My User Experience

Over the years I have accepted and or taken on many different projects requiring different skill and knowledge sets. In some cases the business that I worked for didn’t have the resources to solve the issues that they faced, so I took it upon myself to learn what the issue was, to establish how to fix it and then how to actually fix it – or at least make a workaround until the company was in a position to fix it permanently. Solving such issues has enabled me to learn a great deal about different industries, roles, levels of risk and responsibility.

Here are some of my thoughts on:

Time Management

  • What I’ve learned while gardening, is that sometimes it just takes time for things to happen, there is no way to rush some projects along as you can’t force change if you can’t control it. Nature (just like people) has its own clock and it will do what it can when it can, in its own time. Trying to force change or improvement in a situation typically creates more issues. The benefit in knowing what task will take its own time as compared to what can be pushed along results in better time management. Knowing when to wait and when to run is very important in life and business management.
  • What I’ve learned while working for international companies, is that no matter where in the world they work, when the client is awake and working they expect that all teams will respond within the time zone that suits the company at one time or another. The great benefit of having people in different time zones is that work on a project can continue 24/7. The great negative is that if the management doesn’t fully understand this benefit then a lot of work can be lost in staff recovering for having to change zones in order to attend a meeting at a time where they are not working at their best.
  • What I’ve learned while painting landscapes, is that not everyone can see what it is that is being created and that it appears to be a human instinct to first criticize and or ridicule the creator for what it is that isn’t understood. Education doesn’t seem to remove this from the person. In business, this mindset can be quite toxic for innovators and problem solvers who try to find solutions for the business, while having to tip-toe around those who they know are going to want to knock the idea before it is built. This is draining on time and resources, while in some situations those who knock are worth their weight in gold if the questioning can be converted into a better-built solution.
  • What I’ve learned while listening, is that some people have a need to have their opinion heard (regardless how helpful it may be), while others are content to watch saying nothing even if they might have the critical information in order to save the situation. Some people have been suppressed in their role for so long that they haven’t the strength or have learned to say nothing, while stopping and asking ‘everyone involved’ often takes time, in some situations it can be the wisest option.
  • What I’ve learned while helping solve problems, is that many people don’t really seem to see the full extent or possible carry on effects of the problem, and therefore some solutions are in fact simply the creation of the next problem.
  • Some of what I’ve learned while observing people is that some people burn through their money and complain when it runs out; while some others sit on their money and complain about their situation, and others have a balance. Likewise, some sit around and say they don’t have enough time; while some others get stuck in and just do the job, get it done and move on to the next task to be completed.

Multi-Channel Design & Development

Code matters. As time has passed thankfully the web development languages have become easier to learn, they seem to be certainly more humanized now that when I first started working online.

  • Although I’m not an expert developer, I can ‘read between the lines’ and work out what is wrong and report this information through scenario testing, in order for the technical team to quickly apply a fix for the issue. Much of the frustration in development is catching a repeatable error and simulating it in the test environment.
  • What I’ve learned while working with small web development teams is that they have a tendency to get bogged down in the detail of making it perfect, rather than running for the workable first. Having a mix of members is critical to company culture as much as it is for project delivery.
  • What I’ve learned while working with many developers and designers on a single project is that selecting the best people on the team might not mean having the best people. Sometimes, it is better to have a mixture of those who know how and those who want to know. This needs to be balanced, depending on the project, but what I’ve seen is that during Q&A time, knowledge transfer between team members is sped up when the experience level of the team is diversified. Also, the quality of the end product may have been enhanced by new or naive ideas.
  • Test, test, and test again.
  • Go Agile. All of the roles and projects that I have worked on over the years have been handled in an agile manner, that is working in a way with a focus on continuous improvement. Life is continuous improvement, customers don’t stop thinking about wanting new features, otherwise, there would be no scope creep. Budgets for delivering a fixed project or an MVP are typically less than ones that take on an agile project, as the building to spec is easier to budget than building to a constantly growing beast with a limited budget. My experience is that Agile is great for a company making a product or solution, not great for a customer wanting a company to develop a product or solution for them. But it depends on how far and how much of the Agile methodology is used for each part of each project.

eCommerce, Data Management & Sales Systems

Data is king, if you can’t share it and learn from the analytics from one platform to the next, then you and your clients are missing out of what might be business critical information.

  • Data can be studied and dashboards can help to guide you to see trends, and if you are in the business of selling products and solutions to customers you really need to know: how they found you; when they are connecting; where they are located; what they bought; … plus many other things. If your system isn’t able to see all the data that is made available, then you are missing out on some great business intelligence.
  • No matter which e-commerce platform you choose to use for your next project, what I’ve found that matters the most is what it connects to natively. If you have to invest in a massive amount of development time in order to deliver on the next phase of the project simply because the selected platform doesn’t connect with the API, then you selected the wrong platform.
  • CRM. This sadly can be a great source of garbage in / garbage out. What I’ve found over the years working with sales and marketing, account manager, customers and project requirements is that there have only been a rare few who know what notes should be in the CRM – more to the point that if you have met with a customer but FAILED to write notes, then you’ve left the rest of the team in the dark.
    Keeping suitable notes for building a great customer experience is important for companies with lots of staff who might interact with the same set of customers so that every interaction adds value. The data that is generated in the CRM should be reviewed and checked to see if there are any like-problems or like-processes that can be turned into frequently asked questions for the rest of the customer delivery team. I’ve found that people who are naturally good at creating customer relationships don’t appear to make it their responsibility to help the rest of the team by added crucial relationship building notes for the rest of the team.

  • Good connections and customer ownership. In most businesses that I have worked for, there is still a disconnect between sales and the rest of the team. The customer is not owned by anyone.
    We can create an experience that enables a customer to set expectations and have these fulfilled and perhaps exceeded, but playing one business team off against another is a poor customer experience that I have witnessed in many businesses. This can be seen when one team plays good cop and makes their other company cohorts the bad cops. A statement like  “Yes, we were expecting that the development team would have finished by now as well” is a terrible thing to say about a project running over time. It doesn’t fill your customer with the right expectations and they may not work with you again, as you’ve admitted that your company has no idea what to expect.

Book Design & Publishing

Information architecture is great fun. The structure of a book and the content and the application of design is a fine line between, balancing the content, the context and taking into consideration the audience.

  • Knowing what the book is about, where and when it took place (or is about to) and who might purchase or view the book should be important decisions in the design and publishing of the item.
  • Creating diagrams to explain quantitative data is effectively similar to thinking about what dashboards should be used to showcase dynamic information, except in print the data doesn’t change. What I’ve learned while merging several sets of data together is that the biggest issue is not how to combine all the information, it is how will the end-reader interpret the information. Obviously, if the reader is familiar with the data this is considerably easier, however when it is for general public use, then this can be an interesting issue to overcome.

Encouraging People & Leading Improvement

People are truly awesome. There are so many differences between each of our experiences that we all have the capability to be far better than what we and some others might think. The culture of a company can drive success or spell disaster for employees, and having the right leadership style for the team should be business critical.

  • Need a mentor? I certainly would have liked to have had one to discuss some business dealings over the years. When in doubt ask a lawyer, this has served me well, not quite the same as having a mentor, but they certainly ensure that you don’t open yourself up to as many negative opportunities.
  • What I’ve learned about having been both self-employed and employed, is that I’m happy to lead or follow (assuming I’m following a leader). Some staff need close supervision, others thrive when they are left alone to get the job done. Some managers report up the line but not down, this can result in employees being disconnected with the business objectives and can also lead to poor production, poor problem solving and increased costs.
  • Meetings are great if they help team members to share where they are at, and other members of the team feel safe enough to share their opinions to help solve the situation at hand.
  • From what I have seen businesses fail to nurture their employees, and in turn fail to get as much value from them as possible.

UX, UI & Interaction Design

What is design? There is design the principle, the practice, the appreciation, and the process. Collecting together all the information required to start a project can be easy at times, but usually, it is not.

  • It is all just data. My love of books, computers, websites, systems, and all the applications that can be created started with a love of information architecture, the ability to visually structure the data, ad the hours of fun in analyzing the otherwise hidden stories within.
  • Hidden stories. Did that user just go online and buy a book? No, they didn’t. There were many steps in that journey and the experiences that they had along the way are all able to be shaped and designed to ensure that every interaction becomes a new opportunity to engage with them.
  • Use and Usability. Usability design focuses on what will make products more usable, ‘use’ does of course cover far more than just use of a product. I’ve always been interested also in the experience leading into the use of a product or service and the after experience and interaction. In web and app design a use case is created with a number of possible personas and user stories so that designers, developers, management, sales and marketing teams can come together and learn about what some of the user expectations are. Sometimes user stories are created in a knowledge-vacuum and if the assumptions are not challenged by the wider team members, long term project issues can arise. It is important to ask for an explanation for how this product and any part of this product will be used, who will use it, when, why and this constructs how.
  • Design, is sales. For many years as a graphic designer in a company that had its own sales team, I thought that I was incapable of completing sales roles, however design is sales and designing thinking is required in good sales techniques – in the context that when I met with people (customers, friends, and family) and they ask me what it is that I do, I have to be able to communicate this. With customer interactions I’m commonly requested to showcase what the solution that I’ve designed will do for them – having completed some user interviews and created user stories in advance, they generally fall in love with the vision of the product that I’ve created for them. People who have had their eyes opened to what could be, seem to be easily lead towards paying for it to become a reality. Therefore design is sales.
  • The Customers End. In customer experience there is no end, each process should loop back so that the customer has an opportunity to reconnect with the brand or product at some later stage. The fact that they may have purchased a product doesn’t at all mean that they will use it or perhaps it is given away as a gift. We, therefore, can’t assume that a purchase is one of the values for the customer, but it is probably a goal of the company selling the product.

    What I love about CX is that the experience could start at any moment along the process and being able to design and share how to deliver the expected experience from that point on is thrilling – here’s a great opportunity to make it ‘appear’ that a company is easy to work with because they have already thought about what could go wrong and have set expectations and remedies in advance to help customers out of these situations.

Innovation, Solutions & Change

Exponential innovation. One of the greatest elements that I like about business is that there is always a problem that needs to be solved. As soon as a new improvement is made, we get to thinking about how that object works, how it doesn’t work, and how it can be improved or how something that connects with it can be improved. There is always more to do.

  • Some say that no idea is new, while others say that the idea might not be new but the delivery or the market that it is directed at is new – and as far as I have seen this is what it takes for a product or service to be successful and appreciated.
  • Some questions I ask … Does the new idea or alternative way of looking at the issue: save us money? make life easier? make production quicker? make management easier? make delivery easier? help us/help our customers? reduce waste? save on production costs? increase revenue?
  • Changes. Regardless of where the notion came from changes affect people in different ways. In many of my roles I have influenced change, be it through creating a new UX vision, or a marketing strategy, or a business sales model, or a monetization strategy, or a product development strategy. Unrolling change when managed well can make a company’s profits blossom while not killing its culture.

Crisis Management

Customer satisfaction, not all managers hold it as highly as I do. Appropriate communication is the key to minimizing business disruption and in the world of computer-based interconnected systems, it is not always feasible to retain constant connection at all times.

  • You have to be ready, a crisis will happen at some point. Having a communications person/team is very important, training them to respond and react responsibly to questions can make or break customer satisfaction. Monitor everything, knowing as soon as there is an issue, means that you and your team are onto it before someone else notices and informs you. It certainly provides confidence to say ‘yes, we are working on that now’, rather than ‘oh really, we’ll have a look into that for you’. And ultimately, fix the issue as fast as possible and get all systems for business-critical stakeholders up first, followed by other services.
  • What I’ve learned about servers, web hosting and data center’s is that it is a little like putting all your eggs in one basket. Even making sure that you have regular backups, regular contact with every system admin, and 3rd party service provider won’t stop what is termed, an act of God. Things do sometimes just stop working for no logical reason: transformers blow up; the power goes out; routers fail; backups get corrupted, and automated systems stop doing what they should.
  • Keep customers in the loop all the time, even when there isn’t an emergency and give them access to their own files, suggest they also keep backups, they have a share of the ownership of the problem – ask what is their business plan if their system was to fall over for 1hr? How about 24hrs?
  • Advise customers about the complexities of the system, the issues being faced in a non-technical way and openly explain if there is going to be some downtime, give an estimate what this period will be – so they can share the information with others who contact them.
  • Earthquakes have taught me quite a few things. People need time to recover from the changes in their lives but they also need to get their businesses and income back as soon as possible. the disruption to a business is as complex as all the people who worked in the business. Therefore making it as simple as possible to re-connect and get access to data and or services is both personally, mentally and business critical.

Brand, Identity, Culture & Marketing

Company culture. Culture can make or break a great company, however from the outside, many customers haven’t really had an opportunity to see the true culture of a company, but they will pick it up if they ever get to visit the office. Tension and frustration can become contagious and reach far outside the limits of the workplace.

  • When building your brand it is important to consider the development of the company and also your audiences’ culture. Hire the right people so they fit what you are wanting to achieve; ensure that your values and the company mission is well known; ensure that the company is open to good ideas, and make it clear that you’re working as a team and not as individuals. If you get this right then building a company image that attracts your audience, makes gaining business a lot easier!
  • Identity development. The blob or mark that you use to remind your employees and customers who you are is important, treat it with respect and it will serve you well. The mark itself should reflect what is that you do, or what it is that you plan to do (eventually), or some aspect that reflects and identifies your business from all others.
  • Sales and marketing should be unified in their goal. It has been my experience that when the sales team are dominant, then the marketing team produces short term reactive messages, while when the marketing team is dominant, the opposite happens. It depends on the goals of the company, however assuming that the company wants to be in business for the long term then a mixture of nurturing messages and instant gratification is required.
  • Some questions to consider: What are the needs of the customer? What can we offer that meets what customers want? How can we best deliver what we offer to potential customers? Where are the customers that we want to attract to our product or solution? What is going to be the most effective and most cost-effective way to enrich our contact with potential customers?

Web Hosting & Email Exchanges

Communication is the most important part of the process – with all parties – data centers, customers and developers. I have been managing web hosting servers for more than 10 years, and the disasters that I have averted have been numerous.

  • I started my career as a graphic designer and quite a few times I’ve heard the odd scoffing as I announce that I have a web hosting business running in the background and that it only takes up a few hours of my time each month. Some months are worse than others but on the whole, if the communication and expectations are set correctly then it can indeed all run smoothly .. most of the time. At times I’ve managed racks of client data.
  • Some of what I’ve learned about running web hosting servers is that security is super important, but the level of risk depends on the value that people place on their data. Some customers don’t want to pay for added security until there is an issue then it is all arms up in the air in panic. Having dealt with many issues over the years, I have become a bit numb to panic. And rightly so. Panic doesn’t enable the best decisions – critical problems need to be dealt with one at a time, smooth is fast.
  • Understanding how data flows from one system to the other, and that there are many systems is something that many people simply don’t understand. As a hosting and email exchange provider I’ve managed downtime like a champion – and in the early days, there was no disaster recovery plan. It was after the first server rebuild that I got smart. Monthly, weekly, daily backups – and in some cases backups of backups.
  • Bigger providers aren’t always the best. Our services weren’t the best but I try my best for customers.
  • At one stage I had a Zimbra email exchange and a great number of customer accounts. I am very thankful to the big email providers, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Rackspace you saved the day! Managing accounts and private information is troublesome at the best of times, which is why I was happy to see the end of the email exchanges as part of my business.
  • The help desk calls for “I can’t get my emails”, “why have you blocked my emails”, “now that I can’t access my email I can’t work” and other such questions I found very easy to deal with. Typically the customer had a local technical issue (sometimes it was us) – but the best thing that I learned having dealt with these issues many times is that ‘how you deal with the complaint’ is just as important as how you solve the issue.
  • Being on the help desk is a great way to connect with customers, listen to their needs, wants and desires for improvement and turn them into actions, answers, and solutions. Or better yet new products and services that customers are requesting. It is also a great way to engage and build trust if it is completed correctly. My experience with this later enabled me to remotely manage a call center.

Accounting Software & Expense Auditing

Not my field? Every business and every person needs to know what is happening with their finances so they know what they have and what they need to survive.

  • What I have learned as a business owner is that every cent counts, and if you can’t track every cent then you need to find out how you can.
  • I’m a big fan of cloud accounting systems, I was an early adopter of Xero. Firstly, they can connect easily with other online systems which bring all your sales, transaction and customer data together. Secondly, they can help you to audit and track expenditure.
  • What I have learned about business cash flow is that it appears to be easy to focus on making revenue, while sadly some businesses are burning cashflow supporting past-projects expenses.
  • If you do not keep good track of what the costs for ongoing subscriptions and systems that have been set up for one project then this can slowly eat away your profits. In one company that I’ve worked for, I discovered that they had several mobile and data contracts that no one was using, disconnecting them resulted in significant ongoing savings.
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