Original article: https://hbr.org/2016/09/why-user-experience-always-has-to-come-first
Actions speak louder than mission statements. If a UX feels more like “User Exploitation” than “User Experience,” business becomes ripe for disruption. Profitability predicated on customer friction, intrusion, and irritation simply isn’t sustainable. Privileging easy money over better user experience is the antithesis of customer centricity.
That’s why digital services in general, and mobile advertising in particular, make superior templates for evaluating business model design. Entwining real-time data and predictive analytics lets serious organizations quickly calculate and calibrate trade-offs between experiential and exploitive UXs. Those trade-offs become explicit. Most everyone in the enterprise can now see where customers are respected partners in value creation, and where they’re data-herded sheep to be sheared.
For example, Facebook makes great money from mobile advertisers, but it’s now refusing to subsidize technical inefficiencies that undermine overall UX. Roughly 40% of Facebook mobile users abandon sites that take even three seconds to load. Delays frequently lead to abandoning the Facebook visit as well. Unsurprisingly, the company informed advertisers to speed up their load times or else.
“Our goal is to give people the best ad experience possible on mobile. By considering website performance and a person’s network connection, we can improve that experience and help drive the outcomes advertisers are looking for,” a Facebook spokesman said.
Crudely put, when advertising latencies undermine perceived UX quality, Facebook optimizes UX at the tardy advertisers’ expense. Abandonment in any form is an increasingly measurable outcome. Facebook has effectively declared that it prioritizes superior UX over inferior advertising.
This highlights a fundamental dynamic that’s transforming digital product and services worldwide: Dynamic pricing is being superceded by dynamic opportunism. That is, platform providers and innovation ecosystems are rethinking how they really make money from, and with, their customers and partners. That means they must constantly (re)calculate whether, and when, degrading their UX in exchange for easy or instant money is worth it.
The ongoing networked fusion of data and analytics basically forces organizations to reveal how much they value their customer relationships as relationships, as opposed to as a series of transactions aggregated over time. The former perspective inspires and incents a different investment in UX than the latter.
Reducing UX frictions and irritations that have nothing to do with money or value creation is a no-brainer. But technology makes it easier and simpler for more organizations to try to get away with profitable but irritating little nicks and customer scrapes. In other words, temptations and opportunities for “nickel and diming” one’s customers and partners are digitally rising.
Google’s policies curtailing mobile interstitial adverts — pop-ups that spread, fungus-like, across your mobile screen — underscore this intensifying theme.
“Google’s intention is to not just direct people to more informative results, but to results that work better for them — e.g., don’t annoy them with a pop-up — too,” The Verge observed. “This is something Google has increasingly been doing with its search algorithm. Last year it began boosting the rank of ‘mobile friendly’ websites, and in 2014, it began boosting the rank of sites with encryption as well.”
Note that a pop-up’s IQ — Irritation Quotient — is but one of hundreds of elements that Google uses to weight its mobile search algorithm. That said, Google tracks user abandonment rates as assiduously as Facebook does. The essential tension doesn’t go away: When does user experience feel like, or become, user exploitation?
Advertisements that genuinely interest or intrigue users will obviously be welcome no matter how intrusively or invasively they materialize. The receptivity/abandonment ratios can now be tracked and analyzed with increasing rigor.
But the most important takeaway should revolve not around advertising efficacy but around how — individually and collectively — advertising defines and determines the UX. The death-by-a-thousand-cuts, or pop-ups, phenomenon remains a real threat to sustainable platforms and ecosystem growth.
So these UX themes transcend digital advertising trends. An Amazon developer, for example, told me that her company takes great pains to avoid digitally irritating customers. Entire KPI dashboards have apparently been built around receptivity/abandonment behaviors. Tests explicitly examining how “best” customers or “typical/average” customers respond to intrusive offers are hotly debated. Enhancing Amazon’s overall UX is paramount, she insists. Optimizing the overall relationship, not the individual transaction, is the core value.
The leadership challenge around customer centricity will become sharper and starker both inside the enterprise and outside. Will business discipline revolve around optimizing UX for customer value? Or does “dynamic opportunism” devolve into user exploitation? How your organization defines and manages its receptivity/abandonment ratios will tell you the answers.