Over the past decade, user experience has become a staple in our industry. And rightly so: providing consumers with delightful digital experiences has become a valid differentiation strategy, allowing leading companies to win over new customers. But what about the realm beyond ‘simple’ users? Don’t professionals deserve the same high bar set by many of the apps they use as individuals? We think they do. So, given it's already long overdue, we’d like to coin a term and start the PX movement: Professional (User) Experience.
PX: what it is and why it matters
To be clear: we're not here to refute the value of optimizing the digital touchpoints for your end-users. However, in all the user-centricity craze, we seem to have ignored that great user experience is often the sum of more than just the ultimate interaction layer. It's the great service by staff members or the efforts by different actors coming together as an orchestrated whole. If a company overlooks these internal or external stakeholders and their digital tools, the end-result for its customers will not reach the desired level, regardless of 'traditional' UX efforts.
Siri, show me a 'professional user experience'
Just looking at some of the things we've designed and delivered this past year, here's a few examples of what we consider to be PX:
- Configurator applications for security system installers;
- An ordering platform for a huge and highly technical inventory;
- A medical imaging device for dermatologists;
- A communication interface between car repair workers and insurance companies;
- An onboarding portal for merchants to activate their payment solutions;
- A sales enablement tool for the advisors of a large retail bank.
Consumerization of enterprise?
Another concept that has been making the rounds over the past years, that is reminiscent of this subject, is consumerization of enterprise. It is often mentioned when talking about the advent of software-as-a-service alternatives to traditional bloated software packages, or the success of new productivity paradigms like Slack. While the importance of this adjacent shift is obvious, we want to broaden the perspective for PX even further, and not just to white collar employees in an enterprise context.
How to deliver great PX?
So, say you just became convinced that the digital channels for your professional stakeholders could use some much-needed TLC (tender love and care)... Now what? Well, the good news is that in PX, we can build upon many of the best practices in UX, albeit with some key differences. To get the ball rolling, here are a few of our learnings.
- Different research techniques: There are many customer research techniques to uncover user needs, like focus groups or quantitative surveys. These won't necessarily work in a PX context. Here's two we really like though:
Ethnography or field research: Get out and leave the building. See where your professional stakeholder will experience the digital product. This will often greatly challenge your initial solution or scope.
Personas: While we're not the biggest believers in personas for consumers (they often don't drive any meaningful design decisions), we do commonly use them in professional contexts. Considering these are often advanced interactions conducted by different people in an organization, it's important to highlight the key differences in jobs to be done, responsibilities, technical knowledge, commercial mandate, etc.
By the way, as an added bonus: engaging your professional stakeholders in this research is a great relationship and buy-in booster.
- No simple journey: Given the nature of professional experiences, they usually don't translate well into simple 'user performs action X on touchpoint Y’ visualizations. Another reason journey mapping won't cut it is that professionals often coordinate with other stakeholders and engage with a lot of different systems (like CRM or ERP). Trying to fit all that complexity into a linear representation will oversimplify the situation, and render the exercise useless.
That is why we are strong advocates for service design and service blueprinting, which are a lot more in-depth. Yes, it looks at center stage (actions and touchpoints) but also investigates what happens behind the scenes: which supporting staff is involved, and what other systems are used?
- The chain of events: To map the current situation (before setting out to envision the future state), it's important to understand all of the things happening internally in the organization. This sounds obvious, we know, but many organizations are so siloed that every department only sees a piece of the puzzle.
Here's another technique we'd like to promote: event storming. Rather than sending someone on a 'process analysis' safari by interviewing all of the different departments, we prefer co-creating this picture together. What are all the events happening in the company? 'Quote requested', 'quote sent', 'order placed', 'manufacturing has started', etc.
Over time, you'll see some clear clusters arise, and most importantly: all of the participants will have a much more holistic picture and a better understanding of the others' perspectives. New knowledge will emerge as the stakeholders work together to clarify their part of the chain.
- Future-proof foundations: The exercise above is not only valuable to get a 360° context, it also lays the groundwork for making the right choices when it comes to IT architecture. That’s because the clusters you will see emerge in the event storming exercise form domains and subdomains. This is where domain-driven design comes in. In this architectural approach, we deconstruct a problem into subproblems that can be solved separately and then reconstructed. These subdomains need to be loosely coupled, meaning a change in one subdomain does not (for the most part) affect other subdomains. Once those subdomains are identified, you can use them as a guide to create loosely linked teams that can focus on their subdomain with fewer dependencies on other teams.
- Building blocks en guiding principles: Finally, we'd like to share some learnings on the actual 'designing the experience' work.
One recent trend that matches well with PX is design systems. In this approach, entire screens and flows are created by designing and combining different components (e.g. a filter or a form element). Given that—due to their nature—digital tools for professionals are often quite extensive in their capabilities, a lot of efficiency can be achieved by using this systemized design approach. Additional flows can easily be created and developed from the building blocks. An added bonus: consistency across all interactions and touchpoints!
To further safeguard a consistent PX, define a set of guiding principles. These can give directions for subsequent design choices. For instance: "Maximize self-service without becoming too impersonal." or "In-context explanations over separate help destinations".
Hopefully, all of the above has given you some food for thought. Which of your professional stakeholders have been left in the digital cold?
Don't know where to start? Here's a last technique to get you going: value mapping. Jot down all of the different actors in your organization on a piece of paper and draw all of the different interactions and exchanges between them. It won't take long until you see areas of opportunity arise. All you have to do is seize them.