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Lee Batchelor

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It's time for B2B systems and the organisations which use them to prioritise user experience

Monday 30 May 2016, admin
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I can't help feeling that the end users of some of the systems used by large organisations are getting a raw deal.

 From dealing with expenses to helping people communicate more easily, many organisations rely on these systems to carry out their day to day activities.

If they're not up to scratch, the price is often paid with the amount of time that employees are forced to sink into working with them. The costs attributed to the time wasted on inefficient workflows can often be overlooked. Negative experiences can even lead to employees finding a way to work around systems designed to make their lives easier.

For example, a site for holding webinars sends an HTML email with a welcome message to attendees. Unfortunately, the default content of these messages is nothing at all like the kind of thing a human might say.

The subject of what language is appropriate to use in your communications is a whole other topic, but it's not unreasonable to expect to be able to change some of the wording in a system generated email though.

The good news is that you have the option of editing the email. Unfortunately, all you're presented with is a 300 pixel wide text area containing only the unformatted HTML code for the email. HTML email is a specific skill set which can often be the enemy of many an experienced web developer. Presenting that to a non-technical user is only going to result in confusion and a broken email. Even if you are proficient in creating HTML emails, the system will strip out all but the most basic code. It's tough luck if you want to make your email work on a mobile phone.

If the user experience for the person in-house responsible for setting up the email is poor, the experience for the end user is poor too. Nobody wins.

In this example, the email isn't the core functionality of the site. If the feature can't be used by the people your system is targeting, why offer it at all? Having functionality which doesn't work or wastes the user's time will do more damage to your brand than not having it at all.

If these issues existed in consumer facing systems they'd never get away with it. Why isn't that the case for corporate customers?

Perhaps it's down to the fact that often the people responsible for procuring a system won't be the ones using it day to day. Maybe some B2B service providers get complacent because they know that procurement processes in large organisations can often be long and complicated. Once a decision is made and a deal done, it's easier just to put up with a system's problems than it is to start the whole torturous process all over again.

There are exceptions to the rule and new products are coming out to challenge some of the more established ones. They're putting users at the heart of their businesses and making genuinely user friendly systems.

As with many of these things, the solution lies in properly thinking about who's using your product.

If you're providing a B2B service, who is it in the organisation that'll be interacting with it? If it's just as likely to be somebody from accounts or the chief executive's PA as it is someone from the IT department, your product needs to be created accordingly.

On a smaller scale, when setting up a website, it's our responsibility as web developers to ensure that the content management system is easy to use and well documented enough so that non-technical editors are comfortable taking on the day-to-day maintenance of the site. 

UX