User Experience Strategy: 6 Mistakes That You Should Avoid

Paul Boag

So you want to write a user experience strategy? That is admirable. But be careful, it can damage the experience and even the business if approached wrong. Here are six mistakes to avoid.

There is no magic formula for writing a user experience strategy. There are too many variables, from who your audience is to what your organisational objectives are. Any template I could give you could end up doing more harm than good.

But, what I can do is point out some of the potential pitfalls. In this post, I layout six common mistakes I see people making when preparing a user experience strategy. We begin with waiting too long to look at the subject.

1. Waiting Before Creating A User Experience Strategy

A potential client approached me interested in me working on a user experience strategy with them. But, after the initial conversation, they went quiet on me, and I didn’t hear anything from them for weeks.

When I chased them, they told me that they had decided to wait. They were going through a company-wide restructuring and they wanted that done before looking at the user experience. They could not have done a worse thing.

Many factors shape the user experience, including how an organisation structures itself. The company restructuring should have factored in the user experience strategy, not the other way around. After all, the way a company is structured should support the customer.

Restructuring is not the only excuse people use for putting off a user experience strategy. Another common reason for delaying is the company want to upgrade their technology first. In other words, they want their new content or customer management system in place first. Only then will they think about the customer experience.

Yet, if you think about it, this is madness. How do you define what you need from a CMS or CRM if you don’t understand the user experience?

In short, you should be starting with the user experience, not considering it as an afterthought.

2. Making Your User Experience Strategy too Narrow

A related problem is the scope of most user experience strategies. As we have already established, many factors shape the user experience. These include how the company is structured and the technology they use, to name only two.

Yet most user experience strategies tend to focus on immediate touchpoints such as the website or social media channels. Rarely does it address the underlying systems that support these touchpoints?

Take, for example, the considerable impact that legal and compliance can have on the user experience. From GDPR to accessibility compliance, these things impact the experience. A good user experience strategy shouldn’t be afraid to identify these problems and propose solutions.

Often, those writing strategies don’t feel they can make recommendations outside their area of responsibility. However, it is essential to remember these are recommendations. It is up to senior leadership to decide what they take on board and what they ignore. You should feel free to make recommendations around anything you believe will improve the experience.

3. Creating Your User Experience Strategy in Isolation

Because a good user experience strategy impacts a wide range of business operations, you cannot create it in isolation.

You will need buy-in from colleagues across the organisation, and that will prove much harder if you have not consulted them in the process.

Also, you won’t do a good job without the input of others. When you do hit barriers in the way the organisation works that hinders the user experience, you must ask why they exist in the first place. Often there is a good reason for the way things are. It will take some cross-silo collaboration to find ways of enhancing the user experience while meeting business needs.

4. Not Doing Research Before Writing Your User Experience Strategy

Before you can start working with colleagues on a user experience strategy, you first need to be damn sure that any plan you come up with meets user needs. That means you have to have a good handle on what they want.

I am amazed that companies jump into creating a strategy without doing user research or mapping the customer journey.

I am not naive. I realise that often companies don’t have the time, resources or will to do extensive user research. But, something is better than nothing. A few user interviews, a mapping workshop where real users attend or some surveying would be a start.

If you cannot make that happen, make the first step in your strategy some user research to validate the rest of the plan.

5. Treating the Implementation of Your User Experience Strategy as a Project

Many user experience strategies I read, read like a project plan. They have timelines, resourcing levels, budgets and endpoints. That is the wrong way of thinking about improving your user experience.

Sure, you can include some indicative resourcing levels and budgets. But talking about timelines and endpoints is particularly dangerous. That is because it gives the impression that one day, you will be done improving the user experience. That is not the case.

I was invited to speak at a company who was running a customer-first initiative. A team had been formed to improve the customer experience, and they had put together a strategy and run a bit of training. But, following my talk, they were due to be disbanded. The project was deemed over. In reality, they had done nothing to make the culture more user-centric. They had only run a bit of training that everybody would forget in a few months.

A user experience strategy should be looking to change the culture of an organisation to be customer-centric. That doesn’t happen in months or even a few years. It is an ongoing effort that requires leadership, funding and organisational will. It needs somebody to champion the user experience over the long term.

Yes, eventually they might be so successful that everybody becomes the user’s champion. But that will take years and is not a point that you can predict in a strategy document.

Instead, your strategy should outline a new team dedicated to evolving the companies process over time. A team that will champion the user experience at every level of the business. That is a company-wide initiative, not a project.

6. Not Having Tangible Executive Support

The problem with a user experience initiative is that employees suffer from initiative fatigue. There are always new initiatives coming out of senior management. Fads that last a few weeks or months before being forgotten as everybody moves onto the next one.

If your user experience is a priority, there has to be tangible support from your senior management team. So palpable that people believe this isn’t going to be a passing obsession from management.

In his book Strategy and the Fat Smoker, David H. Maister wrote:

If an organisation’s leaders want their people to believe that a new strategy is being followed, they must establish credibility by proving that they are prepared to change themselves: how they act, measure, and reward.

He goes on to write:

I have sometimes asked firm leaders whether they are willing to announce to their people, right upfront, that they will resign their roles if measurable progress is not made on the strategic plans they advocate.

It’s a fair question. Do you have the support of your leadership team, or are they just paying lip-service to the idea of providing outstanding customer service?

An Intimidating Task

I don’t suppose this post has helped a lot. I have probably just succeeded in scaring you, and for that, I am sorry. But it is better to go into this process with your eyes wide open than to get blamed when your strategy inevitably fails.

My advice is to avoid sugar-coating what becoming user-centric involves. Then offer a few, simple, small suggestions that will help your organisation take its first faltering steps on that journey. Anything else will set false expectations and allow your organisation to kid itself it is user-centric when it is not.

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