Using UX Design to Improve Customer Success

Using UX Design to Improve Customer Success

by Paddy McShane, UX Mastery
April 14, 2017

I’m lucky to be working on the frontline of two very exciting industries. I’m the Customer Success Manager of a usability software company – Optimal Workshop. My goal is to ensure UX professionals are successful in using our software, ultimately making the internet a better place by helping produce easier to navigate information architecture.

Both the UX and Customer Success industries are vital to one another and make perfect teammates. Without excellent user experience, there is a slim chance a customer can successfully use any software, product or service.

Likewise, how do you create superb user experience without knowing what makes a successful customer? A customer won’t keep using your software if they had a terrible onboarding experience. And in order to improve this experience, you must speak with the customer success team who know what value means to customers.

I’m always asked: “which of your customers have had the worst issues with UX?” It’s a scary question. Sweat used to form on my brow when faced with formulating a response that would not leave any of our customers feeling like they’d received the downturned thumb of King Joffrey.

But then I thought of the perfect example. John Hammond’s infamous operation InGen that created the prehistoric theme park known as Jurassic Park.

Here’s why…

Always start with research (or how InGen got it so wrong)

Successful user experience requires a substantial amount of research. InGen, it seems, did not carry out anywhere near enough. There was a sufficient amount completed in the mines of the Dominican Republic in order to find dino DNA, but this technical product research is not enough.

Even when it came to building the product – in this case anything from a diplodocus to a velociraptor – the customer clearly wasn’t taken into account. These products were not user-friendly. If there were any background market checks completed 65 million years ago, InGen would have uncovered this from the last time this product was rolled out.

Any UX professional knows to carry out some user testing. But if it’s with any form of potentially dangerous product, best to start with a prototype. Not Sam Neill! If we lose him, then who makes the gorgeous wine from New Zealand’s South Island? Carry out these tests with prototypes or on a feature server so as there’s no lasting damage.

InGen also used UNIX software to navigate between different sections of the theme park. An ugly, hard to navigate and painstakingly slow program that everyone within the company relied on.

Want to upload your timesheet? You’re going to have problems. Want to remotely lock a door between you and a face-eating dinosaur? You’re going to have even more problems. The 3D file viewer did look good though; a nice view at least before you were eaten alive.

The support provided by Jurassic Park was sparse. Dennis Nedry did not have the user in mind when carrying out his job. His mind was focused on the illegal distribution of dino DNA.

So, all in all, some terrible UX design and lack of user research led to some very unsuccessful customers. Some more unsuccessful than others, what with being dead and all.

How can we solve this so it won’t happen again, I hear you cry. Well, in the words of Jurassic Park’s Chief Engineer, Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson): “Hold onto your butts!”

Know your user

One of the many things UX folk do well includes creating personas. As much as our title “customer success” states, at Optimal Workshop we looked at our role from a UX perspective to see our users for who they really were.

Optimal Workshop provide a suite of tools for researchers. When we looked at the people who were using our tools, “customer” didn’t fit. We realised we were looking at these users as the customers rather than “researchers”.

Yes, they are paying for a service and in turn, that makes them a customer. But when we categorised these people as researchers rather than customers, we found it much easier to uncover what they required from us to make them successful. Keep in mind, our users are researchers, but for you they could be bankers, farmers, salespeople or something else, depending on your business.

The title “customer” represented people who had come to spend money, where as “researchers” came to us to find out more about IA and the behaviours customers displayed when navigating an IA.


In the world of Customer Success, communication is key. Be it proactive or reactive, we communicate with customers on a daily basis to put out fires or start new conversations to assist with research. But communication is a delicate art. Timing is everything, and where to communicate is key.

I learned something very interesting from UX designer Per Axbom. He speaks about “friction” and challenges the claim that as user experience designers or researchers we must remove any obstacles and friction from a user’s interaction with your website or software. In modern design, everything must be streamlined which has prevented the opportunity for customers to stop and think.

Some cash counting apps had to increase the time it took for their service to do its job as customers lost trust. Some ecommerce websites have seen a drop in sales as the customers found themselves on the purchase page before they even knew it. It happened to me using a well known B&B sourcing app. I thought I was inquiring when I was in fact buying. There was no friction asking me, do you really wish to go down that route?

Getting to implement this friction was great news as a Customer Success professional, especially during the onboarding experience. An overly simplistic onboarding design prevents your organisation from distinguishing between real users and those who just sign up for sign up’s sake.

Providing the opportunity for the customer to stop and think, be it through a chat interruption, an additional step in signing up, or one final insight into what a subscription entails before the form is complete, can help manage expectations before the purchase plunge is taken.

Remember; not everyone needs you and you don’t need everyone.

Demonstrating your way to UX success

Software demonstrations are some of the most effective ways to improve the usability of your product. What you are doing in a demonstration is highlighting the benefits this tool, showing the key features, the new iterations that make researchers’ lives easier, and hopefully uncovering the eureka moment of “I need this!”

As you’re the person demonstrating these tools in a high-pressure environment, you really start to see the little things that bug the hell out of you as a user. You’re live and speaking with one person or 300 people, things really jump out of the screen. Does it really take that long for this screen to load? Why is that button blue? That would be way easier to read on the right of the screen?

Demonstrating is a fantastic way for customer success teams to feed into your product development. UX professionals must talk to their Customer Success colleagues or sales team tomorrow. Ask them about something that annoyed them from a recent demo and I can guarantee they’ll have some feedback you can use to improve your software.

So, now we know. There are many reasons why UX teams and Customer Success teams must work together in order to formulate this mutually beneficial relationship.

If only the folks at InGen had this advice. Their customers would have been much more successful… and alive.

This article first appeared on UX Mastery and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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