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  • Ian Showell

The importance of good UX in back office systems

I’ve met a lot of user experience professionals, and read about the work of many others. I think many of the people that do this job are driven by a desire just to make things better. They become genuinely frustrated by badly thought-out interfaces and their motivation is generally to make the world a better place in some small way.

When you look at a business level, there is a growing recognition that providing good UX in your product or website has some serious commercial benefits. Making it easy and pleasurable to use is likely to lead to increased customer satisfaction, which in turn can achieve greater brand loyalty or stickiness. In terms of sales, good UX can give the competitive edge over other products with similar functionality and if your users love it, they will recommend it to others.

Much has been written about the importance of user experience in websites, apps and traditional desktop software. But I find the focus is normally always on the user as a customer. That’s to say that the user is always buying the product they are using or using a website or app as a customer of the organisation in question.

What about back office software?

No-one seems to be talking about the importance of UX in back office systems. In this case the user of the software is not the customer of the organisation, but their employee. Our user experience professional is equally at home here – helping to develop and optimise user-friendly interfaces. So perhaps there is no need to make a distinction? Maybe all the same advice about UX applies?

The back office users we are talking about here have two important characteristics that make them quite different to the customer-users that most UX literature is focussed on.

  • The back office user is not following their own agenda. Back office users are paid to be there and use the software, so the stickiness of the experience, whether the user would recommend the software and even user satisfaction to an extent are not major commercial risks. It is the user’s job to use the software, so they have to continue to do so regardless of the experience.

  • The back office user does not require highly learnable and discoverable software. In most cases, back office users are provided with training and time to learn how to use the interface, or at least plenty of practice and repetition. This is not always the case of course, but it is reasonable to design for a longer onboarding period.

Reducing the requirement for an interface to be highly learnable and discoverable, and shifting the emphasis away from trying to hold on to users can result in a very different approach to designing an interface. But if our back office users are so low risk, why should we bother about user experience at all?

Perhaps the biggest motivation for investing in good UX in back office systems is the potential for improved efficiency and productivity of staff. Employees cost money and having less of them is an attractive prospect for most businesses. Making your user interface more usable can save a lot of effort – fewer clicks, less duplication of work, greater accuracy/fewer user ‘errors’ and better designed workflows can all contribute to faster smarter working.

And so we start designing our interface not for the novice user, but for the user who is going to use the system day in, day out. Maybe the interface for our customer-user was visually attractive, with simple choices broken down in to multiple steps. The interface for our back office user perhaps allows them to enter a lot of information very quickly. Maybe it is keyboard-centric. That all depends on what the system is for and we’ll let the user tests decide the specifics!

What about the pizzazz?

One last thought… Just because our user is being paid to be there, and we don’t risk losing them through a less enjoyable user experience, doesn’t mean we should forget about this element altogether. Our user is likely to be more effective in their role if they like using the system and have positive UX. But perhaps more importantly, and especially in customer-facing roles, poor system UX can leak out into the real world. I am sure most people have experienced someone battling with their computer whilst trying to serve you. A seemingly simple transaction becomes a poor customer experience – all caused by a poor user experience in the computer system.

What do you think? Have you come across any good resources for UX in back office systems? Should we be even be concerned about UX at all for these users? Leave a comment below…
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