If only we had the capabilities of sci-fi interfaces in our office! We might in the future, but historically, work applications have suffered from poor usability. The primary focus has always been to build robust functional products with an exhaustive set of features and capabilities. Consequently, the budget for the development and implementation of a business application is often skewed towards the technical side. The humans in the system will be considered completely at the end with what little remains of the budget.
The enormous success of work software companies such as Salesforce and Slack prove that business users do value a good user experience too. Their applications open the eyes of application users to the fact that work doesn’t need to be painful.
TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN
As a designer, I’ve had the opportunity to switch and work on the technical side of e-commerce for some years. The users of the PIM systems I worked on were not put on a pedestal, like the customers in the design world. When I approached the implementation of PIM systems purely as a design problem, I got into trouble because I underestimated the importance of technical issues.
What was evident during moving between those – often opposite – viewpoints of e-commerce, is the huge opportunity to learn from each other.
A Product Information Management system or PIM is an example of a work application that in the digital age gets a lot of attention from organizations, especially from those in e-commerce. Every IT manager, marketing professional or e-commerce manager will eventually feel the need to trade in the old Excel spreadsheet. Investment in a PIM system is an obvious step towards a more robust and scalable way of managing and publishing product information across all sales channels. While the choice for a PIM system is pretty straightforward to substantiate, it’s the implementation that’s putting the business goals at risk. That’s because as soon as the PIM implementation starts, the IT department tends to take over and focus on building a solid system that’s easy to manage and govern.
DON’T FORGET THE USERS!
The implementation of a PIM system starts with technical aspects like data model, integrations and impex: a GUI interface to run command-line processes for creating, updating, removing and exporting platform items. No wonder the user experience suffers. When users of these applications stumble into usability rabbit holes, they just need to deal with it and become masters in the art of working around such blockers. IT is responsible for running the system, not for creating a better user experience.
Now, a PIM system has multiple users. Firstly, there's your internal users who use the data (like category managers, marketing, sales) and then there are external users (customers) who consume the output. The data editors who keep the product information up to date are the unsung heroes. They use the interfaces daily to onboard new products, enrich the data with text and images and to maintain existing data to keep everything up to date. They are responsible for product data quality and ensuring the customers get product information that’s correct and complete.
When a PIM implementation is run solely by IT, these data editors will be confronted with poor user experience. It’s a system they’ll use every day and yet, it was never really discussed with them. So of course, this hampers with the user acceptance.
THE IMPACT OF BAD USER EXPERIENCE ON DATA QUALITY
If your data editors are using a system with bad usability, consequently, your data quality will suffer. They will start making errors if the interface and workflows are not optimized. Customers could alert the customer service reps to errors they discovered, but often errors remain uncorrected. In turn, this will impact your second user group, the customers.
It affects their ability to correctly and reliably identify the right products for their needs. Typically, these product information end-users will go to your competitors looking for more correct product information and to compare products. This results in fewer customers choosing to buy your products, because your product information is not engaging or even incorrect. Or even worse: they do make a purchase based on incorrect information and then complain and return the product.
Often, the user experience of a PIM system can be improved immensely if approached as a design problem, instead of an IT problem. So when you do decide to implement a PIM, consider using proven techniques and tools from the design world. It will help you reach those business goals for which you’ve chosen PIM in the first place.
About the Author
Marinus believes work doesn’t have to be painful. He’s an advocate of ensuring business users get a good user experience too, whether it’s work applications or B2B e-commerce.
This article is part of a mini-series:
Part 1: The User Experience of Product Information Management
Part 2: The ROI of Improving the User Experience of Product Information Management