We’re all in the web software business now

By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with a company without talking to a human.
– Gartner Research

Whether you embrace Gartner’s forecast or not, the trend is undeniable. We are increasingly asking our customers, partners and employees to go online to do just about everything: Check status, request services, submit and pay invoices, manage projects, collaborate, schedule, monitor, update and administer.

This has thrust the formerly “back-office” world of corporate applications, tools and utilities into an increasingly front-line role in our brand relationships and business performance. Our whole organization is a website now, and this will require a massive change in the way we think about and design our enterprise web experiences.

The business necessity of great experiences

According to a growing body of data, firms that invest in their customer experiences grow faster than competitors, maintain premium pricing, navigate business downturns better and produce greater value for shareholders.

While this customer experience awakening is rapidly transforming the consumer-facing web, the worlds of B2B and enterprise software remain stubbornly resistant to its benefits. Below is the homepage of a vendor management application our firm is required to use. It has the look of 1999, but it was redesigned in 2013.


The cost to businesses of bad software experiences can be substantial:

  • Lower productivity and wasted time for clients and partners
  • More calls to your technical support line
  • Accumulating frustration and resentment

And it will get more costly over time as an ever-growing share of the workday involves logging in to get things done.

There are probably some perfectly logical reasons why your external and internal web experiences are hard to use:

  • They take a back seat to your marketing and sales applications.
  • They were created by engineers rather than designers.
  • You acquired or license them from another company.

But ultimately your users don’t care. They’re expectations are being set on the consumer web every day by customer-obsessed firms like Amazon, Google, Netflix, Facebook and Apple. And like it or not, this is the new benchmark for your enterprise software.

Action Items

Here’s what you can do about it now:

  • Adjust your priorities. Your enterprise applications are probably in the state they’re in because they fall down the priority list every year in favor of sales and marketing projects, or because you’ve held them to a lower standard. There’s only one standard now.
  • Audit your current applications to find areas for improvement. Catalog changes and prioritize them based on customer exposure and business impact.
  • Put users first. This means getting to know them through some combination of interviews, surveys, user testing and other techniques. We never said this was going to be easy. But it will be worthwhile.
  • Understand your place in people’s lives. Be realistic. Once you understand the discrete and limited role many of your applications play in a customer’s work day, you can architect just the right experience, with nothing more and nothing less.
  • Take your design cues from leading consumer experiences rather than competitors or enterprise software vendors.
  • Future-proof your organization by adopting an aggressive vision for mobile.
  • Keep it simple.

How will you know when you’re getting it right?

When your experiences are so good that people prefer using them to whatever they’re doing now. In a world where every business task is increasingly conducted online, those firms that invest in superior, consistent customer experiences across every touch-point and interaction will increasingly be the winners.

You may not have planned to be in the web software business, but we’re all in it now. Compete accordingly.