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Is your business ready for the consumer employee?

User Experience (“UX”) has become a massive global industry built around driving customer retention, satisfaction and sales.

User Experience (“UX”) has become a massive global industry built around driving customer retention, satisfaction and sales. In a socially networked world the consumer has increasing power and providing a great UX is now firmly at the core of all consumer brand and marketing strategy. Satisfying, elegant software functionality and design on a variety of devices and platforms is now a given in our daily lives. At work, our employers communicate with us; we use software and we respond (or not). Are our experiences as consumers beginning to dominate our responses and perceptions? In the office, BYOD has begun to blur the lines between our UX as employees and consumers and we can access information on tap related to work or life 24/7. And, mobile apps are efficient, accessible and often fun. Has the time now dawned where we have  ‘consumer grade’ UX expectations all of the time? If so, how does our UX at work stack up? And, what questions do employers need be  asking themselves? Here are six areas to consider:

1. Why invest in improving employee UX? Talent acquisition, retention and workforce management remain among the most difficult challenges for organisations – check out the PWC global annual CEO survey where this remains the perennial C-suite headache. Talented employees wield increasing power and this is driving demand for improved employer communications. Clunky HR systems, tools that look like they were designed in the 1990s and lack of investment in internal communications won’t cut the mustard for the best organisations of the future. The cracks are starting to show and will soon divide organisations into two camps: those that get it and those that are stuck in the UX dark ages. Ant Bird, Senior Communications Consultant,  Tax and Pensions, KPMG comments; “It’s interesting to see employees in the driving seat and this is becoming reality due the tools they’ve got at their fingertips. For example, the NVIDIA Tegra X1 mobile chip, which will find its way in to mobile phones this year, has the same processing power as a year 2000 super computer. The power now lies  with the individual.”

Clare Jones, Marketing Director, Landscape in conversation with Ant Bird, Senior Communications Consultant, Tax and Pensions, KPMG

2. Who is responsible for employee UX? If the objective is about making people more successful at work, and therefore driving revenue and reputation, the C-suite needs to allocate and champion investment in improving the employee’s UX. HR, as the people champions in the business though, are arguably in control of delivery. However, HR need work collaboratively with IT and marketing teams on content, data, technology and design. They may also need to involve external experts. There are some inherent tensions between the functions and clarity will be needed about roles and responsibilities.

3. Where is the investment needed to create a better employee UX? Employee UX potentially covers all aspects of employee interaction with multiple employer systems, processes and services from rewards to pensions through to time sheets. There will be new applications to develop as well as improvements and modifications to what already exists. Bird says; “In the corporate B2B world there’s a lot of ‘talk’ about employee UX. Developers are being sent off to come up with innovative ideas and tick boxes. The big question is whether the the CFO will actually provide the budget. Without high level support and a partnership approach across the business, we are unlikely to see much investment.” A clear business case and strategy is needed and input is needed from across the business to establish priorities and responsibilities.

4. Does the employee’s UX need to precisely replicate what they get as consumers? In our own straw poll, the TrainLine, BBC and Uber (albeit a little controversial) are up there as our top apps for optimum consumer UX. Bird comments; “a lot of service providers are taking UX very seriously; TFL have undergone a huge revamp, along with the rolling out of Wifi on the underground. The commute to work might soon be setting the tone for what we expect when we get to the office.” Would we expect the same UX at work? Expectations have undoubtedly risen. Some of us might put up with recording holidays on an antiquated system, but we are unlikely to engage with processes unless they are mandatory, easy or catch our attention. So, the answer has to be yes! Bird comments; “For the employee who is used to intuitive software, it is becoming less tolerable to waste time working out how a system is meant to operate. For the employer the time lost is a waste  of revenue.” Enterprise mobility is at the heart of changing the way people work as well as transforming organisational processes. Adrian Simpson, Chief Innovation Officer of SAP UK, recently commented that UX is going to be a bigger challenge than just having access to mobile platforms for enterprise mobility. Bird expands; “A manual seems necessary to get to grips with most employee systems, yet we’re used to getting an Apple device at home and using software which is entirely intuitive. Our standard has become Facebook, Tumblr or Amazon where UX is a breeze. That’s where we need to go with employee communications.”

5. What creates a great employee UX? In our experience you need to think ‘MEPS’: focus on mobility; make it about engagement; have a clear purpose and keep it simple: Mobility: Responsive design that is capable of adapting itself to all types of device and all sizes of screens is where it is at and testing the adaptability of the applications with every possible device and channels is critical. Obviously security is a consideration as is auto-save where universal, seamless wifi is not yet assured. In the consumer space, most brands have already accomplished this and the next wave of design is about extending and tailoring the experience to the native device type and size in order to deliver an optimized experience. Bird comments; “it’s about not using the old school approach of building a nice looking website for desktops and cramming it on to an awkward user experience for mobile users, it’s more about getting the smaller user experiences spot on then sizing up, which delivers a better experience for all.” Engagement: The most successful consumer mobile applications are built with stunning colour, interesting movement and intuitive information architecture. An app needs to be attractive, fun and have some personality if it to gain a place on a coveted mobile device, never mind to be used. While design should always focus on usefulness and usability first, aesthetics matter as visually appealing and attractive software makes us want to engage, keeps us better motivated to repeat use and turns us into advocates. The consumer employee demands personal attention and a bespoke experience – emotion has shown to have a far greater impact than ease or effectiveness. Involving early adopter employees in selecting is an obvious win/win.

Purpose: Bird is a fan of Simon Sinek, famed for his ‘it’s not what you do, it’s why you do it ‘start with why’’ TED talk. Make sure your app has a clear function. Do you people really want it? Will they use it? What do they grumble about most? What solution would be most welcome? Meeting a clear need is vital and taking a step back and clearly articulating this is the foundation of best practice. Simplicity: it makes sense to be brutal with any unnecessary elements. Great UX has nothing surplus to requirements. Added functionality will only slow down and alienate the user. We focus on the minimal use of design elements, colour and text during the design and development phase to keep this clarity front of mind. Every detail counts – for example,  great typography can transform readability and  reduce user-fatigue.

6. Can the organisation resource employee  UX internally? Strategic direction and buy in is needed at senior level in the business, but the employee ‘UX champion’ is yet to be defined and assigned. It will be interesting to see whether this becomes the domain of HR, marketing, IT or elsewhere. According to Bird; “you have to get the functionality and user journey right before you do anything else. You need to go through user personas, wireframes and test and only then do you add design and brand. A lot of in-house teams would not have this capability. External UX and design experts are likely  to be needed.” So who do you go to? “Traditionally the IT industry has rewarded function and process over form. Surprisingly perhaps, companies like SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft do not seem to be leading innovation – their timesheet products are poor. The smaller or specialist boutiques seem more agile and are developing, for example, impressive flexible benefits employee communications.” Businesses that take employee UX seriously will always involve employees – they are an on tap focus group after all. Ask them what they want; show them your wireframes and designs and feed their views into the development process.

To conclude, talent engagement and business performance are closely linked and providing a  great employee UX is a no-brainer for employers wanting to attract and retain the very best people. However, this will need investment and, possibly, a cultural change. The consumer world provides both inspiration and a benchmark. The signs are that the consumer employee  has arrived. Is it time to prioritise their loyalty  and advocacy? 

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