Chris Owen

Written by Chris Owen

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Why now is the best time to add UX into your SaaS

Picture the scene:

Carpe diem, you thought. Seize the day. Put in the hours now and reap the rewards over the next few years. So the family took a back seat. You spent more time in the office than at the cinema, the restaurant, the theatre, the mid-week drinks, Tuesday evening footy sessions. But those three years focussing on your online business was for the greater good, right?

So you crack on. You can see the finishing line, the light at the end of the tunnel. You're strong and you understand that entrepreneurs aren't born, they're made through ingenuity, ideas and hard graft.

You're confident in your product, your services, your business model and low and behold those years chained to the desk, the phone, the coffee shop, start to pay off. Momentum gathers pace, your online users are rocketing skywards as your target audience starts to actually 'get' what you're doing, they understand the vision behind the reality. You're doing it by George, you're succeeding.

But then what?

Buoyed by your perceived success you want to keep up the winning spirit and you thrust yourself onwards and upwards in an attempt to turn those online views into CTA's and actual paying customers. You consider a few projects to take your business forward. Customer research is pivotal, you hear, and so you pursue focus groups and take heed of online feedback.

Apps are requested by your customers; new and improved features are added to your website. Argh, but all these new fangeled bits and bob, bells and whistles, seem to create is clutter and uncertainty; and they're not cheap either.

You wait to see your customer curve continue to increase – after all, they wanted new, expensive, shiny bits and that's what you've given them, right? But something's not quite right. Your business appears to have stalled, it's plateaued. You wait for the positive feedback, the reviews, the accolades but all to no avail. You're still chained to the desk, the late nights, and early mornings. You haven't seen your kids in days and you might even have been dropped from the footy lads' WhatsApp group. Where did it all go wrong? How can you get the good times back and ensure that light at the end of the tunnel isn't just a troll sparking up a cigarette?

Don't panic, you are not on your own

If the scenario above seems familiar then you're in good company. Tech-led businesses and entrepreneurial online projects may well have solid products and be half way to becoming a real authority within a desirable buyer demographic. They can have a really motivated and focused team around them offering excellent advice and thoughtful analysis of working strategies and improvement plans. The fact that you're in business, paying staff and still working a profit is, obviously, something to be proud of. But knowing how you take things forward can be a stumbling block that plays on the mind of many a start-up or tech entrepreneur.

Introducing a UX strategy half way through a business process

It's never too late to introduce a UX strategy and although you can't be assured of increased success or stopping a bad idea still being bad, it can certainly help you gain a better foothold within your market. The marriage of a solid service or product and a UX initiative will increase your bottom line and help you cement your business brand and further your authority with clients that really count.

Remember, now's not the time to panic. You've already done everything right and actually left a lot of similar start ups floundering by the wayside. You're making money, you're making your team money, they're making you money. Everyone's winning. Your customers are happy, you're happy.

Just because you've inducted UX a little later than might be deemed appropriate, you've got there, at last, so here's how you push forward.

What are the tell-tale signs that I need UX assistance?

“If you don’t talk to your customers, how will you know how to talk to your customers?” Will Evans, Design Thinker in Residence @ NYU

Think about your last face to face meeting with someone looking to buy your product or make the most of your services. Can you remember it? How about just watching them use something from your business? Do you find that time and time again new features and apps aren't necessarily increasing your bottom line but they're cluttering up your site so much that users are becoming frequently frustrated and the same old gripes are popping up in your queries inbox.

If this is the case then alarm bells should be ringing, with UX help one of the best means of answering user cries for help as well as alleviating your support team's workload by implementing practical steps to stop wasting customer time and your resources in favour of increased conversion rates and a much easier path from first time user to first time buyer.

Just by reading this article you're making a move in the right direction.

So, where does UX fit in?

According to the late, great Steven Jobs: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Taking this design analogy you can also define the process of UX. Basically, it's the amalgamation of client, service and your business working in harmony. Although this sounds slightly simplistic, dare we say it, a little hippy, UX really should be at the core of everything you set out to achieve.

In-house queries and solutions should stem from UX and fix any stumbling blocks or loose links in the client, service and business chain. By initiating a UX strategy you'll get to know your customers, your key audience members and begin to engage on a more intimate, personal level. UX gives you the chance to invite your audience to engage on an emotional level where 'have to have' is the mantra emanating from an initial love affair within a niche marketplace.

Following customer attitudes is a minor part of the UX picture although still crucial as it gives you the opportunity to go forward as a business and find your way in an already crowded market place. Smashing down the perceived barriers associated within your own workplace helps you to bring colleagues, investors and directors onto the same page by involving an audience which is crucial to making your business a success.

Check out this quote from the co-founder of Headscapen, Paul Boag: “To be a great designer, you need to look a little deeper into how people think and act.”

How can I see UX within my business and get tangible UX results?

Imagine the word 'WHY?'. Not emblazoned under a poster of Willem Dafoe in Platoon but on a t-shirt worn by a woman who works in UX. The T-shirt logo is bold, concise and clear. The owner of the t-shirt is all about asking questions not for any higher purpose other than to get to the bottom of why something works and why something doesn’t'. WHY? Should always be the common denominator of a UX experience.

  • Why do we need that app?
  • Why will our business be better?

By asking questions and discovering real reasons why you need a feature or need additional marketing costs allows a designer to visualise what's actually required by focusing purely on the customer to give them the simplest and most logical step by step pathway to a call to action.

The woman wearing the t-shirt needs to understand everything in order to help a designer complete a successful project and in so doing enable the link between customer and designer and developer to strengthen and work with trust and confidence which, in turn, gives you, the founder, space to improve.

What you'll receive in return by investing in a UX professional

  • Minimal waste of team time
  • A service and product that's desired as well as trusted
  • Knowledge of what your audience thinks and what leads them to a CTA
  • Simplifying of your business processes without additional costs
  • A chance to substantially improve conversion rates
  • Take out the clutter and awkward customer and in-house issues.
  • Discover a strategy that complements design and development
  • Cut down on marketing costs
  • Increase user satisfaction and improve levels of happiness
  • Cut out the space between design team and dev team
  • Increase focus on your business objectives
  • Design templates, wireframes and prototypes around features that are proven to work
  • Create data that can be implemented to move your business to bigger and better things.

Really, the list above can keep on rolling and, as set out by Andrew Kucheriavy, the returns from UX are infinite.

“It's cool, my IT guy says he can totally nail UX”

Well, that's great news. But are you sure? Really sure? Has your IT guy, or whoever else has put them self forward, got the time and expertise to take on a full time job as well as getting involved with the development and design side of things? Is there enough space for all of the items listed above to be freely questioned, discussed and debated with clearance from you? Furthermore, what are his credentials? Has he given you tangible results to confirm he's doing, not just an adequate, box ticking, job, but one heck of a profit making highly important sort of job? Has his t-shirt got 'Why?' emblazoned on it? Or does his sweater say something along the lines of 'pwah, how hard can it be?' Finally, is your guy far too deeply grooved in your business to be able to make decisions for the greater good? For that matter, are you far too deeply into the project to also make a reputable call on what's going to work and what's not?

P.s. Get your 'Why?' T-shirt here – although it won't change your IT guy's UX credentials.

Before you also go looking for someone else who might fit the bill within your business be aware that designers are perfectionists and have also been known to add in a few additional features along the way. Developers, on the other hand, won't stray too far from the brief and will get their head down and give you pretty much what you asked for without ever thinking, or getting, out of the box.

Designers and developers together? WOW! This can be quite the marriage of inconvenience with a lack of communication leading to all manner of gaps opening up between two parties who should be integral to the user experience. That's where a dedicated UX pro steps up as the glue that binds developer and designer together. UX helps both parties ascertain why this project is taking place and any UX player worth their salt will have a fundamental working knowledge of both user interface and user experience to offer a straightforward path to an achievable vision.

But can't we put user experience and user interface into the same category?

Hmm, not really. There may be some overlapping but at the end of the day you'll find a UI creator might also be able to specialise in UX but really UI is more about how a system looks rather than how it performs; a wee bit like graphic design. UX, on the flip side, is all about creating a system that works for an audience. Think: UI – “do we need to bold and shadow drop?” UX – “how would a customer approach this feature?”

I've been hearing a lot about ASL – Agile, Scrum and Lean. How do they fit with UX?

This question crops up a lot from founders with Agile frameworks (like Scrum). Basically the guidelines in place are to help you make the most of your time as efficiently as possible, a bit like a working job list, although not really having much to do with UX. That said, and Scrum can be coupled with Lean although let's save that line of thought for another day. Check out this quick and easy guide to Scrum.

Whereas Lean, also known as the Lean Methodology as featured within the Lean Startup by Eric Ries, is not all that different from the client first approach, mentioned above. Lean provides the tools to help problems be solved by start ups without the need for any undue waste or risk. The Lean method relies heavily on validating and processing a product, right from the start and all the way through its journey to the customer meeting. Lean is certainly used within UX and a professional UX worker will marry this methodology up with the need to understand every aspect of the customer philosophy. It's researching and learning about the overall picture, the whole, that gets a great UX pro going not just the product or service offered to the customer.

So how do I incorporate UX into my business?

Good question! And if you’re ready to go for it, you’ve got the following options.

First option: DIY

Although you're obviously going to be extremely close to your products and services it's really important to set out on an unbiased path when attempting to implement UX. Try not to make your decisions without thorough consumer research first as this is a key stage of the process, and deters a design and development initiative turning into some kind of vanity project. Give yourself enough time, and gen up by asking questions and seeing what's worked for other businesses in your field and in alternative industries. Books are good too, who knew! Check out a few of the following to give yourself a more rounded start point.

Steve Krug's: Don't make me think
Eric Ries': The Lean Startup
Ash Maurya's: Running Lean & Scaling Lean
Josh Seiden's: Lean UX

Second option: Get your hands on a full time UX pro

Again, you'll need to do your research and find a UX individual who's experienced, proven and has the time to dedicate to your business. Once onboard, give the UX pro a high level of access to your overall strategies and makes sure you trust them to take important decision without constantly undermining what they're setting out to achieve. Their ability to ask key questions (remember the 'Why?' T-shirt) will be crucial to your business so try to be patient and act like the diplomat when dealing with colleagues and other important decision makers. Making sure finances are agreed upon to allow the UX pro to do their job is another step in the right direction and ensures they won't fall into a despondent mope as they're unable to undertake the role to the best of their abilities.

Option three: Fully outsource

Now let's stop you there. I'd advise building a knowledge base within your company and not relying on an outsider to feed you tid bits. UX certainly falls into this category and needs to become an integral part of your business as you learn through knowledge and develop a better understanding of what it takes to grow results through understanding your customers.

Option four: Give me a call

Hey, if you've read down to here then you've got to be in the market for a quality UX consultant, surely? I'm a massive fan of placing learning at the heart of a UX strategy. Being focussed on objectives, as I am, and speaking from tangible experiences, always gets me to the key issues, fast, without wasting time and money in the process. I can show you an increase in conversion rates within a very short space of time and have the authority and understanding to show how and why UX works and I'm not afraid to ask 'Why?' to senior people driving your business. I'm not cheap but I can show you the greatest returns on your investment in myself, and UX.

Summing things up:

The role of UX is a key component of your services, products and success in a world where market places are becoming congested with competition of varying standards.

Building your users' experiences into everything you do allows you to see what's in front of you with clarity and commonsense so you're no longer driving blind and sticking your finger out the window when deciding which way to turn next.

Your competitors might not be using UX so now's the time to get a foothold and push yourself above the precipice to ensure you're way ahead before they cotton onto the benefits for themselves.

Feeling like your business has hit a brick wall with low conversion rates and downward spiralling revenue streams is not nice however, it's never too late to turn things around by building a UX strategy into your core business ethos, before you miss your chance entirely.