Is Your Internal Business Software Driving Employees Crazy?

“Why can I download a free app in seconds that makes it easy to handle my finances on my phone, but I can’t figure out how to create monthly reports using my company’s very expensive CRM?”

“I can start the next episode of my current binge-watch on Netflix anywhere, on any device, and now I can even download it for when I’m not online. Why can I only fill out this crucial form on that one computer that hasn’t been updated since 2002?

Do you ever get questions like this from your employees—or hear about them through the grapevine? Most of the companies we work with have. These kinds of comments and complaints reflect both the rapid evolution of consumer technology and the related change in employee expectations about the software they use at work.

When your employees gripe about your software, it’s not because you don’t measure up to their previous employer. It’s because your company’s software doesn’t measure up to the software they use in their everyday lives.

These gripes are common because the business world is notorious for failure when it comes to user-oriented software design.

Customer-oriented software designers have become adept at identifying user concerns and designing software with customer experience in mind. But many business software developers aren’t quite there yet. Clunky user interfaces and roundabout processes have become par for the course in business software.

The problem is that today’s employees expect the software they use at work to operate on par with the apps and programs they use at home. If it doesn’t, you get a cavalcade of negative effects, from bad employee morale to decreased productivity to undesirable interactions with your customers.

According to Deloitte, two-thirds of companies say overly complex software hinders productivity at work and impedes business success. And 72% of employees say they have trouble finding the data they need in their company’s software.

That frustration is the driving force behind a shift toward design thinking, an approach to software development that puts user experience first. Design thinking creates solutions that are both efficient and simple to use—and it’s becoming more important for business software. Unfortunately, many companies haven’t taken that leap yet.

So how do you know when your software is ready for an overhaul?

You Know You Need A Software Reboot When…

It’s pretty simple to figure out whether your software creates problems for employees as they do their jobs. All it takes is listening—with intention.

Employee feedback is the best way to learn where your software isn’t performing well. Employee concerns and frustrations will show you exactly where to look for lost productivity and lack of software dexterity.

When you listen intentionally, you may be surprised by the kinds of feedback you receive. Here are ten surefire signs that it’s time to consider a software change:

“It’s hard to understand.”

This could mean anything from “I didn’t get enough training” to “The navigation is confusing.” You’ll probably need to dig deeper to find out exactly what the employee means by this statement. You might even want to watch the employee work for a little while so you can discern the problem. Still, if it takes hours and hours of training to learn how to make the system do what you need it to do, it’s too complex. Learning your company software may not be as easy as downloading Angry Birds, but it shouldn’t require a software engineering degree either.

“I can’t figure out how to do ­­­­______.”

If an employee has been trained on the system and knows the essential operations needed for the job, it should be relatively easy to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B within the system. If it isn’t, take a look at whether there’s a user experience problem like non-intuitive navigation, inefficient data storage, or bloated processes.

“We had to design our process around the capabilities of the software.”

Your software should make it easier for employees to do their jobs—not harder. Your business processes should determine how software works, not the other way around. If the software is rigid and can’t adapt to your current company processes, your employees will have to design workarounds to get the job done. And that means wasted time, lost productivity, and frustrated employees.

“I can’t find the information I need.”

When data is stored in separate silos, it may be difficult to find the specific pieces of information you’re looking for. Employees might have to use several different systems to create a report that provides actionable business intelligence. That often results in lots of back-and-forth process duplication that eat up time.

“The systems can’t talk to each other.”

This piles on another layer of frustration. When you need data from multiple systems and the systems can’t talk to one another, you have to pull all those pieces of information individually and compile them manually. People in your business may be really good at using Excel, but massive use of Excel is often a sign that your software isn’t up to snuff.

“I have to jump through eight different hoops to post/create reports/find what I need.”

When processes are disorganized and outdated, productivity suffers and costs escalate. There are plenty of ways to streamline processes and cut waste, but none of them will be as efficient as they could be if software gets in the way. One of the best ways to create lean processes is to implement a software solution that supports your efforts.

“It’s too slow.”

We all hate waiting for pages to load or documents to download. It’s even worse when every minute spent waiting on software contributes directly to productivity losses. Customer-facing software rarely has this problem, because it’s easy to draw the correlation between page bounces and lost revenue. But slow internal-facing software translates into financial losses as well—even if it isn’t always evident on the surface.

“I can’t view documents without downloading.”

You shouldn’t always need to download and print every report you run or every document you read. Sometimes you want to view that document within the system. Downloading everything first is another productivity-killer (and a tree-killer too.)

“I can’t share information with my co-workers.”

In an increasingly agile workplace, sharing documents and information quickly has become a necessity. If your employees can’t share within the system, they’ll have to find ways to do it manually. This means that you won’t have control over who sees what or over accuracy of manually adjusted data.

The bottom line is that people work in different ways and have different software expectations. When the system they work with causes frustration instead of making their jobs easier, it’s time to consider a new tool.

How to Get the Feedback You Need

While most workers know exactly what software quirks make their jobs difficult, they may not always be ready or willing to share that information with management. This is where the intentional part of listening with intention comes in. If employees don’t volunteer feedback, you’ll have to ask them for it. Here are four ways to conduct useful user experience research:

Surveys—This is probably the easiest way to get quick responses from a large number of people. Keep surveys short, simple, and specific, and include a mix of yes/no questions, rankings, and open-ended questions.

Focus Groups—Focus groups help you dig deep into what employees think about the system and how it fails to meet their needs. They also give you a perfect opportunity to ask for input about how you can make your employees’ jobs easier.

One-On-One Conversations—Talk to employees, either casually or in a structured interview, about their survey answers. In-person interviews let you gather both verbal and non-verbal feedback from employees about the software.

Shadowing Sessions—Sometimes, employees can’t explain what a software problem is. But they can show you, if you will watch them work. A brief shadowing session where you can ask questions like, “Why are you doing that?” or “Is it always that slow?” can provide invaluable information about what needs to be fixed.

Of course, employee feedback isn’t the only factor you need to evaluate as you consider new software. But it does give you an up-close-and-personal look at how your systems affect the daily operations of your business.

Software is a tool, and as a tool it has limits. Remember:

CRMs don’t manage customer relationships. People do.

Content management systems don’t produce good content. People do.

Your intranet doesn’t automatically improve efficiency. People do.

Data management systems don’t make decisions. People do.

Software should support the people who are doing the real work of your business. If it doesn’t, it’s time for a change.

Even if you don’t recognize this yet, your employees surely do.

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