How Design Thinking and Improved User Experiences Contribute to Customer Success

In modern business software, a simple but fundamental equation still holds: delivering a positive customer experience leads to high levels of customer retention and upsell potential.

And in the cloud age, where it’s relatively easy to switch to other suppliers, the customer is of paramount importance so smart cloud vendors scrutinize every aspect of the way customers interact with services to show the route to ROI and hence foster greater mutual success.

Tracking how customers use and think about products is critical to improving the user experience (UX). If we show best practices, then we stand a better chance of keeping customers and if they are delighted then they will often expand their investment and pass on the good news to others. It begins with research and with software testing of course, but if a feature is not being used or is leading to frustration, we need to know that and consider how we improve the experience.

And increasingly, we are led by the important and increasingly adopted Design Thinking. At Unit4 we are encouraging the Design Thinking mindset among our product and engineering teams and will be running a Design Thinking Week in November, with lots of presentations and learning sessions around the topic to increase understanding and skills.

Design Thinking is a philosophy and a process, concerned with solving complex problems in a highly user-centric way, which is used in many areas, not only in product design or product development. Everything is about the needs, preferences and behaviors of users and the frustrations they sometimes face, with a continuous feedback loop used for perpetual reporting. The model emphasizes the need for diverse voices, experimentation with new ways of working, rapid prototyping and iteration, as well as a commitment to constantly improving the quality of service. As an example of experimentation, Airbnb unlocked growth by using professional photography to replace poor-quality images advertising property rentals in New York and saw an instant uptick. Done right, it has the benefit of challenging developer assumptions and management status quo. It helps to mitigate against the narrative of ‘we’ve always done it this way’ or the temptation to ‘bloatware’ which adds pointless features and functions.

Not just for UX designers

Despite the name, Design Thinking doesn’t just impact software user experience design; product managers and others are also involved to create a holistic understanding of what is happening. Feedback should be collected from users at the beginning of projects, as well as during and after their completion, to sustain a positive ongoing relationship between everyone interacting with the software. In Design Thinking, there is no ‘end’, just an iterative quest through research, concepts, trials and prototypes and the eternal question, ‘how can we do this better?’.

An example. Unit4 recently started to develop an employee and manager self-service experience. We undertook several rounds of research among users and stakeholders to understand what people want, how they work, how they interact with services and their resulting experiences, both positive and negative. Three main themes emerged which aligned with previous customer feedback and Net Promoter Score data to help inform product design of the new concepts, and the designs were consequently tested (and refined) iteratively with customers and end-users.

These themes were:

  1. The need for a simple and straightforward navigation to increase the findability of information and functionality
  2. The requirement to adapt the experience to different screen sizes
  3. The use of personalization to design an experience based on the users’ goals, tasks and context

The result was that customers who participated in evaluating the new UX designs described the experience as user-friendly, providing faster access and completion of important functions, requiring fewer clicks and offering a simple and neat appearance.

If you believe in Design Thinking as a way to fully understand your users’ problems and re-evaluate your user experience, then answering this initial checklist of questions is a good place to start:

• Do your users agree that your ERP is intuitive and allows them to perform tasks quickly?

• Do they sometimes struggle to complete operations and processes?

• Do they ask IT for assistance, even for common issues?

• Does training occupy a significant amount of budget?

If the answer to most of these is ‘yes’, it may be time to reconsider the UX of your core software provider. But you can also explore user behavior and responses more deeply using a measurable benchmark

• How often are key tasks completed?

• How long does it take to complete those tasks?

• How many pages and clicks does it take to complete the task?

• How easy does the user feel it is to complete the task?

• To what extent do users feel satisfied?

The business outcome of Design Thinking isn’t just productivity and happier staff but also savings relating to training, documentation, implementation costs and helpdesk issues. Design Thinking offers a useful framework that stretches across the whole gamut of usability with wide-reaching impacts which will help end users and drive innovation. It is critical to establish a framework to guide your approach. At Unit4 we talk about seven principles to create a Design Thinking culture focused around user empathy, multi-disciplinary collaboration, curiosity, bias towards action, learning from failure, a growth mindset and continuous iteration. If your UX is slowing your customers down, it may be time to measure what impact Design Thinking can have on making your customers more successful.

About the Authors

Michelle MacCarthy is Global VP of Customer Success at Unit4. A passionate customer success leader with over 15 years in the tech and retail industries, Michelle leads Unit4’s customer experience strategy, driving change management and service delivery with a focus on making Unit4 customers successful. As a proven leader in customer success as well as traditional, digital and omnichannel marketing, Michelle has worked for some of the industry’s best known brands and understands the importance of a well-architected customer lifecycle journey.

Sara Portell is VP, User Experience at Unit4. Sara is a UX and Research leader with broad international experience working for global tech companies since 2009. She is passionate about understanding people’s behaviors and attitudes to deliver better customer products. Sara is the VP of User Experience at Unit4, where she has recently relaunched the UX function and built and grown a multi-disciplinary team of UX/UI Designers, User Researchers, Content Designers, and UI Developers. Previous roles include Shopify and Expedia, where she focused on leading UX research internationally.

For more information, please visit, follow them on Twitter @Unit4global.

Featured image: ©Chaosamran_Studio