A good user experience makes you money
This is true whether you are dealing with customers who are choosing your product from among other competitors or whether you have a “captive” audience in an in-house application. No matter what your product is, a user-focused redesign is one of the single most valuable things you can do.
A frustrated customer won’t come back, or even worse won’t be able to successfully become a customer in the first place. A happy customer will come back, and a “wowed” customer will evangelize on your behalf to everyone that will listen (and in these days of Facebook and Twitter, every customer has a large audience).
No matter how good your interface is already, re-examining it from the perspective of your audience will translate to more new sales, more repeat sales, and more word-of-mouth marketing.
The reason you may not have done much with your enterprise application (other than the fact that it can seem overwhelming to even consider) is you may have felt that since your audience is captive, you don’t need to care about the user experience. This isn’t true — that old unfriendly user experience is costing you money too.
First, there’s the obvious, literal cost — it’s likely you have to train your new hires. This costs money for training courses/materials, costs the new employees time to get up to speed, and even worse, generally costs the time of an existing employee who has to hold their hand through the process of learning your software.
Much of this training cost can be mitigated by having a good, intuitive user experience where someone can jump in and understand the basics from day one.
Next, there’s the simple question of efficiency. A well-designed user experience can help people get their work done much more quickly and efficiently (not to mention happier and without grumbling), which of course translates into value for you pretty directly. It also means your experts spend more time working and less time supporting everyone else.
Now the guy you have who spends most of his time helping write database queries for everyone because it’s so hard to get a report out of your system can instead focus his talents on doing new and exciting things.
Yes, your staff will lose the bonding they had via shared horror stories around the water cooler of trying to use the software despite it seeming dead-set against them getting a task done, but I’m sure they can find other things to connect over. Like how great the new features are on the most recent version of the software.
I agree, that’s why I have a designer on staff
It’s great that you have someone doing design for your product. However, there is a big difference between a graphic/web/visual designer and a user experience designer (even though some apply the terms synonymously). A good looking application is a wonderful, important, thing — but that great visual design needs to be applied to a product that has a really strong, user-focused foundation in place, otherwise it’s wasted.
You can hire the best interior designer in the world to work in your home, but if you have core architectural problems like your clothes closet being in the living room, or needing to walk through a bedroom to get from the kitchen to the dining room, design touches like how perfectly the upholstery complements the window trim color won’t matter at all — you’ll still want to move out.
Further, it’s also likely that someone without a background in user experience design won’t have the tools and experience for the hardest (but most important) part of the process — to be able to really get to know your audience and feel out their needs and wants. This is a skill that needs to be cultivated with practice to really yield results, and can’t be expected from someone with expertise in other areas.
I love working with teams that have designers, because I know that they’ll be able to take the foundation I provide and really make it great. It’s also a good opportunity for your designers to get to know the field a bit to work toward doing this kind of work in the future, either just by watching the process or with the inclusion of actual mentoring and one-on-one work in the contract.
I agree, so I have a dedicated UX designer too
If you have a dedicated user experience designer on your team, that’s even better! But I would not let that preclude bringing in a consultant. In my experience, it is hard to over-estimate the value of bringing in a completely fresh pair of eyes to examine the software and offer an all new perspective. It is very easy to get so used to a product that you become completely blind to some of its problems just from long familiarity. In these cases, you’ll likely need a smaller-scope contract, but it can be a very valuable one nonetheless.