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Save Your Company
by John S.
Data indicate that usability offers a better return on investment
than almost any other business action. When times get rough, usability
shines. The benefits are huge. Usability is a weapon that can save you
money, improve your competitive position, and improve customer loyalty. Now
is the time to invest in the research.
Setting the Mood
Many internet companies have died or
they are dying. The
economy seems like it is slowing
down. People are getting depressed about
the stock market. Companies are worried about the future. Consultants are
worried to death and they are begging for more business. Things seem bleak, and
still, we might not even be down to the bottom yet. This is December 2000, and
people are running scared.
But I have to confess, I am as happy as I have ever been.
The last decade has been truly impressive and many people that I know have great
jobs, they are satisfied, and they are really making a difference. Usability
is becoming more important and that is good for everyone. Life is good.
Aside: What is WebWord doing in 2001?
We are dramatically increasing
our investments and we are getting ready for the war ahead. We are getting
ready to strike because this is the time when usability shines. When times
were good over the last couple of years we closely watched our resources,
but now that things are getting tough we will spend more money, to be in a
better position to help our clients. Again, now is the time to move ahead,
when things are starting to look dark and grim. We are going
to help a lot of companies and we are going to gain a lot of attention. In
2000 we helped Women.com, 24k.com, Cabela's Inc., and several other
companies. 2001 is already looking good for WebWord. We have found out that usability research is exactly what companies need.
This is not a down time. We are moving faster and we are ramping up all of
A Positive Outlook
I know some secrets
and I am going to share them with you. I'm going
to help you understand how usability can save your company. Maybe that is a
bit over the top, but it is at least partially true. Usability is an
economic weapon that most people do not know about and I am going to do
every thing I can to help you use it.
It is really quite
simple. When times get rough, usability is one of the most effective weapons
you can use in business. In many ways usability is crusty and conservative,
but it generates very stable returns. In fact, it
generates returns better than virtually any other investment you can conjure
up. Done right, it is a magic bullet. Usability is all about profit. Money. Cash. Returns. While the focus is on
users, the goal is profit. Just ask our clients.
is conservative. It is not bold or brave. It is about tapping into your
customers. It is exactly what accountants should dream about. It is too bad
that most of them don't know about it. You can tell them. You can be the
hero. You can show them how usability is an excellent investment.
Saving Tip Number One
All things being
equal between two companies, the one that offers the better user experience
will win in the marketplace. Maybe that is obvious since any positive
difference for a company tips the scales in its favor. So, let me take one step forward. I would argue that a good user experience is more important
than superior prices, even for companies with razor thin margins. I admit that
research is needed to support this claim, but my experience indicates that
good usability is the key difference between online retailers. Put another
way, profits are driven more by usability than price. This might be a
comparison between apples and oranges (I know that they are not the same),
but usability seems more business critical.
I would bet that users would be more likely to buy
books because they were easy to purchase and
had reviews readily available, than if they were 30% off versus 20% off.
couple of bucks, for the majority of users, is significantly less compelling
than a good review and a good overall shopping experience.
this save your company?
You are able to
compete based on the user experience not price. This can catch your
competitors off guard again and again. Competition based on
price is very difficult and tends to drive down profits, thus making it
more difficult to recover during hard times. During better times, it is
difficult to raise prices back to normal. A good user experience will
drive loyalty and trust in a positive direction
without a price cut. This is value which can
be capitalized on at virtually any time, versus price which is more of a
difficult short term maneuver.
Saving Tip Number Two
Let's piece a few things together. We both know that
managers and executives are out to decrease costs when times get rough. They
need to keep spending down. What they want, in my experience, is a guarantee
that spending money will improve the position of the company. If it doesn't
have a big payoff, then the money will not be spent.
When times are good,
the company can ride the wave of the industry but when times are bad, the
management demands a return. Sales must go up. Profits are critical. Every
penny counts. Cutting costs becomes an important part of the operations of
What can usability do for you? It is obvious.
an extremely effective cost cutting tool. Usability helps designers create
more simple products. Simple products are cheaper to build. Simple products
are easier to sell and they are also easier for customers to maintain. That
should sound pretty good to you. I know that it sounds good to me.
this save your company?
Because you can
drive down costs. Usability will help you maximize your
investments. Many people think that salvation comes from an increased
features. That is wrong. The wise person, armed with usability, knows that a good user
experience is derived from simplicity. The bottom line, literally, can be
improved through simplicity.
simplicity = user satisfaction = increased profits
Saving Tip Number Three
Usability testing can also decrease time to market. As I
stated above, you can make your products (or your web site) more simple but
more effective using usability. Simplicity is not necessarily easy to reach.
It does require time and effort. But, it is far less painful than trying to
add new features that people don't even necessarily want.
In down times, speed is even more critical than up times.
This is important because it is much easier to gain ground on your competitors
when things are rough. It is true. Cisco Systems knows this and that is why
they are happy the markets are going sour. John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, is
using the down turn as a time to break
away from the competition. They are positioned to gain significant
this save your company?
Usability can be
used as a break away weapon. Many companies see usability as a premium
overhead cost and they stay away from it when times are rough. But wise companies
realize that usability is a weapon that will drive down costs, improve
customer satisfaction, and increase speed to market.
Saving Tip Number Four
Are you afraid that spending money will not yield returns?
You have nothing to fear. Unlike investments in technology, usability is
based on human psychology and user research. If you understand humans via research, then
building the right product, service, or web site, is basically guaranteed. I'm not kidding. Sun Microsystems has shown how spending
about $20,000 could yield a savings of $152 million dollars. Gasp!? Each and
every dollar invested could return $7,500 in savings. Well, don't take my
word for it, take a look
and come back with smile. Usability is not a joke.
this save your company?
Usability is about hard core profits. You want money? Do
the testing. Do the research and gather the data. If you don't have the
internal resources, outsource it, especially in down times. The benefits are
basically guaranteed. Unless you think you have a truly customer focused
product or web site, then you will gain from usability research. This isn't a sales
call, it is a cost savings reality. Usability is not a soft science and it
isn't just an extra thing to throw on at the end of a project. It offers
you a strategic cost advantage.
Saving Tip Number Five
If you invest in usability you will be at an advantage in
the market because you will be closer to your customers. If you are
gathering data from your customers, you will be able to satisfy them better
than your competitors. Also, you will be more aware of when times are
getting better and you can catch the inflection upward. Usability gives you customer knowledge but also industry knowledge. It keeps you in a
position of power. It offers you a sustainable
competitive advantage if you are willing to embrace it.
this save your company?
When you know more than other people and other companies,
you are in a position to win. Profits are driven by the usability testing
you do. It is about brainpower. Usability isn't research in a tower, it is a front line weapon. It
gives you a pipeline to the heart of the industry and that will help your
company win. Catch the wave before your competition.
I find it ironic that usability is one of the first
things cut in a budget. Like documentation and quality testing,
usability is seen as a "nice to have" but many managers and
executives think it can be cut out of the budget. That is a mistake. That is
damn foolish. Usability basically guarantees success. If you have a sound
business plan and a long term outlook, usability is exactly the weapon you
Mark my words, the companies that focus on delivering a
great user experience will win. They will survive. Amazon, Yahoo, and AOL are customer focused.
They will continue to grow. They will win.
Aside: Let's have some fun.
I'll give you some Year 2001 Predictions. Here are today's closing
stock prices of the customer focused companies I mentioned above. Come back in about a
year and see if I am correct. See if these companies are doing
significantly better, and
see if their stock prices are higher:
Amazon: 15 3/16
Yahoo: 25 5/8
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