When Users aren’t The Customer

Up until now, I’ve only been talking about cases where your users and customers are basically the same.

But what about cases where the user isn’t the customer? What changes?

When the User Isn’t the Customer

In Ideal Agile Land, the Customer is the User of the software, and the heroic and fearless Software Developers strive endlessly on their Noble Quest to deliver Customer Value to the Users.

However, in some cases, the User is not the Customer. This could be when a company forces all of its employees to use a particular kind of accounting software, or some internal processes (*cough cough* JIRA). At that point, however, the interests of the Customer and the User are somewhat well-aligned. The User wants to get things done, and so does the Customer. And if the software isn’t working for the User it’s not working that well for the Customer.

In other cases, however, there is an even more significant misalignment.

For example, the software used to manage HSA programs at most companies is horrendous. HSA Bank is one I’ve had experience with over multiple jobs, so I will pick on them.

HSA Bank has an extremely slow user interface. It takes many many clicks to get the core task done (of submitting an expense). And most of those clicks load a page and costs 3-5 seconds. When I batch add expenses to my HSA, I usually block out a half hour for an average of 3-5 expenses per session. And I usually bribe myself afterwards with something I want to do, just so that I go through the process.

Why is their user interface so bad?

Simply put, their customer is quite unrelated to the user. Their customer is an employer who needs an HSA provider. Their user is the person who occasionally needs to add an expense and get reimbursed. Many of their users open the software less than 5 times a year.

So the primary value they add has little to do with the software. It’s about compliance, and adding a benefit quickly and easily as a way to attract employees.

The users are mostly irrelevant because they have nothing to do with increasing sales or retention.

The business is not built by selling superior software, but by simply having any software at all that can do the job.

They’re not going to lose many customers because of bad UI/UX or a lack of features.

The Software isn’t What’s Being Sold

If the User is not the Customer, then making features for Users isn’t part of your value pipeline, unless it can somehow be shown to increase sales or retention. Usually the relationship is thin.

In that case, the company could even outsource the creation of their software with no major repercussions, because the software itself is not a key part of the product that’s being sold. It just needs to check a box.

As a software developer, and a user, I sometimes hate this reality, because I love when things are done well and with care, even when they’re not critical.

But there’s no real motivation for the business as a business to heavily invest in great software in cases like this, except insofar as it affects their sales pipeline.

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