I’m a sucker. Last night I went to the cinema for the first time in a while. The queue was huge. I was cunning and called the automated booking system from my phone. Its voice recognition system left me standing in the street shouting "I said Cambridge you motherf***ing piece of s**t" into my phone. The popcorn was twice a reasonable price and the place stank. The film wasn’t even that good. But that might have been my foul mood, or because my first choice had started before I could book tickets. Everything about the whole experience sucked, as it always does. I’ll forget and go back again in a couple of months though. Sucker.
It was a Cineworld cinema, by the way. Their share price has halved since they floated on the London stock exchange nine months ago. I can’t think why. I suspect it’s not only their customers they treat like crap either. I overheard a conversation between the manager and a potential employee. The manager was explaining how they’d pay minimum wage and how the employee would need to be on-call, unpaid, in case he was needed.
There’s a parallel with business software. It’s often expensive, unusable and buggy. It’s sold by complacent corporations. You use it only because the salesman let your CEO beat him at golf. You don’t like the software, you resent it. You, the customer, is at best an inconvenience to the profit of the corporation. A post by Robert, one of the Red Gate developers, illustrates the frustration that we all feel at times.
I believe that things will change. Software companies will need to treat their business customers more as consumers; sophisticated individuals who can choose to spend their cash on things other than your software; people who place value on qualities other than features. Design, usability and customer service become more important than features. The visceral, emotional reaction you provoke in your customers is as important as ticking boxes on a feature list.
Your customers will look at the software they use at home and wonder why there’s such a gulf between what they do at home and what they do at work. Why does Microsoft Money rock but your corporate accounting system suck? Why can’t SAP be more like iTunes? Apple, Microsoft (less so) and others are setting your customers’ expectations. If you don’t meet them then somebody else will.
At Red Gate, we’re on the path I describe. We’re not perfect, but every product we release pushes us further. We frequently get e-mails telling us how much people appreciate our approach. We don’t publish them all, but here’s a selection of a couple of a couple of hundred.
Finally, ask yourself this question. If you write business apps then are they as easy to use as flickr? Or Google Maps? Or Microsoft Money? Or even – setting the bar low – facebook? Why not, and what are you going to do to fix it?
Enjoyed this post? Subscribe to the RSS feed.