On a balmy summer day in July 1785, French gunsmith Honoré Blanc gathered together an international group of military officers, government representatives, and dignitaries to demonstrate a newly-designed musket.
Yep, you heard me — keep reading, I’ll tie this together in a minute.
As the observers watched, he walked between several barrels full of assorted musket parts placed next to a firing range. He calmly withdrew the necessary components, assembled a musket, took aim, fired and hit his target dead-center. He then repeated this feat twenty-five times in a row, not once triggering a misfire, jam or missing his target.
The onlookers were stunned, but not by his steady aim — they were surprised the muskets fired at all! After all, gunsmithery (besides being an incredibly fun word to say out loud) was the exclusive realm of master craftsmen. Each individual musket was precisely designed and built according to their own specifications meaning they were expensive, slow to produce, and there was a limited availability of spare parts and ammunition. The parts weren’t even interchangeable between different firearms of the same model! This was a less-than-ideal trait for soldiers whose muskets had to fire reliably, and which often broke under the harsh conditions of combat.
Among those amazed onlookers was the American Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson, who immediately wrote to President-Elect James Monroe. He urged Monroe to adopt this new weapons manufacturing method for the U.S. Army. Ultimately, manufacturing interchangeable musket parts freed the United States from its dependence on European weapons suppliers, and helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary War.
So, uh… what the hell does this have to do with UX?
User-centered design isn’t only good for improving the customer-facing aspects of your business, such as marketing and the product interface. Applying user-centered design thinking to remove friction from your internal business processes and tools yields significant improvements to productivity and profitability. In the case of Jefferson, making it easier to assemble reliable muskets allowed the US to arm soldiers on the front lines faster, cheaper and in greater volume than before — conferring a distinct military advantage.
In this article, we’re going to describe 4 ways that you can leverage better UX design internally to trim your business’ costs and fatten up those profit margins. As it turns out, better UX can accomplish a lot!
Better UX… reduces support volume
It probably sounds common-sense, but bears reiterating: the more complex your product is to use, the more questions users are likely to have while using it — and the more manpower you’ll need to respond to users’ inquiries.
“When your product is easy to use, your customers no longer need support, they just need encouragement”
A more intuitively-designed product interface reduces the volume of support tickets your team receives, as well as the associated cost of responding to them all. Following good UX guidelines to reduce this burden also frees your team up to focus more on customer success with the product, instead of tackling problems — a double-win!
Better UX… streamlines infrastructure costs
Think about the last time you got lost on a website or stuck while using a web application — what’d you do?
Be honest, now…
Confused users create extra burden on your business’ infrastructure, whether it’s your internal processes, tools, or backend systems — especially with SaaS products, where every page refresh can result in extra queries to your product’s database and unnecessary API calls (some of which you might even be getting charged for by using 3rd party vendors).
Individually, these refreshes only cost fractions of a penny — but multiply them dozens of times per user, across a significant portion of your userbase, and you can see how this quickly begins to eat into your profit margin as you scale.
Better UX design means your users know where they’re going while using your product and get what they want the first time around, without multiple unnecessary refreshes or backtracking through the maze of your different interfaces. This relieves the stress on your poor servers & cuts those API bills.
This doesn’t only apply to digital businesses. How many times per day should your employees have to physically answer the phone just to tell a customer your brick & mortar business’ hours? This is a great example of a repetitive task and burden on your employees that can be almost completely eliminated by simply ensuring that your hours appear prominently somewhere in your customer experience.
Better UX… lowers your training costs
Wouldn’t it be amazing if every new employee you hired was able to magically plug in and be productive from day one? You’d never have to pair them up with more experienced folks, and there’d never be any mistakes or misunderstandings. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that sublime universe, and instead companies must sink large amounts of time, money and treasure into onboarding new hires — but there is a way to get closer to that promised land.
If your business’ internal tools and processes are easy to learn and master, you’ll have an easier time training each new employee, which provides a recurring benefit as your headcount expands.
With more intuitive, less friction-filled tools and processes, your new employees reach veteran proficiency faster, and your existing team isn’t diverted as much from other work to help train them. As an additional bonus, the more intuitive your business’ internal tools are, the less specialized your new hires need to be, meaning you’re able to recruit from a much wider potential pool of talented candidates, as well as hire for better cultural fit, instead of simply hiring based on skills proficiency alone.
As an example, at Digital Telepathy, we took the simple step of designing a single-page benefits package summary that outlines all the perks each employee gets access to. This simple artifact helped stem the seemingly endless flow of duplicative questions that our intrepid HR team had to take time out of their days to handle. We’re only a company of ~40, so imagine the impact something like this could have on a 400 or a 4,000 person organization!
Better UX… increases productivity
Going back to our intrepid French gunsmith, Honoré Blanc: he successfully fired 25 shots back-to-back, in a time when muskets typically misfired as often as 20% of the time. This means Monsieur Blanc was staggeringly more productive than the average musketeer, thanks to well-designed, interchangeable musket parts that reliably worked together.
(That’s also a sentence I never thought I’d actually write in my professional career…)
In the same way, putting refined, easy-to-use tools in your employees’ hands frees them to be more productive. As Wharton Business School found:
“Research shows that design-centric businesses that place more value on UX than their peers achieve productivity gains and higher equity valuations.” UX: Reimagining Productivity & Business Value
For a non-software example, spare a thought for busy bartenders at a crowded bar. When you’ve got patrons stacked 6 people deep screaming out their drink orders over “I Can’t Feel My Face”, which interface would you prefer to be hurriedly punching them into?
Now, as the bar owner, consider which interface you think would result in fewer mistakes made in such a chaotic environment, thereby resulting in fewer refunds and more tips for your bar staff?
In summary: the answer was inside you, all along
History shows us that leveraging better UX design for your internal systems and tools can provide massive, recurring benefits to your business that compound over time.
“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” ~ Archimedes
User-centered design empowers you to reduce your support, infrastructure and training costs, as well as increase your employees’ productivity — all of which has the effect of driving greater profit for your business.
So even if you’ve already reached a good place with UX optimization of your customer-facing touchpoints, remember that removing friction from the way your business actually works will help you continue unlocking hidden growth opportunities.