I originally wrote this article for The Next Web
Humans are wired to crave immediate joy, from pizza delivery in 30 minutes or less to morning coffee in five. But with lengthy install times and complicated user interfaces, software by enterprise technology companies isn’t meeting our need for instant gratification. That’s a big problem.
We’ve always known first impressions matter, but they’ve never quite had the effect they do today. When examining a website, for example, it takes users less than two-tenths of a second to form a first impression.
The increasing impact of those first few seconds is partly due to our technology-saturated culture of immediacy. Research by Pew Internet shows that our brains are rewiring themselves in response to the constant use of technology, increasing our expectation of instant gratification and eroding our patience for anything less.
Consumer-focused companies have known this for a long time, and they satisfy the need for immediate gratification. iPhones come ready to use out of the box: no software to download, no instruction manual to read. Video games immerse players in another world the second the console powers up.
These commonplace experiences reinforce rising consumer expectations about usability, and users of enterprise tools are no exception. After a weekend spent using devices tailored to them, enterprise users are rolling their eyes at the clunky interface that greets them Monday morning.
It’s time to blur the lines between enterprise and consumer tools. We must extend the same expectation of instant satisfaction to enterprise technology, and think of our users as individual consumers, not institutions.
At our company, we’ve issued a “joy in 15 seconds” challenge to our development team: Our product must provide users with joy in the first 15 seconds of use. This may seem difficult, but between the “quick fix” culture and widespread use of the freemium model, enterprise technology companies don’t have days, hours, or even minutes to prove they’re the best on the market — they have seconds.
The “joy in 15 seconds” rule requires a change in the design of enterprise technology. Here’s how to pull it off:
1. Start up immediately
The 15 second count-down starts as soon as the user clicks “install now.” A slow boot up or launch can dramatically decrease a user’s overall satisfaction, so it’s crucial to keep this part of the user experience as short as possible.
When the Macintosh operating system was taking too long to boot up, Steve Jobs once asked engineer Larry Kenyon, “If it could save a person’s life, would you find a way to shave ten seconds off the boot time?”
When it comes to Web applications, a progressive user interface is the answer. Rather than waiting for a full webpage to load as was the way during the dial-up age, a progressive interface gives users the opportunity to view and interact with certain content while other items are still loading.
There are two options for this approach. The first is to load some items while utilizing a symbol to alert users to the fact that more is still coming; Google Finance, for example, allows users to interact with a page even while larger items such as charts are still loading.
The second option is to show information from the last time the user logged on while the newer data is loading, a trick Facebook’s Newsfeed takes advantage of. Users are busy, so they’ll immensely appreciate — and even find joy in — a fast product start-up experience.
2. Minimize (or better yet, eliminate) account creation processes
Lengthy account creation processes can easily take 15 seconds or longer, so utilize social logins from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to speed up the process. In fact, registration rates increase by 50 percent when you offer social logins as an option.
Another option for those looking to gather additional user information is the “progressive login” approach, which asks users for small pieces of data at relevant points during the product experience.
Take Amazon, for instance. While on the site, users can do virtually anything they’d like — shop, browse, read an excerpt from a book, etc. — without ever entering any information. It is only when an individual decides to make a purchase that he or she must give the system additional information. By that point, the user is already invested in the experience, and therefore is more willing to enter the pertinent data.
3. Integrate into the workflow
Deliver the product experience where users already work. When a product is integrated into a user’s workflow, it’s much more likely the user will experience joy in the first 15 seconds of use.
This is a lesson we learned at Yesware in our first year of product development. User adoption was low for Yesware’s prototype stand-alone application, but jumped dramatically once we integrated Yesware into Gmail, where our users already worked.
Asana, on the other hand, took a different approach. The app has its own platform, but developed shortcuts that allow users to email information to a specific address and have it automatically sync within Asana itself.
Another great example is Expensify, which took the traditional expense form process that many of us have experienced (and dreaded) and created features that would simplify this process for users, such as noting when a number of receipts from a specific area are input into the system and automatically creating an expense report for that trip.
Any way that an enterprise company can integrate its product into an individual’s pre-existing daily routine gives a product a higher chance at successful adoption, and introducing features in the right context can change the entire user experience from the start.
The important piece is to think about where users already are and what they are already doing, then work to improve upon those tasks without making them more complex in the process.
4. Demonstrate a massive improvement, fast
Without providing a quick, easily visible improvement in an individual’s workday, users have little to no incentive to choose your product. In fact, for users to adopt a new solution, research shows it must provide 10x improvement over an existing situation.
A product “walkthrough” is not the best way to achieve this, though, because walkthroughs present hypothetical situations. Instead, prompt users to try a feature immediately, and use that first experience as the walkthrough itself. Tibbr, for example, allows users to immediately interact with their coworkers and follow topics related to their specific work niches.
One company that does this particularly well is Pandora. By simply entering an artist or genre of music into the system, a user is immediately presented with songs suited for his or her tastes, as opposed to turning on a national broadcast radio station and hoping for the best.
While the experience improves more over time with increased use leading to more targeted content, from the start users are experiencing a better solution than they would using a different product or service. While this may be a consumer-facing example, the principle carries over into enterprise-level products as well.
With these rules as a guide, it’s entirely possible to provide users a simple but powerful glimpse into your technology’s value in 15 seconds. This list is far from exclusive though, so get creative.
How can you connect with your users and provide an immediate, visible benefit within 15 seconds? Leave your own tips in the comments below.