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Customer experience: It’s usability all the way down

Jeff Sussna
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Customer goals are not always at the forefront of the design process, but Jeff Sussna believes that IT must revise its approach to ‘usability’ in order to achieve true quality in the mind of the customer. Customer experience here is key.

We often tend to think about “usability” as applying to a separate layer of digital service from functionality or operability. We treat it as a characteristic of an interface which intermediates between the user and an application’s utility.

Operational concerns such as performance, resilience, or security are even further removed. This approach gets reflected in siloed design-development-operations practices. From the perspective of service quality, though, I think it may be more constructive to view usability as a characteristic of service as a whole.

What is service, anyway? In the language of service-dominant logic, it’s something that helps a customer accomplish a job-to-be-done. From that perspective, usability refers to the customer’s ability to ‘use’ the service to accomplish their goals. Everything that contributes to, or compromises, that ability, impacts usability.

Different circumstances

Imagine an application that’s incredibly well designed and implemented. Every feature works well and looks good. Its functionality, however, doesn’t match what the customer is trying to do. In that case, the customer can’t ‘use’ it very well; thus, it isn’t usable.

Now imagine an application that’s well designed and implemented, and excels at supporting the customer’s job-to-be-done. The infrastructure that hosts it, however, is very unstable. The application goes offline on a regular basis. During an outage, the customer can’t use it; thus, it isn’t usable.

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Next, imagine the application service provider has fixed their infrastructure stability problems. They still, though, have weak security practices, and suffer a major breach resulting in the theft of customers’ personal information and credit card numbers. As a result, customers flee the service. In this case, they can use it, but they won’t. It still isn’t usable. Trustworthiness is a major component of usability.

I believe that designing, building, and operating services from the perspective of customer goals helps improve quality. When we take that view, we define usability as a characteristic of the service-customer interaction rather than of the service itself, or any particular layer of that service. In the process, we gain a common language that unifies, not just internal layers and silos, but also service and customer vantage points.

Hear Jeff Sussna speak at the JAX London – a three-day conference for cutting-edge software engineers and enterprise-level professionals with attendees from across the globe. JAX brings together the world’s leading Java and JVM experts, as well as many innovators in the fields of microservices, continuous delivery and DevOps to share their knowledge and experience. In the spirit of agile methodology and lean business, JAX London is the place to define the next level of ultra-efficient and super-adaptive technology for your organisation.

We can use that language to help ourselves achieve true quality in the mind of the customer. Customers define service quality in terms of their experience. They care whether they can use the service to accomplish their jobs-to-be-done. Which service layer, or organisational silo, compromised usability is uninteresting to them.

We need to match that perspective with our own conceptual model, language, and behaviour. Revising our approach to ‘usability’ to cross design-development-operations boundaries can, in my honest opinion, help make that transition.

This article was originally published on Jeff Sussna’s blog at Ingineering.IT.

Jeff Sussna
Jeff Sussna is the founder of Ingineering.IT, a Minneapolis technology consulting firm that helps enterprises and Software-as-a-Service companies adopt 21st-century IT tools and practices. He is also the author of ‘Designing Delivery: Rethinking IT in the Digital Service Economy’ and is a regular speaker on the topics of design and DevOps.

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