Are you failing your users like Nuance?

Paul Boag

Software company Nuance shows us a terrifying fact. That a lack of focus on customers feelings and needs can destroy brand perceptions. A mistake we all make.

I use Nuance Dragon for the mac all the time. I can dictate blog posts in a fraction of the time it would take to write them. It is an invaluable part of my workflow. So you can imagine how frustrated I was when it stopped working.

Simple I thought. I will just reinstall the app. That will sort it. So I uninstalled Dragon for the mac and went to the Nuance website to download it again. But that was where things started to go wrong.

A bad experience with Nuance Dragon for Mac customer support has soured my view of their product too.
A bad experience with Dragon for Mac customer support has soured my view of their product too.

But this is not some rant about Nuance. I like Nuance. I love their products. No this is a post about lessons that we can learn from their mistakes. Mistakes I see many of us making.

A failure to accommodate the users shortcomings

Lesson one is that we often have unrealistic expectations of users. We expect them to remember passwords, usernames, order numbers and all manner of information. We think this because we believe users care about our product. After all, we care. But the truth is they don’t.

Nuance made this mistake on their site. I had downloaded their software, saved my license code and so I thought I was done with my interaction with them. When I discovered that to re-download their product I had to provide an order number and password I was stumped.

Nuance login page
We cannot expect users to remember things like usernames, let alone an order number.

After much swearing and searching through old emails I managed to login. And there it was, the download Dragon Dictate button. I was victorious… or was I?

Nuance fail to communicate

I clicked the download link and received the following error.

Nuance Error message
Error messages like this are completely unhelpful.

What!? What do you mean my download link had expired? I was confused. I had paid money for Dragon. You can’t now tell me I am not allowed it!

One obvious problem was the unhelpful message. It left me with so many questions. Obvious questions that Nuance could have addressed on that page. They failed to communicate the problem and I was left angry. Angry that I couldn’t access the product I had purchased.

After much digging around I discovered that download links were only available for five days after you buy. Nuance had told me this. It was a part of the checkout process. It was also stated in the original download email. But I had missed that key piece of information.

Looking back, I could see why I had missed them. This key message was buried. It was not front and centre in the communications.

Communication is key to a successful relationship with users. We need to invest significant time in getting our messaging right if we want to keep users happy. This is especially true when our behaviour is not inline with user expectations.

A failure to meet expectations

Of course it wouldn’t have mattered that this fact was not communicated well if it had been inline with my expectations. But it wasn’t. I had never encountered somebody who sold a digital product who didn’t allow me to download that product at a later date.

I discovered that Nuance did provide this option. But only if you paid an extra fee. This only served to make me even more angry. It felt like they were praying off of my mistake. The mistake that they had caused by their poor communication.

You see your digital service does not exist in a vacuum. Your users judge it based on previous experiences. I had never seen this policy before and so it struck me as unfair and even manipulative.

In truth, Nuance had done nothing wrong. It is their product and they can sell it how they wanted. But it was the perception that was the problem. It left me resentful and angry. I felt like they didn’t care.

Nuance fails to show they care

The whole experience left me with one overriding impression – Nuance doesn’t care about me. Even in my emails with them, I got back nothing but stock replies. This despite the fact I wrote them a personalised and unique email.

I tried hard to inspire a personal reply from their customer support team. But I got nothing back but canned replies.
I tried hard to inspire a personal reply from their customer support team. But I got nothing back but canned replies.

The error message and difficulty in downloading their product screamed that they didn’t care about me as a user. Of course all that might be untrue. But that is the impression they gave.

On the surface fixing these issues looks like a no-brainer. Surely somebody at Nuance considers this stuff? But things are not that simple.

Why do these things happen?

I don’t know Nuance. But I can make an educated guess about why problems like this exist.

First, they are a pre-web company. This is a company used to shipping disks with software on. The chances are they have built the company around this way of working. Digital downloads do not fit with that model and so they bolt it on to their existing structures it in a less than desirable way.

Second, they don’t seem to have a culture of user experience. From their website to the app itself, it is full of rough edges. Like many of our organisations they appear to have an internal focus. They push customers down a sales funnel and force them to conform to their way of working. If the customers experience does not conform to their process, the experience collapses. The user goes away feeling like an inconvenience.

But let’s not sit and condemn Nuance. As the saying goes “let him without sin cast the first stone”. The truth is we all ‘sin’ when it comes to user experience design. We are all too focused on our own agenda to worry about the users experience. Especially when they face challenges with our products or services.