Pass the f*ing sugar, Grannie

Not thinking about the UX of your company as a whole is like swearing at your grannie to pass the sugar. You meet her and say hello. You talk about the kids, or school or whatever stage of life you’re at. She says you’ve grown and talks about when you were young.

Then she offers you some coffee. You say that would be nice. After she puts down the coffee you ask her to pass the f***ing sugar.

What just happened? Everything else was fine and then this assault on the whole experience of you happened.

Companies run like this all the time, and mostly because they don’t have the time or care to check the details.

This first occurred to me when one evening I had to stay in a hotel room looking after my then 1 year old daughter while my wife and in-laws went out to the opera in Berline. At work, we had had a few hiccups delivering projects recently but always with non-technical things. Basic stuff.

“Please pass the sugar” stuff.

At the time we were building websites, e-commerce sites and basic apps (this is about 6..7 years ago) and so most of our clients had clients who interacted with them online. I took a step back from the details and asked what it was like to be a client of ours, not just at the presentation stage or the site going live, but at each step.

When we asked for the sugar, did we swear but not realise it?

So I made a list – a really long list – of every interaction we had with every client. All the reasons for emails, phone calls, meetings. Every document we delivered to them and how we delivered it.

Then, like a good programmer I optimised by working on the big problems first. What things caused the most noise and what things hurt the project, the client and us the most? Simple things like communicating the details of deployments and ensuring everyone was ready for them were first but it filtered all the way down to individual update emails.

I nearly wrote a book about this. If I was inclined, maybe I’d have turned this into an app or platform but what I took away from this was more valuable:

The confidence clients have in your comes from the details and if you aren’t aware of the details – really, really aware of them – then chances are your client isn’t as happy as they could be.

Confidence matters because the offering of most companies is fungible to a certain extent, and if they don’t  feel the love at every step, they’ll start wanting to leave. And if that happens a few times… they’ll leave.

None of that is amazing. That is just obvious. But what I realised back in that hotel room with my glass of wine was this: you need to understand what the people who are working for you are doing so you can give them the language to communicate with your clients in a way which gives your clients the confidence you think they should have.

Even when it’s something as simple as asking for the sugar.

The list I had started with ending. The handover at the end of the project is hard, often because for the client they don’t know how to use this thing.

Before that you need various ways of communicating the progress of something that the client probably doesn’t understand. Focus their mind on the decisions, and help them prepare for the end of the project.

Throughout the project, the chat, email and noise need to help the client – for whom this project is probably a rarity – understand what is needed of them. And focus their efforts.

Then – as now – you have issue trackers, project management tools and the like. Each of these becomes part of the noise of the project. If you don’t consider what it’s like to experience dealing with a company entirely via a weird (as many are) project tool or issue tracker, you are going to annoy clients.

The real learning: UX does not stop at the browser. In starts at the potential client coming across your company name all the way down to how a support guy answers the phone at 2am.

If you really care about UX of your product you care about every users’ every experience.

And don’t ask Grannie for the f***ing sugar.

She won’t ask you back again.

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