As I sit here to write this post I am about to throw my computer through a window because I am trying to purchase something from a website. I need it to do some very important things but I can't even log in to my account to get it done. I won't name the company, but it's fair to say that if I wasn't completely locked into using them I would have moved on. Even though I'm stuck and I have to give them my money right now, I will leave the experience feeling unsatisfied and on the hunt for a different company to provide me this service in the future.
That leads me to thoughts around user experience. I don't think most companies have the luxury of having customer locked in, especially on the web where you're one email offer or Google search away from losing a customer. Those locks are fewer and far between in today's digital age. If you are relying on your website to interact with customers and most importantly have them purchase something over it, you better get your user experience right or you will face a long, painful business death.
Far too often companies build their user experience around an internal process or based on the limits of their technology, with no mind to how a real customer will use their site and how to make it as easy for them to do as possible. This is where I admire Amazon - they consistently look for ways to make it painfully simple to use their site and have consistently removed barriers that would prevent someone from purchasing something from them. They don't let their size create a culture that forces customers into their model. They know the competitive landscape can shift under their feet and need to be consistently up on how they make things work for their customers. There are others out there that get this too, and if you want to be a leader in user experience you have to design and build with the customer in mind.
It can often be as easy as relying on the KISS principal - keep it simple stupid. How can you make browsing, shopping, data entry and purchasing as easy as it can be and remove all steps or clicks that prevent that from happening? There may be some within the organization that say you need this or we have to do that, but each step should be picked apart to see what really matters. Not only should you ask this intuitively but you need the data to support decisions. Where are people dropping out of the buying process? Why are people looking at not buying? The great thing about the web is that if you set it up right you can track an amazing amount of behaviors and patterns and they will generally lead you to answer if you choose to accept it.
Make no mistake that the user is what matters - if you have active, engaged ones that spend money you are in a great position and your design and experience will help them get there. Failures in the user experience process will create disconnects that will cause users to look somewhere else and ultimately kill your business with a thousand pinpricks.
Now I will go back and see if I can complete my purchase I need - if not beware of flying computers.