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The Power of Observation and Function Versus Beauty with Michael Peachey, VP of User Experience at RingCentral

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Even when trying really hard to please people, it’s difficult. Most people don’t know exactly what they want. And when they do know, they often don’t know how to articulate it. In our personal lives, this can be frustrating, for sure. In the professional world, it can be crippling for a company if they don’t have a pulse on their customers’ wants; but, even more importantly, their needs. Michael Peachey, the VP of User Experience at RingCentral, suggests the best  practice for understanding customers is for a company to enhance their observational capabilities. 

Main Takeaways

  • Using Powers of Observation: To design effectively, a company has to understand how customers are using their products. Surveys help and so do conversations, but observations are best. Tech tools won’t replace the power of human contact, but they can augment observational capacity. Seeing where people place their mouse on screen, for instance, can help strengthen design elements. Observing customers who are struggling with a specific aspect of an app can increase empathy from designers and motivate them to address the issue.
  • Function Versus Beauty: It’s an age-old question as to whether function as opposed to beauty is paramount in design. Function is number one. Without it, products will definitely fail. Beauty is nice but not necessary. The ideal is design that has both function and beauty.
  • BCB Demystified: Everything is interconnected as people who work in the business sector are also consumers. Apps often start in enterprise first. Then employees like them because of the functionality so they take them home and share them and the apps spread among consumers. Consumers also bring apps they like from home back into the business market because they want to use these products at work.

For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.

Article:

Even when trying really hard to please people, it’s difficult. Most people don’t know exactly what they want. And when they do know, they often don’t know how to articulate it. In our personal lives, this can be frustrating, for sure. In the professional world, it can be crippling for a company if they don’t have a pulse on their customers’ wants; but, even more importantly, their needs. Michael Peachey, the VP of User Experience at RingCentral, suggested the best practice for understanding customers is for a company to enhance their observational capabilities. 

“What we want to do is go in there and actually observe what they’re doing,” Peachey said. “Watch them set up a meeting. Watch people struggle with connecting a calendar to a meeting. How do you make sure everybody’s in the meeting? Then from there you can figure out what they’re really doing.” 

Surveys are helpful in getting customer feedback as are one-on-one conversations. But the most helpful thing to do is to observe people in action. Rather than gathering as much customer feedback as possible, companies need to be more like Sherlock Holmes. Holmes observed specific people, zeroed in on the essential data he gleaned from them, and then used that information to solve a case. 

On a recent episode of IT Visionaries, Peachey explained how his company strives to understand customers’ experiences to design apps geared to help people connect from a distance. He also discussed designing for functionality and beauty and which of them is the highest order. First, he shared about RingCentral’s design focus.

“RingCentral builds, in markets, products that let people connect at a distance for employees of organizations of all sizes: two people to 200,000 people,” Peachey said. “If you need to be sending team messages back and forth, video meetings, screen shares, webinars, phone calls, file sharing, whatever, we’ve got tools that all integrate together and help everybody stay connected, which has been super important.” 

Companies selling enterprise products must make sure the applications meet business needs but are sufficiently easy for users to operate.

“How do we give you enterprise grade software with security and reliability and scalability and stability and everything else, but give you that consumer class experience that you’re used to where, you don’t have to go to a training seminar to figure out how to listen to a song on your iPhone or send your mom a picture of your new cat,” Peachey said. “Like it just works. That’s the balance that we’re always making. Enterprise grade where you need it, but consumer class where you want it.” 

Companies have to figure out how to gauge how customers are using their products to make their experience better. A big part of that is simply investing time with customers. 

“I think the number one thing is spending time with users [and] spending time with customers,” Peachey said. “We’ve got a global design team in this organization. I’ve got about a hundred people all around the world whose job is to design software that works well for the users. We’ve got a small army of product managers who are spending time with customers and users. What features do you need? What don’t you need? What’s getting in your way? There’s a lot of research that shows that the number one factor for success in a design team is how much time they spend with customers versus how much time do they spend designing stuff for themselves.” 

Then the real challenge becomes getting good info from customers. That’s not easy because customers don’t always provide reliable information whether in survey responses or in conversation.

They either don’t know what they want, or they think they know what they want,” Peachey said. “A lot of times it doesn’t really match reality. When we do those kinds of surveys you’re talking about, we ask for specific observable behaviors. If you go and you ask a bunch of people, on a scale of one to five, ‘How often do you floss your teeth,’ you’re going to get a lot of fours and fives on that list. If you go ask that same group of people, or even better observe them, and you say, ‘When was the last time you flossed your teeth,’ or you get them to keep a log and you go in and look at the log, you’ll discover that, yeah, you got some fours and fives, but maybe you got more ones, twos and threes than you’d want.”

Observation is the best way to receive good data from customers about their experiences. Tech tools won’t replace the human touch, but they definitely can augment observation and even increase empathy. 

“One tool that I love and There are organizations out there like Full story, for example, that will track what a mouse is doing over the course of the session,” Peachey said. “You can’t really sneak through the web and see somebody’s eyes, but you can look at where their mouse is going and what they’re clicking on and what they’re doing. Those can be really useful if you’ve got a form that’s hard to fill out or a password reminder process that’s difficult for people to do because you can record a couple of those and you don’t even need a lot. Then you sit down with the engineers and the designers and the product managers and everybody else and say, ‘Hey, I got something to show you.’ When people watch another person struggle with something, even if they find it really easy themselves, because they’ve done it a hundred times, it builds this empathy where you’re like, ‘Oh, we got a fix that now.’” 

Gathering all this data is really about implementing changes to increase the user experience. There’s always a debate when designing between user function and aesthetic beauty. 

“Job number one if you’re designing an app is [to] make sure you’re solving a problem,” Peachey said. “Make sure you’re solving a problem that somebody’s got. Even better yet, make sure you’re solving a problem that someone has and that person’s got some money and they’re willing to give it to you. Then you can start worrying about how well you solve that problem. But the world is full of beautiful apps that don’t do anything useful and nobody uses them.”

To hear more about how Peachey and RingCentral are using observational techniques to learn more about their customers to design functional apps that have some beauty too, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries!

To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here

Episode 317