When we’re design­ing prod­ucts, appli­ca­tions and ser­vices, we always bang on about how impor­tant it is to con­sider the cus­tomer, or user (I’m going to use those terms inter­change­ably in this post). But just how much do we really con­sider them? And how often do we com­pro­mise in favor of some prod­uct or busi­ness limitation?

While I realise (abun­dantly so) that we can prob­a­bly never cre­ate the per­fect prod­uct or ser­vice, I’d like to argue in this post that the pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tion we need to focus on as user expe­ri­ence design­ers, ser­vice design­ers, mar­keters or what­ever, is the voice and view of the cus­tomer.

I don’t think it hap­pens nearly enough, nor well enough. And, truth be told, I’m as guilty as any­one of this.

Let me set the scene.

You’re design­ing, or redesign­ing your prod­uct or ser­vice or your web site or your bricks and mor­tar store (or doing it for a client). You’ve been given the impri­matur to “focus on the cus­tomer” and you start sketch­ing out what you believe is the ideal experience.

You focus on flow. On cre­at­ing delight in the user’s mind. On achiev­ing the desired out­come with the least incon­ve­nience, fastest path and fewest num­ber of hur­dles you can. You ensure any lim­i­ta­tions of the busi­ness or tech­nol­ogy or infra­struc­ture are hid­den with help­ful smoke and mir­rors so the cus­tomer gets the job done.

Then you present your design to the project team, or key stake­hold­ers, or some­one else with a vested inter­est and it all goes to crap. You hear things like:

  • the legacy sys­tems don’t work that way
  • the price is wrong because you haven’t fac­tored in the devel­op­ment costs or costs imposed by some other factor
  • the order of fields in the form is wrong because the way the code will be writ­ten is eas­ier if it’s this other way
  • you haven’t con­sid­ered fac­tor X which is the pri­mary busi­ness con­cern of a par­tic­u­lar stake­holder busi­ness unit

And there are any num­ber of others.

But where’s the voice of the cus­tomer in all of this?

Of course, in any project you need to bal­ance the busi­ness require­ments against what’s actu­ally deliv­er­able to the cus­tomer or user. But I’d argue that at no point in the project should busi­ness require­ments out­weigh or force a com­pro­mise in the expe­ri­ence you deliver to the cus­tomer.  You should never expose your prob­lems, lim­i­ta­tions or issues with the busi­ness to the user or cus­tomer. If you do, you’ve failed in deliv­er­ing the best experience.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that those issues don’t exist and that you don’t con­sider them very care­fully. But you don’t expose them to cus­tomers. You use what­ever smoke and mir­rors you can. You do clever things under the hood. Or you even change the busi­ness to remove the prob­lem so it’s no longer a prob­lem at all.

Here are a few real and vir­tual world exam­ples I’ve come across lately to show what I’m talk­ing about:

  • banks increas­ing inter­est rates out­side or in excess of offi­cial increases because the GFC has made their part of the busi­ness (trad­ing and mov­ing money around) more expensive
  • jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a higher-​​priced prod­uct than com­peti­tors because the R&D, inno­va­tion and roll­out costs had to be off­set somewhere
  • a request to change the order of fields of a web form because it would be a has­sle to code and pass mes­sages to legacy sys­tems in the order that was best for customers
  • an inabil­ity to deliver a new web-​​based prod­uct to cus­tomer expec­ta­tions because of an unwill­ing­ness in the busi­ness to adapt or change old practices

While these are all valid busi­ness con­cerns, and absolutely need to be addressed, they need to be addressed and resolved on the busi­ness side of a project. They are issues that should never be exposed to the cus­tomer. Not least because as cus­tomers, we just don’t care what your busi­ness issues are.

So, here’s a quick list of voice of the cus­tomer con­cerns you should ask your­self every time you encounter an objec­tion to deliv­er­ing to cus­tomer expectations:

  • am I expos­ing a busi­ness con­cern to the customer?
  • am I deliv­er­ing the prod­uct, ser­vice, what­ever at the best pos­si­ble price that’s com­pet­i­tive with the alternatives?
  • am I mak­ing it as easy as pos­si­ble for the customer?
  • if there’s a bar­rier or process I’m expos­ing, does pass­ing it offer the cus­tomer a tan­gi­ble benefit?

Your thoughts?