How do enterprise technology companies simplify their products services & experiences? Part II

By Ricardo Saltz Gulko

Last article vs. this article

In the last article, we talked about what simplicity is and saw some examples of its importance to growth in loyalty and revenue. In this article, we are going to give a few examples of enterprise technology companies simplifying their products, services, and experiences — then we will give you a dozen+ rules and ideas for simplifying your own processes.

Lessons from Amazon, Netflix, Google, and more

I think we all know about Amazon by now. Amazon is one of the best, most-trusted customer experience (and memories we have on the planet) also for enterprise cloud solutions. Their cloud business is led by Werner Vogels, which is doing an amazing job on infrastructure, usability and simplicity and developed a simple-to-use cloud solutions applications for infrastructure, storage, BI, analytics, big data, IOT almost, anything you need. They designed an easy to learn and use experience, with a great line of products, and as always with a best delivery possible. They might be the best-ever example of a company turning a potentially-complex suite of products and services into a simpler one, and seeing huge customer adoption and revenue growth in the process.

Recently, even though Netflix is not an enterprise technology solution, they are giving us a great study case year after year. Stephen Colbert made a joke during the Emmys telecast that Netflix had so many nominations, but five years ago they were still delivering the DVDs in the red envelopes. Funny, but one of the main reasons Netflix became a globally relevant company was through focusing on customer experience and delivering simple individual tailored experiences. Todd Yellin, their VP of Product Innovation and “simplicity guru”, explains the brand’s focus on customer experience here:

“We own the Netflix customer experience from the moment they sign up, for the whole time they are with us, across TV, phone and laptop,” he states. “We climb under the hood and get all greasy with algorithms, numbers and vast amounts of data. Getting to know a user, millions of them, and what they play. If they play one title, what did they play after, before, what did they abandon after five minutes?”

There is a paradox in there: more data (which might be complicated in the back office) can actually help you simplify your experiences in the customer interface and experience. You just have to be using the data properly and have the right data analytics, and  the right  team of data scientists on board, which is still hard for some companies. (That is for a future post.)

Google has done a lot of enhancements for customer and user experience over the years — mostly through making it easier for customers to find information they need — but internally they focus on the strategy driving the technology, instead of the technology driving the strategy. This is an important point too. Oftentimes, companies want to rush out and buy new technology because they assume it will solve their pain points and make them more customer-centric, especially when we speak about what several enterprise technologies can do for our organizations, with so many solutions out there. But then what if they buy the wrong technology? That can be hard to learn or having a terrible usability even if the management believe that this is the ultimate solution for their issues. Now they might have low adoption rates internally (with employees), have technology not tied to strategy, and start creating complex or messy products and services as a result.

Jeannie Walters from 360connext has said: “When employees are handcuffed by the complicated systems they’re forced to use, they don’t have enough energy or focus to really serve customers. They can be too busy trying to make systems work the way customers want them to, instead of really responding to what customers need.”

Look at this popular picture comparing a Google product to an Apple product to your company’s potential app. See the difference? This is one of the major reasons some of those companies are doing great with customer acquisition and revenue while others are struggling to keep up:

Some lessons from Workday

Stan Swete is the Chief Technology Officer at Workday has shared some thoughts about how to simplify the enterprise experience and be more customer-centric and frictionless. Some of his main thoughts include:

  • Go mobile first: “A lot can be learned from this idea of simplicity when it comes to mobile design where fields are taken off of screens, clutter is reduced and more white space is added, resulting in a more presentable solution,” says Swete.
  • Migrate to the cloud with a simple architecture: “We took the relationship database completely out of the design of their apps which leads to the simplified schema they need to be able to move forward. We have also gone to a completely definitional development of apps; logic isn’t defined through coding but by filling out forms to create metadata that provides the logic,” he notes.
  • The consumer mindset (maybe the most important): “Focus on what consumer internet companies are doing instead of what other enterprise apps are doing.”

That last one is maybe the most important because — usually — B2C design is more simplified and B2B design is more complicated. But if you stop thinking like a B2B enterprise company and start thinking like a B2C company trying to win more customers, your design simplification may flow from there.

Mike Wittenstein from Storyminers, has said: “Simple designs are better because they make promises easier to make—and keep.”

Jeofrey Bean, author of Customer Experience Rules has mentioned that “creating successful enterprise technologies include engaging people matching different customer types from development to launch. You want to support valuable Do-Fors, deliver economically and emotionally pleasing customer experiences to inspire advocacy.”

Simplicity personified

Look at this sign-up page for Slack:

This is tremendous simplicity. The value proposition is articulated. All the info you need is in the headline and copy. It’s very simple and on one page. All you need to do is give your email address. The color scheme works and so does the service: it’s one of the best collaboration tools out there.

Thankfully, their product is also simple. That alignment has helped them greatly. They became a $1 billion company (“unicorn”) in two years, and that was largely based off simplifying their customer/user experiences.

Some of the core tenets of simplifying your products/services

They would be:

Executive buy-in: This should go without saying. Only a few people in an organization can allocate resources  for new projects or software. They also want updates on everything. If you’re going to start simplifying or reducing features, you need their permission or understanding.

Our initial suggestions to simplify your enterprise technology and anything:

  • Think like your customers would: Use data on customer feedback, co create and test it and learn the human behavior to guide you here.
  • Design thinking, human engineering, or services design and human-centric design as a norm: You should always be thinking how to design for what your customers have indicated they need, with few exceptions for this. Design should always be simple, intuitive, and human-centric. Never clunky and impossible to understand. Imagine if you opened a box with a toaster in it and had no idea what is this for or what is the purpose of this apparatus to do. You’d be mad, right?
  • When processes and wording start to get too complex, cut it down: We are going to discuss this in our next article on this site.
  • Simple doesn’t happen if your research is not done well: In the enterprise technology solutions world, invest a lot of time in the details you need before even getting hands-on development with your team.
  • Invest the necessary time, to develop in your product and R&D simplicity. It is not easy but generates great customers experience and much better loyalty and revenue outcomes.
  • Use a responsive and intuitive design approach: Make the user life simple than yours, and design imagining and testing with user. What strategists, engineers or designers or leaders say is very important, yes, but your care and focus should be in the customer real needs with input of all teams involved.
  • Reflect about the mental models of your customers for a second: Smart services and technology products, software’s, hardware’s, apps anything, should be designed in such way that humans can grasp, is fast and accurately to perform what they are supposed to be doing. You and your teams need to understand how your technology users interact with your solution. Remember mental models are related to how we humans when dealing with human centered design perceive and understand what we need to do. Basic of obvious but not everyone does. So thinking like that you can design the right human experiences.
  • Redesigning enterprise applications can be very expensive, time consuming and complex, so… Please focus on co-creating with stakeholders and customers, value generation, user testing, and more research, that will ultimately bring down the costs and will be much more easy to use, fact that generates also easy adoption — or get the end product/service close to “first time, right time.”
  • Get feedback on the spot: Salesforce, for example, gets customer feedback on the spot almost 100% of the time using their community,, fact that allow them fast adoption, instead of waiting for long-term survey results. The instant-feedback improves their products and services, as well as their marketing and customer success efforts.
  • K.I.S.S.: Either “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or “Keep It Simple, Smarty.” Either way, you want the end product or service to be simple and intuitive. Don’t let all the politics and companies endless discussions cloud it up.
  • Never copy others: They were successful for their business, not yours. Pick if needed only the specific details, the characteristics, and the benchmarks that your product, service experience needs. Then design those within the uniqueness of your company, not copying others. Your company will only win competitors keeping its own business models and strategies, coping are a waste of time in my opinion. Do your thing and do it better!
  • Kill, heavy systematic design: Essentially, design B2B hardware or software, product websites and apps like B2C ones. In the end of the day B2B and B2C are always human to human as Bryan Kramer This may seem counterintuitive at first, but B2B and B2C aren’t thatdifferent in terms of what the end user wants (value). The price point is different but don’t get caught up thinking about the price point right now. Think about making the design easy, nimble, and agile for the end user. Too often B2B is unpleasant to use.
  • Listen across the spectrum: Not just your customers. That should be your focus, but listen to ex-customers the good and those that abandoned your company, employees, executives, focus groups, and everyone else including yourself. Try products and services from competitors. Try old products and services in your space. Read digital board reviews, and news articles. What do people say about the existing product? Then take all the data, look for patterns in response, and go from there on next steps creating your own company style and solutions
  • Think like Samsung, Apple, SAP, Oracle and even BMW: It’s all about providing a clear experience to the end user, whether that’s a dashboard with information about your vehicle or a phone where you easily know where to swipe for something new.
  • An recent example: ThyssenKrupp recently equipped their elevators with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors for a data-driven preventive and predictive maintenance solution. The entire solution used Microsoft Azure intelligent systems in the cloud. The focus is on taking the complex information (including “data garbage”), analyzing it and generating from it useful information — which all levels of the company can understand,. It may sounds complex but it create cost and energy savings and enhanced their preventive actions to their elevators in a significant way, avoiding issues prior to happen. Creating a seamlessly almost experience toward the users, customers and partners. Simplicity can be complex to develop but when you succeed your company wins, customer retention, better services/products, better information, revenue growth, and an enhanced level of customer experience. In the ThyssenKrupp case for their maintenance team until their CEO.

There are almost no reactions now to “failure alarm”. Multiple teams and departments can collaborate together on a great solution mixing software and hardware enterprise technology — and always in real-time with real data. 30% of companies are already leveraging IoT simplified data in their day-to-day business decision-making, and many more (54%) plan to do so in the next three years around Europe. Few months ago besides dealing with simplification in everyday life I read an excellent book that can also  give you some very  good ideas about simplification, listening and designing great products in the enterprise technology world, the book is Sense and Respond: How Successful Organizations Listen to Customers and Create New Products Continuously.

Now let's hear from you

Regarding simplicity for enterprise technologies, everyone has a different perception and  approach. What is yours? In your own business, have you ever had to simplify a product, service, software or hardware usability, features and functionalities, professional services delivery, or simplify the customer experience? Even a piece of content?

  • How did you recognize it needs to be simpler?
  • How did you get buy-in from those who can make decisions and allocate budgets?
  • What kind of reaction did you receive when you started to discuss simplification?
  • How did you begin to simplify the product/service?
  • What was the strategy of your design approach?
  • What were the biggest challenges?
  • How and why you cut features-functionalities of your technology off?
  • What do you think still missing in your simplification process in your company?
  • How did you decide that based in what?
  • How your company is trying to simplify?
  • Which technologies in the enterprise world do you see a great progress regarding making the things easy for us?
  • How long your company takes to apply simplification for their products and services from the moment they understand the need?
  • What were the biggest accomplishments?
  • What would you like to share with us to help us to enhance this material that we did not cover?

Love to hear how other companies are prioritizing simplicity and getting it done.

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Author: Ricardo Saltz Gulko - MBA, PMP, ITIL, CCXP Customer Experience & Success, Professional Services, Chief of Innovation & Transformation, Global Speaker & Strategist