The Stuff Users Can't See Matters Too

Luke Mitchell

Illustration: Behind the user facing interface (a metaphoric door) lies
darkness, frustration and angry customers

It is a reality that some features have to be prioritised above others, sometimes this means sacrificing functionality in order to reach a budget or time constraint. When decisions like this start happening it’s often the case that user-facing features will win over features to make the life of an internal team easier. This makes sense in theory, after all users ultimately generate revenue, which can be extremely important to the survival of any company.

Behind every great digital product is a great internal product, the dashboards, reports, and tools that the team uses to manage everything that users need.

But, a good internal user experience can be closely linked to a good customer experience. Here are some reasons to consider taking the time to think differently about internal products and the people that use them.

Internal tools control your revenue

Bad customer service can cause angry customers. For example, a clunky internal tool with too many redundant steps can slow responses to customer queries, leading to frustrated customers. Just because your customers cannot see your internal products doesn’t mean that they aren’t benefitting from it in some way.

If your internal team are able to create higher-quality work, more efficiently, your business can respond faster, and grow faster.

Mistakes are more likely

A poor user experience can make it easy to make mistakes, like permanent data loss. That ambiguous ‘remove’ button next to the ‘save’ button can cause mayhem. Simple mistakes like these can cause loss of customers, eventually leading to loss of important revenue. If you combine these angry users with social media, the outcome could be pretty ugly! Taking the time to improve internal tools can save a lot of pain further down the line.

Just because unit tests pass and the feature functions, does not mean something works well.

Good tools are easier to use

Aside from bad user experience causing mistakes and errors, training your team is expensive, if you’re having to teach magic incantations and secret tricks to enable a person to be productive that’s bad. Some things are worth training for, like how your business works, or how to speak to customers. On the other hand some things should be intuitive enough for anyone to use without much guidance, this sounds obvious, and it is, but it’s a thought process that is often only applied to the end user.

How to improve

Ask your team

Treat your team like your users, they are likely interacting with your product on a daily basis. They are also likely to be interacting with your users on a daily basis. This potentially makes them a great source knowledge.

During a Design Sprint it’s common to ‘ask the experts’ — people in the team who aren’t stakeholders, about their experience and problems they face. Your team has first-hand knowledge of the things that are slowing down internal process, and the most common issues that users face. So if your internal products need work, and you’re looking to fix them, try asking your team how they get around the issue now. You may be surprised how effectively those hacks and workarounds can be converted into a much improved feature with a little more time and effort.

It’s important to get feedback from people at every level, managers and stakeholders don’t know everything. Gathering research and testing with users and your team is super valuable.

Make it a habit

Rather than letting internal bugs build up tackle them when related user features are improved or developed, eventually your team will get into the habit of considering internal and external users when planning sprints.

Gradual small improvements are better than nothing happening at all, leaving problems to pile up can come back to bite you.

Measure the problem

If you’re having trouble justifying allocating valuable time to internal tools try measuring the effect tools are currently having on the rest of business. If you can generate metrics that prove productivity is taking a hit or errors are increasing, it might be time to freeze new features and refine internal processes’ and tools.

Don’t stop at measuring the bad things, once improvements are being made keep track of the wins.

Some things to remember

Internal products don’t have to go stale, and are worth the time investment, even if your users cannot see the improvements directly. Good internal products can improve your external product, and the experience of your users. Good internal products can make your company a better place to work, and save money that would have been spent on training. Luckily they can be improved quickly, especially if you listen to your team.

Continuously improving internal products, and in the process listening to your team shows that you respect them and their opinions. A happy team is also more likely to be creative, and offer helpful opinions on problems that face the company as a whole.

So maybe it’s worth considering spend just a little more time improving the stuff users can’t see.