January 10, 2013

IT User Experience Metrics: from customer to c-suite

It’s very nearly a truism now to say that you end up optimizing what you measure. Try improving security, speed, or adoption rates without having easy-to-read metrics.

The other side of that truism is that what you don’t measure can get left by the wayside, no matter how much of an effort you make to keep it at the fore. More often than not, the experiences of users don’t get measured. It’s hard to define what a great experience looks like, and it’s even harder to figure out how to reliably measure it.

If you’ve got a long list of IT policies, it’s hard to figure out their effect on something like the experiences of people who live on the other side of them. You might feel like rehashing your BYOD policies could help employees, but you’re not really sure if the effect would be significant enough given how much effort it would take. You might think that people would enjoy being able to use the intranet from remote locations, but you don’t know if it’s important enough to get working on.

Measuring IT experiences – or customer experiences generally – is all about combining the qualitative with the quantitative. You want to take qualitative, subjective surveys of your employees’ feelings on specific IT policies, and then you want to measure the changes in those feelings over time. But you can’t consistent data on experiences if you don’t know what you’re looking for first. Let’s get started on that:

Set well-defined IT experience goals

Before you get any metrics, you need IT experience goals. And those goals are a balancing act. You can’t make them too broad: “Improve employee happiness” is probably a bit out of your pay scale. And if they’re too narrow, you’ll miss the chances to make really substantial changes that could greatly improve IT user experiences. Things like “get iPhone support” are mere objectives, but not goals, because they only address part of the IT user’s experience. You want to figure out what “make happier users” really means for your company.

Measure outcomes, not objectives

When you’re getting data on IT user experiences (through a survey or whatever means you’ve settled on), you’ll want to turn it into insight about whether or not what you’re doing is effective. If you’ve developed a BYOD policy and have started implementing it, you might wonder how it’s affecting users. You might start asking very specific questions of them: “How many devices do you use each day?” “How fast is your internet connection on your iPad?”

That’s the sort of data that you don’t need to ask employees for (thanks to Enterasys software) but it’s also missing the point. You want to measure the outcomes themselves – the happiness of the users – rather than the tactical objectives that may or may not get you happy users.

What’s great about measuring outcomes is that you’ll never overcommit resources to a project. Once you have an estimate for how much a given tactical objective could affect an outcome (like how much a person enjoys using their work computer), you’ll be able to compare it against other objectives. That way, you can pick the right projects in order to maximize ROH – return on happiness.

Listen, engage, and empathize

Even with well-defined goals and great metrics, you might find yourself short of any insight on how to make more positive user experiences. That’s where a patient ear can really make a difference.

Think of it like giving a great gift. You could guess about what would really make your friend happy, or you could ask her. But sometimes, people genuinely don’t know. That’s where your intuitions come in. If you pay careful attention to what they do, you’ll find yourself full of gift ideas. Same thing with users. If you know how and where they use their devices and their apps, you’ll be closer than ever to figuring out what their real needs are.

Always focus on impact

You’ve got ideas about how to start, and you’ve got metrics that will tell you how you’re doing. Now you just have to make sure that the effort you put into creating better policies is used most effectively. That means putting your effort where it’ll produce the highest marginal benefit, either in dollars saved or earned, or in happiness gained or frustration avoided. When you have to talk to the C-suite about funding, knowing the return on your efforts is going to help your case a lot.

Not so hard after all. It might be odd to think about the main goal of IT as being to make users happier. Sometimes, that’s the third or fourth thing down the list. But IT policies affect everyone in a company, and you’d be surprised how much money there is available for something when you know how to measure both its cost and its impact. And even then, you get to be a part of a great goal: making someone’s day better.

Andrew Konoff is the editor of the GoInstant blog, where he writes regularly about customer experiences. GoInstant is a co-browsing service that was recently acquired by salesforce.

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