Greetings from a customer experience guru: Go below the surface
It is early morning in Palo Alto in California’s Silicon Valley when Risto Lähdesmäki picks up the phone. This is not his first call of the day and you can’t hear from his voice that it is so early in the day–on the contrary, an energetic flow of speech starts as soon as he takes the phone out onto the terrace and steps into the morning sun.
Lähdesmäki is CEO of Idean, a company specialized in the design of digital services and user experiences (UX). Idean’s neighbors in Silicon Valley are the headquarters of music streaming service Spotify and internet telephony service Skype, and within a 10-mile radius there are trendsetters such as Google, Facebook, taxi service Uber and Apple, whose iPhone is probably the best-known example of the type of success that can be generated from a positive user experience. Could there be a better environment in which to talk about customer experiences?
“In the USA, and especially here in the Silicon Valley area, the management in practically every company, from startups to business giants, already understands the significance of customer and user experience for providing a competitive advantage. In Europe, the conversion work usually needs to be completed first before discussion of this matter can actually begin,” says Lähdesmäki.
He roughly sums up the difference between the two continents’ approaches as follows: In the USA product developers find out what the customers need. In Europe they think about all the features that they are able to make.
“In the digital world, technology is already a commodity and technological head start is not enough to guarantee success. More and more often UX is the deciding factor that separates the products and services from each other.”
He pauses for a moment while he waits for waste collectors finish banging the waste containers that are lined up along the street and laughs that this would have been another ideal situation to work on customer experience. But joking aside, the type of industry is irrelevant.
“Digitalization changes the lives of people and businesses and only serves to emphasize the role of digital UX, user flow and user interfaces in the creation of overall customer experience.”
According to Lähdesmäki, change is also taking place in Europe, albeit slowly. There are many reasons for this and the area’s fragmented geographical and linguistic nature is one of them.
“However, the biggest difference has got to be in the corporate culture: There is not enough courage to give the issue, also considered a soft value, sufficient importance, manage it and provide it with enough resources. There is excellent expertise in Europe, so the opportunities for creating success stories are there.
So what is the significance of UX in the B2B world?
“UX is even more important for B2B companies!” exclaims Lähdesmäki, getting excited at the other end of the line.
“UX is now spoken about a lot regarding B2B products and services because we can see how it introduces productivity and efficiency into work. People get used to easy and natural user interfaces in their free time, so this is rapidly introducing the revolution also into the corporate world.”
According to Lähdesmäki, a good UX, in itself, is a new brand value which creates a new type of customer loyalty. The traditional type of vendor lock-in is now even easier to break, as SaaS software, for example, is available for companies at any time and any place, and the options are increasing.
“We all have experience of annoying software that reduces our enjoyment, perhaps not of life, but of work at least. Corporate software must serve and support work and make it inspiring, and in this way, as part of the chain, also produce added value for the customer’s customers.”
Lähdesmäki talks about uberization and the fact that the small are beating the large.
“Many giants have noticed that their market shares are declining because more agile operators are coming along and offering services in a way that addresses the customer in the right way. Customers are no longer sticking with the same old services out of habit, and it is now easier to part with even large systems.”
This view is supported by projects that Idean is currently working on with IBM and Hewlett-Packard, among others, to improve the UX of applications and products.
When Idean was working on a new UX for Sandvik Mining and Construction’s rock drills, the team spent a few weeks one kilometer underground in a Moroccan mine observing how the products are used.
“You don’t achieve customer orientation with user questionnaires or by asking stupid questions about whether the users would prefer a red or a blue format. The greatest pitfall is not treating the customer and his/her needs as the key factors when designing the product and services, even though that is what you think you are doing,” Lähdesmäki says.
He stresses that UX is not just colors, or beautiful cream decorations on a finished cake.
“Obviously if you have a service or product that is not basically functional, in other words does not solve the customer’s problem or meet his/her needs, then there is no way that a wonderful user interface will solve the problem. Nice and pretty just won’t cut it. But without a pleasant and easy UX, it will be impossible for even a good service to become a success story.”