Is your business suffering from experience drag?

Let’s start off by asking a simple question.

If you and I picked up the phone today and spoke to loads of brands—on and off the digital high street—how many of those organisations do you think would claim that, by next year, they will be competing based on the experience they offer end users?

What do you reckon? 23%? (You cynic.) 65.7%? 99.999%?

Well according to Gartner, it’s supposed to be 81%. And as the years go on it’ll be higher, right? Like in all market research, respondees to such questions are often tinged with a little subjective self-importance and the desire to look good. ‘But of course, we want to compete on experience’, they say. ‘We are the leaders…’.

However, there’s a lot of truth behind it. Competing on experience is something that many organisations genuinely want, or aspire, to do.

The reality of whether they will be able to is not quite as certain.

Improvements to your user experience (UX) capability — your ability to deliver great digital experiences— require an investment of time and resource. And so often, at the management meeting or the boardroom table, short-term actions pushed by marketing or IT or product teams win out. ‘There are bigger issues to address, we’ll fix that website navigation problem later, we’ll do the UX training after this product launch.’ KPIs are wielded like weapons, everyone gets afraid of failure, re-focussing on the apparent quick fixes, and on it goes. Honourably-intended UX capability improvements are left on the cutting room floor. Brutal and hardly 21st century…

We get it. To an extent it’s natural behaviour in our modern world of short-term decision making and right-under-our-noses focus.

Except after a while, having not invested in your UX capability, business as usual starts getting bogged down. You’re spending more to acquire or retain your customers, because your website and apps are not performing at their peak. Customer satisfaction is dropping and all the short term fixes aren’t working any more. No one team is in control of the experience and everyone blames everyone else. Making changes takes longer, because all the digital channels have built up lots of cruft that’s vigorously defended by teams focused on their narrow-view targets. In an attempt to make changes, the whole cycle repeats with further pushes of panic-driven fixes. It’s a horrible spiral. And then a disruptor emerges, shows you how it’s done and becomes the darling of social media.

You’ve unwittingly been a key witness to what we call experience drag. You’re in the dock.

Experience drag is a long-term build-up of poor UX design and management decisions that drag you back when you try to create great digital experiences.

Like a parachute pulling back an otherwise elite runner, experience drag is deadly for performance. The effort is at maximum but you’re barely moving forwards.

Experience drag in action

Let’s look at a simple example. John from the Design team has done the research and has been saying for months that the website’s navigation needs rethinking. There are too many menu choices, and more are added each time a new campaign is launched. The data from the guys in the basement back John up, too.

However, John’s view doesn’t reach the management team, who just value the high profile shareholder KPIs and think that UX is ‘digital garnish’. In any case, they are focused on declining sales and are therefore giving priority to a big marketing push that drives new customers to the site. If the marketing team want a new menu option added, give it to them, and that’ll also show the board that everyone is making this a top priority. Right?

Except the overloaded website navigation means existing customers are now struggling to find what they want on the site. Potential customers, driven to the site by the campaign, also feel overwhelmed by choices and are leaving in a bewildered state and Twitter is full of negative sentiment towards you. So the big marketing push falls flat, only making a small sales increase, and at the same time customer churn is increasing. The disruptors are getting fat on your drag.

Management panics, approves an increased ad spend, and lowers prices in line with a competitor’s move. All this affects quarterly profits, and the board wants answers. John is left frustrated and bewildered, and is exploring his next career move.

Lots of wind, no movement. Experience drag is in full effect.

The antidote to experience drag

How do you counter and remove experience drag? It’s simple to explain, but takes time to do. You first need to demonstrate to management, and all employees, that an investment in experience is tied to commercial performance everyone can benefit from, and that without being capable of delivering a great experience you are always within your competitors’ reach and may ultimately fight for survival.

Once everyone is on board with the importance of experience, you must align all internal activity around it. The UX skills you establish, the project activities you carry out, the infrastructure for sharing experience insights and tools amongst employees, what you measure in terms of performance, how experience team members are treated by the organisation, how leadership integrates experience into the core of its strategy: all these feature in an organisation that’s focused on the customer and their experience.

How would our previous example look, with John from the Design team and his concerns, if his organisation was focused on customer experience? What would the outcome be?

The example would stop at step one. Once John had identified an issue with the website navigation, his experience concern would have been respected, prioritised, and escalated through the right channels immediately. A lean project would have been immediately initiated by management to improve the website’s navigation, delivering commercially-driven outcomes to show senior management its value and allowing its impact to be measured. No expensive marketing campaigns required, no extra ad spend, a reduction in customer churn, a reduction in customer acquisition costs, and an increase in quarterly profits. Everybody wins and the Twittersphere offers some positivity about the experience, at last.

Where to start in fixing experience drag

What’s your first step in removing experience drag? From the digital perspective, you should first assess where you stand in terms of UX capability and mindset. Only then can you establish a strategy for improvement, because you’ll then know specifically what to address.

Are the leadership’s ambitions aligned with great UX? Are your Experience Design team communicating well, properly skilled, and carrying out the best UX activities for each project? Are you measuring the right outcomes to understand UX performance, and are your UX team members respected across the organisation? Everything must be in alignment before experience excellence is achievable.

For our part in this process, we have developed something called an Experience Assessment, a service that will independently and objectively benchmark your UX capability. On our website you can get your instant, initial Experience Assessment results for free, and read more about our take on what’s required.

Sample of the Experience Assessment webpage output, showing a description of the Activities and Skills scales, a description of their importance, and example scores out of 5

Figure 1: An example of the output from the free Experience Assessment tool.

Experience drag is, if you’ll excuse us, a drag. It’s also extremely common, which means breaking out of experience drag and developing your UX capability is a rare move that facilitates market leadership.

You just need to take the first step. And if you’re not John, help people like John.

To discuss your unique situation, contact our team at any time.

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