The case for listening to enterprise users

Illustration of users in a line with sound waves between them

For companies that rely on consumer sales, there’s a clear business case for creating intuitive, pleasurable user experiences. But what about situations where the consumer or end user is not the customer?

Where the organization is the customer, there may seem to be less incentive to design around the needs of end users. This is certainly the case in many organizations that rely on enterprise systems. If the system basically works, the thinking goes, why focus too heavily on the experience of using it?

You’ve probably experienced the results of this logic. Maybe you’ve had to book work trips on an app that seemed intent on frustrating rather than facilitating travel. Maybe you’ve taken college courses on a platform that seemed anything but learning friendly. Unfortunately, the gap between consumer-facing and enterprise software can be far too wide. Yet the experience of using consumer-facing software shapes expectations, even for legacy users, and we should strive to meet those expectations. More importantly, there are sound business reasons for doing so.

Now you might be thinking that experience designers and researchers are predisposed to seeing great user experience as a worthy end in itself — and that’s certainly true. But those of us who work on legacy systems also know that listening to users can result in greater efficiency, reduced costs, and increased regulatory compliance.

At Ad Hoc, many of the users we serve, while not government employees, are required to complete federally mandated tasks such as submitting healthcare quality data on behalf of clinicians or hospitals. Like most workers, they’re reasonably expected to become proficient in the software required to complete their responsibilities. But the expectation that these users will learn a given workflow no matter what its quirks can result in ignoring the very real way that poor user experience can add user burden and system risk.

Let’s say you’re a quality administrator for a small hospital system. You’re required to submit quality data once a year in order to receive reimbursement payments. Because the process is not intuitive, you have to take the time to go through manual and instruction videos each time, adding time to an already cumbersome process. And because the process is not easy to teach or learn, you are the only person in your organization who knows how to do it, meaning that you find yourself scheduling vacations around deadlines and wondering what will happen when you retire. In this case, a more intuitive workflow would result in reducing time spent as well as the risk associated with concentrating high stakes tasks in very few hands.

Closing the gap between consumer and government services requires understanding that the benefits of listening to users flow across the org chart — from high-level stakeholders, who want to drive greater regulatory compliance, to end users, who need intuitive workflows and confirmation that they have fulfilled requirements. Excellent usability isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s the foundation of effective systems.

Bringing the kind of design empathy usually associated with consumer-facing contexts to enterprise systems is central to our value proposition. Because of this, our customers and prime contracts increasingly look to us to provide the kind of research that drives human-centered design.

We understand that listening to users at every stage of the design and development process is not just good for users. It’s critical to creating products that meet stakeholder needs across a wide variety of metrics — increasing task efficiency, reducing the risk associated with complex workflows, and accelerating core goals like regulatory compliance. For us, it’s not just that enterprise users deserve to be listened to, it’s that understanding their needs is what helps us meet customer goals.