX stands for User Experience.)
In the startup world, a lot of things are important. But there is only one thing that really matters: moving forward and be successful.
You have an idea, a vision and a goal, and you want to materialise everything you have envisioned. You need money and resources, and you need to build your product or service to show how it works. And while you may know how to build something, you may quickly discover you know little of all the other stuff: how to market it, how to distribute it, how to attract customers to buy your product.
You want to convince investors you have figured these things out, so whilst writing this brick of a 50 slides investor’s deck (always unsuccessfully aiming to cut it down to 10), you are trying to come up with answers for all open questions.
As it turns out, every question related to sales, demand, market, distribution networks, is tied to one question to rule them all:
What is it that makes people want our product?
The Founder’s Bias
Being a startup founder makes you prone to a subjective view. It is only natural, inevitable really, and it is called the founder’s bias.
You need a lot of energy to get started, to virtually lift this plane off the ground, and in order to do that you need to convince yourself you can make it all happen. To make sure you keep going you need to believe that anything is possible, and there is nothing you can’t learn. You started coding, maybe you are a successful engineer, or you figured out something that is a real need, something people are missing from their lives. All those things help you to convince yourself you know what you are doing, helping you to fight off your biggest fear: that what you put all your energy into might not be working out in the end.
You need to convince yourself you know what people want. The problem is, most people don’t know what they are missing from their lives before they started using it. So how could you know?
Build it and they will come
One of the most misguiding and yet most persistent concepts around is that because something exists (and you believe it is awesome), it is going to attract customers. If it really does something people need, the thinking goes, people will want to have it.
A number of factors need to be set right to make that happen. Your product needs to be solid, it has to deliver on its promise. You also need a lot of exposure, so people will find your product and start using it. This will generate the traction you were telling your investors about: installation base and returning customers.
Returning customers? Here is where the rubber hits the road.
These are customers who fell in love with your product or service. They come back, because your product did more than what they expected it to do. They feel really comfortable using it. This effect of immediate and longterm reward is well known in psychology, it is basically the reason why we do anything at all. It is the reason why nature invented sex. Desire and rewarding emotional experiences made sure we would procreate.
Okay, I know all this, you may say. You are well aware that you can’t (and even shouldn’t) do everything yourself. But you can still make sure it is an awesome product. With the right marketing, you will get the exposure you need to attract customers. And once they figure out how awesome your thing is, they will surely want to use it again. Right?
The customer relationship
Google for customer relationship management, or CRM, and you will find hundreds of software solutions. They all promise to simplify your life and help you manage databases of customer information. The implication is, if you collect customer information and track your communication, it will generate leads, which translates into sales. This principle is treated as a holy cow in sales, regarded fundamentally true on all levels between business to customer and business to business models. If you look closer though, you understand that just by tracking customers and collecting their information alone, you won’t generate any sales. And cold calls or sending them bribing gifts is the marketing of the past, they won’t buy your product friends.
What all these solutions can’t promise is what you were hoping for: returning customers. They can’t promise it, because it’s not depending on the ease of use of managing databases, or reduced introductory pricing. It depends on one thing only: the experience.
Whether a customer likes an experience or not is somewhat related to the product delivering it’s core function. There are millions of products out there, many of them excellent at what they do. But the vast majority are hard or unpleasant to use. Even if a product is fairly simple, there may be other parts of the whole experience chain that are putting customers off, and without looking at these factors you may never know what they are.
See, the rubber hits the road not on a singular tangent, but across the entire chain of the experience as a whole. Every bit that contributes to the experiences people have with your service or product shapes their impression, form their opinion and leave them with satisfaction or frustration. Still, reducing the experience chain to one shade of grey—it’s either frustrating or satisfying—is too simplifying. Products may aim to be simple, but humans are way more complex.
Service Design, Customer Experience, User Experience
Humans don’t live in an isolated, egocentric world. The person you spend most time with in your life is yourself, but that inner identity and your outwards identity are strongly influenced by experiences you make—with everything and everyone. It is this context that shapes our personalities, that makes us grow, learn, forget and stay away from certain things. All together, our decisions are more driven by intuition than by logical thinking, as much as we’d like to believe the contrary.
Service Design, Customer Experience and User Experience are three areas that are related, but they address slightly different needs for product/service development. They are not just about creation, but often about improvement of something that is going on, the thing that stands between a product or service and the people who are using those things.
These three areas are lying in the intersection between behaviour research, emotion, social and cultural concepts, psychology, analysing drivers, intent, motivation, and they are looking to connect the dots of why people are doing what they’re doing. The starting points for User Experience Design and Service Design are quite similar: both areas process how people are using things, which is bound to the concepts people have in their minds.
These are things you can’t address by just building it. You can’t start with wireframes of user interfaces, and then try figuring out the rest along the way. It is counterproductive, like starting with the painting and then figuring out the subject. This discovery-like creation process is a luxury you may be allowed as an artist, but it is not an economically sound move that will support to sell your product or service, when time, resources and energy are limited.
Before you build it
As a startup founder, or a head of engineering, or even as a UI or product designer, you may think you have all you need to figure these things out on your own. And you know what? Many of us do. It’s not that you are totally detached from people who aren’t nerds. We all have our mums and girlfriends to ask what they are thinking of our product. But this approach still defines the subject after the painting and it requires abstraction and imagination from people to become you, to see the product as you see it.
System engineering has a powerful driver at the heart of all development, which gave birth to many successful startups and is the core element for agile, or the lean product development movement. It is the “just make it systemic and build in iterations from there” approach that helped many great products come to existence.
This approach is getting you far, but it fails at one particular area, because the most systemic approach cannot replace it: strategic thinking.
Anyone can have an idea, but not everyone is capable to pull it off, because it requires strategic thinking and tactical manoeuvring to get you somewhere. It takes much more than a hands-on approach in system engineering. You know how to build something so it does a particular thing, but you can’t know if that works for common users, because people’s lives are indifferent and they are tied into context, concepts and thinking patterns way outside our own nerdy cloud.
Use Cases and User Journeys in User Experience are not coming out of thin air. They are based on an understanding of customer behaviour. In Service Design you have Customer Safaris to gather information, by accompanying customers and finding the pleasure and pain spots they experience with a service or product. These processes are shaped to adapt to your own environment, so there is no single UX process, or one right way to do things.
Naturally, when you build something and want to test it, you need to wait until you have a complete experience chain to really understand all influencing factors. Putting a static interface under someone’s nose and asking them: “what do you think?” really doesn’t give you much you couldn’t figure out yourself.
Learning, vision, strategy
A good consultant is someone who brings along a lot of experience and knowledge, stuff they picked up along the way when they were working out solutions with engineers and designers. CX and UX consultants are a different breed than Graphic and UI designers, because they see the interface as a bridge rather than the thing that triggers other things. User interfaces of apps plays a strong role in the experience chain. But it is a human who interacting with the app.
What do we need to know to overcome founder’s bias, a “getting things done” constraint and move to a higher level of understanding, a level that enables us to more effectively handle all things involved in creating a product?
We need to know more about people and what they are thinking. A consultant helps you understand people’s psychology, either through direct research (in cases we know little about) or through accumulated knowledge (in cases where comparisons can be made). We need to understand where people are coming from, and why they can identify with some things and other things are alien concepts to them.
We need to gain knowledge beyond basic data, or assumptions about consumer patterns. Most parents love their children and want them to go to good schools. No one likes coming late to work. Everyone prefers fresh produce. These are common knowledge facts, they are data points, but they are not interesting.
What is interesting is why people care about those things. Parents want a successful future for their children, because they want them to be happy. Employees want to be punctual to increase career chances. Customers prefer fresh produce so they can keep it in the fridge for longer.
To learn about these things we need not only data points and assumptions, but we need to ask the right questions. What we need is a platform of learning, that helps us to develop a vision and a strategy.
This is where a CX or UX consultant comes in. Analysis and conclusion is our brick and mortar. And data is admittedly helpful in this process, but all the data or cluster graphs in the world can’t help if we cannot connect them with people’s motivation.
You need a lot of great intuition and empathic ability, to grasp the hidden fears, discover potential wishes and explore imminent needs people have. Some things people are open about, other things you can’t put your finger on, they would never admit it, and yet these things may play an important role in their decision patterns.
It is incredibly easy to get biased with any bit of information you can get. We tend to believe what we want to believe. If you have a super cool tech product that can do something no other product in the world can do, or at least not as well, you are convinced that what you have is revolutionary. Even better: everyone you ask, you fellow engineers, your friends, your boyfriend, everyone confirms to you what you want to hear: It’s the greatest thing ever.
There is a certain threshold, an area between the moment a product or service hits a market, when it is picked up, it gets initial traction and then it keeps growing. This triangle is in steady motion, and if you are doing things right, it keeps spinning forward: people discover your thing, they start using it, they like it and they keep returning to use it again. And if they continue to form good impressions with these experiences, they will start telling their family, their friends and people they just met about it. They will say things like: “I never looked back”, or “Best decision I ever made”. You know—those customer statements you’d like to see at the bottom of your homepage.
Connecting the dots
A CX or UX consultant will walk you through the process of connecting the dots. Going through customer expectations by looking at behaviour, comparing other products, existing solutions on the market, and figuring out why they work or don’t work, as well as developing a strategic vision and figuring out what requirements are needed for UX design and user interfaces to make these things happen, that is the job of a consultant.
Is it worth to invest in CX or UX consulting?
It’s a bit like in those movie scenes when the good guys are escaping from the bad guys and they find a helicopter standing in front of the building. “Can you fly a helicopter?” one guy asks as the machine is taking off in seconds.
In reality, you often think you can fly a helicopter, but in the case of customer experience and user experience you can’t. In such a situation it really helps to have a pilot.