Why Your Favorite App Isn’t Business-Related And How It Can Be

Editor's note: Todd McKinnon is CEO of identity management firm Okta. Think about your favorite app. Let me guess. It’s a consumer app -- something like Uber, Instagram or Pinterest. So what do we do to get business apps into that list of favorites? It’s rare to hear end users rave about an enterprise app that’s useful, simple, engaging and (dare I say) emotional – particularly all at the same time. We have some work to do if we want to perfect the enterprise user experience, which is why we should learn from beloved consumer products. If we put the user experience first and incorporate utility, simplicity, engagement and emotion into our products, we can make work just as easy and delightful as posting a photo. Utility: What would you do without it? The most important aspect of the user experience is utility. The design, simplicity and engagement of an app don’t matter if the app isn’t useful. As Brian Hansen, our UX architect at Okta, says, the key to creating a product people love is to create something they didn’t even know they needed and now can’t live without. Take the various (and now abundant) transportation-related apps like Uber, Lyft and Waze, for example. A few years ago, if you were using your phone to get a ride to the office or the airport, you were probably calling a cab company. Now a ride just about anywhere is only a few clicks away, and if your driver doesn’t know the best way, or wants to check the traffic, that only takes a few seconds on your phone, too. Users love Uber, Lyft and Waze because they’re useful – they enhance your travel and driving experiences so much so that I’d venture to guess you haven’t dialed Yellow Cab in months, maybe years. How can cloud providers learn from their success? We should strive to create an experience so useful that users can’t imagine working without it. Asana is already doing that with project management – with some users abandoning email entirely, saying, “Asana or bust” after getting up and running with their workflow solution. dotloop is another that has revolutionized how people work in real estate, encouraging almost 1 million agents and brokers to trade in FAX machines and scanners for cloud software – and creating the opportunity to get deals done on their mobile devices. Every enterprise should aspire to have its users ask, “What would we do without this?” They can only do so by prioritizing utility as the most important component of the user experience. Simplicity: Going beyond ‘easy’ The key to a simple product isn’t that it’s just "easy" to use; it’s that it helps you do things easily. There’s a big difference – and more often than not, it means the product team probably spent as much time on the back-end as the front-end, making the app just as powerful as it is beautiful. The best consumer apps seem to do this seamlessly. Consumer apps like Strava that use back-end technology to make the user-facing solution easy to use are the ones we need to mirror in the enterprise. Take Strava. In its simplest form, Strava allows users to track bike rides or runs via a mobile device. The app also has features designed to motivate athletes and provide camaraderie (which I can tell you comes in handy when you’re doing a tough climb), which Strava made possible by investing significantly in its backend. The engineering team behind the interactive Minifeed employs a distributed messaging system, a real-time computation system and a WebSocket server, all of which enable Strava users to easily and quickly keep up with other athletes. Consumer apps like Strava that use back-end technology to make the user-facing solution easy to use are the ones we need to mirror in the enterprise. Enterprise solutions known for their ease-of-use are few and far between, but some are starting to pick up on the importance of simplicity upfront and power in back. Box, for example, knows how important speed of access is to its users. That’s why they use ratcheting systems to keep performance at a steady state so users can upload, share and collaborate quickly and easily. ClearStory Data, an up-and-comer in data analysis, is another company that’s making significant investments in the backend to provide users with an experience that makes analysis simple, but also powerful – so collaborating and making data-driven decisions at work has never been easier. Engagement: Making work as enjoyable as Pinterest Sustained engagement has proven tricky when it comes to business apps. When we talk about user experience at Okta, we often talk about "stickiness," describing how difficult it is to leave an experience once you’ve logged in. Pinterest has quickly become the poster child for engagement in the consumer world – it’s just about as sticky as a site can get. Twitter’s average of 3 seconds per user pales in comparison to the almost 16 minutes that users stay on Pinterest. Put simply, that gap is because Pinterest always offers something new, beautiful and relevant to its users not in the form of a constant update stream. And while Pinterest skillfully uses visual stimulation in the form of pins of designer clothing, exotic destinations and famous faces, that’s hardly the only way to engage users. Just offering relevant recommendations will do the trick. Spotify’s personalized discovery tools provide song and artist suggestions for music lovers based on what they already listen to (and they just acquired Echo Nest to make those tools even more powerful), while Kindle integrates with Goodreads so readers can see what books are popular, and what their friends think of them. The intent behind recommendations and relevant discoveries is to put users first. And as I’ve said recently, it’s an area enterprises (both software providers and their customers), can improve on. It’s something that we think about daily at Okta – not only giving users access to the apps that their employers say they need, but also those we think will increase productivity. (Or apps they’ll benefit from in other ways, like by watching March Madness.) If we as an industry can successfully engage users like our consumer counterparts, we have an opportunity to make work easier and more enjoyable than ever. Emotion: Customer service as part of the UX Utility, simplicity and engagement are all qualities of an app that prompt users to proclaim “I love this app” but there’s one thing we haven’t covered that makes us feel a personal, emotional connection to a product. That’s customer service. Even if your solution is beautifully designed, power-charged and engaging, your users will inevitably have an issue – or just a simple question – at some point in the relationship. If you’re in e-commerce, it may be an incorrect mailing address. If you’re a service provider, it might be a specific feature or downtime. Whatever it is, you need to have a customer service team in place that’s going to interface with the customer directly and ensure that the issue is fixed. And fast. That’s why consumers applaud Zappos – the classic example of customer service – and why successors like Gilt Groupe implement systems like Zendesk to make sure their support is top notch. (And with an 84 percent customer satisfaction rate, you can be pretty sure Gilt’s doing it right.) In the enterprise, customer support spans the entire lifecycle, from sales to adoption to addressing issues. (And the issues you’ll run into in business are often more complicated than an ill-fitting pair of shoes and have further-reaching implications than an angry tweet.) Every touchpoint, whether its rollout or fixing a bug, should be personal and positive. It’s not just about customer service in the enterprise; it’s about customer success and understanding customers’ business problems before even thinking about implementing a solution. We can put the user first, too Lauded, popular consumer products put their users first. Plain and simple. Enterprise software providers are on the way there. We can point to companies like Box, Asana, dotloop and ClearStory Data for already getting its pieces of the user experience "puzzle" right. There’s still a lot of ground to cover, but if we focus on utility, simplicity, engagement and emotion like our consumer counterparts, we’ll have the opportunity to change the way we work and get a business app or two on that list of favorites. Image by Oksa/Shutterstock
Catherine Pickavet

Catherine Pickavet is a Writer at Gigabuzz, focused on covering early-stage startups, especially those with a technology focus and great perks.

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