It’s about what you need, not what you want…

It’s about what you need, not what you want…


“Customer is king”, we all know that saying. And for most service providers, including most consulting and design agencies, it is rule no.1. And let’s be honest, yes, it’s the customer who pays us… But especially as an UX Pro it’s sometimes hard. Ok, not “sometimes”… it can be ridiculously hard, and that can happen very often, esp. in long-time projects. How often does it end in just following the path blindly and not have the possibility to break out, even if it’s crystal clear (to us) that it would be the right thing to do, not only for us but for the customer…

Highest priority in my UX work is not the customer, it’s the (future) user. And there is the a huge potential of conflict. The customer, the company or person that we have a contract with, is in 95% of all cases not the same person that will use that software-solution we were assigned to build. Even worse this customer has usually no clue about the task or problem or whatever the software has to solve: There’s the CEO of a company which manufactures certain parts for the automotive industry and he wants to have something that helps his employees to optimize the process in which they need 50 different kinds of screws. When do you think this CEO has last seen or even worked in this process he wants to have been optimized?

Of course, in doubt the customer has the last word in any decisions. Without question. But that can be frustrating if I or we can’t make the customer to understand, that that thing he likes to have is maybe not that his users really need. In my example the CEO may wants to have a sorting system for these different screws. Fair enough, he sees that at the moment the manufacturing workers spend a large amount of time looking for the right screw. And his idea for a solution is to sort the screws in a certain way. Sounds fine, doesn’t it? After all the workers said in an survey “We usually need time to find the right screw”.  But what if the problem are not the screws? What if the workers have no problem finding the right screw in this chaotic screw-box, but they have to try 10 different screws because they can’t really see the screw-nut and so can’t estimate which screw size probably would fit.

Sure, that’s an unusual example and I have to admit, I’ve never had a talent for handiwork. But the customer wishes vs. user needs thing can be very abstract and I’ve been looking for a simple metaphor, did I find one with the screws?

Ok, so the real problem of the user is that he needs to see clearly which size of screws he would need. But if the CEO insists on his screw-sorting idea, the problem will never been solved. And didn’t we all had such situations? There was an app we’ve build in which we had different screens with a fixed header for navigation back and forth. On the start screen there was the logo of the company placed in that header (which was empty besides two arrows). The app was built for external users (= which are not part of the company), and in our first prototype  we had a consistent header where the logo was placed there, no matter in which part of the app the user was. We did that for branding reasons, the user should see this small logo at all times. But the moment we showed that prototype to the customer he said “No! We don’t like to see the logo on every screen. Once on the start screen is enough…” We’ve tried to explain our reasons but the customer insisted on his wish… Sure, that will not cause any major problems in the end, but maybe a few future users will not turn into loyal customers of that company because they simply can’t remember the logo and name of “that awesome app he’s used once”…

I have to admit, I don’t have a solution. Sometimes you’ll have customers that let you do proper user interviews and testing and understand that not everything they have in their deskpersons-brains would be the right thing. And sometimes you’ll have those most pigheaded customers who only hire you because they are to busy doing the task themselves, but they already know the solution, so please just build it the way they say and shut up…

It is essential that you have a talent for explaining things and problems. But even that can be useless if the customer is not willing to listen… Maybe it could be a way to be stubborn ourselves sometimes. Maybe it could help to say  frankly “No, I don’t do it that way, because I know it is wrong because of reason A, B and C. I suggest you solution XY…”, without being in the usual fearful political sensitivity-mode most of us are when they speak to the customer… Yeah, I wish we could do that sometimes. But often the risk is to high, that the customer just shrugs his shoulders and gives the assignment to another agency which is willing to do it the way he likes…

But isn’t it worth the risk? If the customer would let us do the job with our solution and we are right and it solves the problem… wouldn’t that mean we did a great job and maybe could get another project, another contract and some recommendations to other potential customers? Man, I’m so glad that I’m not in charge of running a company and make such decisions…

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  1. 1
    Robin

    This is so true and not just for UX…
    You can relate it to many jobs / projects / tasks where you have to do something and know exactly that the thing that needs to be done is not that what your customer / partner / stakeholder wants.

    It’s always a hard decision to make but sometimes you just have to decide if you just want to make it or to make it right.

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