How to Create Digital Products That Customers Love

It's time to go beyond mere usability. Greg Laugero says CIOs should tap the strategic expertise of user-experience (UX) designers to create digital products and services that are fun, easy to use, and deliver all the business value they can.

When it comes to building digital relationships with your customers—whether it's through a mobile app, a portal, or a new device—what matters is the user experience. Customers' loyalty (and the share of their wallets they devote to you) depends in large part on how they feel about your digital product or channel. Bad experiences hurt the brand and leave money on the table.

Today, CIOs are getting involved in building products for external customers, but unfortunately, creating great user experiences continues to be a struggle for many big IT shops. I see many companies that still believe that pairing a business analyst with overloaded business stakeholders will yield compelling digital products. Instead, the result is typically a laundry list of confused and confusing "business requirements" that yields a system that costs a lot and fails to excite (or even meet the expectations of) customers.

Creating Passionate Users

Good user experience (UX) designers have been tackling this problem for the last decade. To be clear, I don't mean doing more usability testing to make systems more "intuitive." This old-school approach grew up in the 1980s and '90s when computers were utilitarian data-entry and processing tools. "Usability" meant increasing task efficiency and reducing data-entry errors.

I mean embracing the strategic value of UX design. UX strategists focus on creating passionate users (engagement), getting them to come back again and again (repeat visits) and making products fun (gamification is all the rage). A strategically oriented UX designer is a complex problem-solver who can blend business objectives, technology capabilities and a rich understanding of users into innovative and compelling digital products and services.

How can CIOs use UX strategy to create digital products and services that are fun and easy to use, and that deliver all the business value they can? The challenges lie in today's requirements-gathering and budgeting processes.

This is what I see quite often: Business requirements and scope are defined, budgets and time lines are set. A contractor is hired to turn requirements into wireframes (low-fidelity screen designs). The UX designer presents the wireframes, and stakeholders suddenly start remembering things that didn't come out during the requirements-gathering stage. The CIO now faces a dilemma: miss time lines or plow forward knowing that what you release may not meet objectives.

A savvy UX designer will take a different approach to gathering requirements for a new project, or can breathe new life into an underperforming one. The strategic UX designer will get out of the office and talk to customers. For example, she may create a "user journey" that shows how your PC-based channel is not available to users when they need it. Perhaps there's an opportunity for a mobile app?

She may create personas and scenarios that go deeper than marketing-driven demographics and segmentation to shed light on customer goals and motivations that are missed by your channel. Perhaps there's an opportunity to use game mechanics to improve engagement?

Done right, UX strategy shows stakeholders how to deliver value to target customers. This is a much better basis for determining business requirements and project scope. Focusing on the customer experience also allows the team to make the proper trade-offs when desirable features run up against the realities of time and budget.

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