Just as you're told that "practice makes perfect," you may have also heard the expression, "consistency is key." While this motto applies to many things, it is especially true when it comes to software as a service (SaaS).
Think about your last dining experience. Professionally-trained chefs are obviously experts at crafting delicious meals, or you'd hope so, but what's more impressive is they are consistent in their preparation, day-in and day-out.
The same expectation carries over to enterprises, and SaaS ventures specifically. Just as with highly-ranked chefs, the service and end product itself should be steady in its delivery to keep customers coming back. When you then incorporate the software element, your product's usability, language, and overall UX approach need to be consistent.
In this post, we'll explore are a few ways you can achieve consistency in SaaS -- and why it matters.
Consistency in SaaS Design
There is a fine line when it comes to introducing change. For the best results, change must be implemented gradually. As the saying goes, "bend consistency, don't break it." When it comes to design, a good eye and a laundry list of unwritten laws guide designers in their work and they most often lend themselves to one word--consistency.
Think of Coca-Cola as an example. While they've adjusted their logo with the seasons and over the years, their brand remains forever recognizable. Why? Consistency brings brand loyalty and loyalty drives revenue, year after year.
1. Capture the aesthetic of the brand.
For non-freelancers working for one organization, nailing the identity of the brand is necessary. How is this achieved? You guessed it--consistency. Even freelance designers bopping from one project to the next, need to forever focus on maintaining uniform kerning and spacing, defining a color and font palette, and sticking to it.
Consistent design is intuitive design, for designers and for the end user. The creation process should come second-nature to the designer and should feel the same and easy to use on the receiving end. With a similar functionality across contexts, the user won't be bogged down by simply trying to understand how to get something done.
For the sake of quick delivery or smoothing out an operation, some marketers may want to step over the line and sacrifice consistency for the sake of speed. This wrong must be made right, which could mean you have to put up a fight to always stay true to the brand's aesthetic.
2. Strategize with interface design.
Whether talking about icons, menus, call-to-actions, and overall user flows, each element should coordinate so as to familiarize users with the digital landscape of your product. The end result? Customers can complete tasks and reach their goals more seamlessly.
Take for instance the below image. HubSpot has stayed true to a consistent interface design that is both recognizable and functional. The text is clear in indicating what features are available, which ensures a smooth user experience on the site.
3. Streamline with functionality.
When the user can faster learn and understand how to use your design, you save time for both parties. Developers and support teams won't need to spend time backtracking to reevaluate and make changes to a faulty design, and support teams won't be overwhelmed with complaint calls.
"In the end, happy users translate to happier and healthier design teams and faster check out with your product."
Consistency in SaaS Products
It follows logic that creating coherent experiences may pose a challenge when there are many different people contributing. However, a unified system in terms of UI, UX and everything in between is key to building a language that everyone can understand. In this way, your customers are getting the most value out of your product, just as you intended during the creation process.
4. Eliminate problems, don't create them.
When customers are paying you to simplify their lives, why invent more problems instead of making them disappear? Try your best to stick with established UI layouts and features to avoid user confusion. A lack of consistency in this sense slows down the actions users would like to complete, leading to frustration.
On the same note, don't give users too many options. Overwhelming the user will again lead to confusion as they try to decipher where and how they can complete the action they intended to in the first place. While creativity and experimentation are part of the fun, strike a balance between innovation and usability.
Take for instance, Google Glass. While it was anticipated that these novel glasses would take off, they proved simply too advanced. The glasses' feature of recording everything we do and displaying a layer of information before our eyes was certainly innovative but debatably usable at this stage.
As Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., principal of Nielsen Norman Group puts it,
"Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things always behave the same, users don't have to worry about what will happen."
5. Provide reliable results.
What makes consistency so necessary in SaaS is the fact that your end users depend on the results of using the software to make key business decisions. If you have an inconsistent SaaS product, you won't have a consistent customer base.
When customer confidence begins to waver, you're at risk of losing them. Instead, you should offer a consistent product all-around, both in terms of functionality and appearance.
Consistency in SaaS Customer Experience
When it comes to an organization's customer experience, you must consider everything from language, values, branding and how you interact with your customers overall. It's crucial to provide a great omni-channel experience and keep customer conversations in context so they don't get bounced around between different support reps. Maintaining consistency here translates to being memorable, which is crucial to standing out among your competitors.
Consider the brand recognition with Airbnb for instance. Following their rebranding a few years ago, the company consolidated their efforts visually, technically, and emotionally (if brands are considered an emotional asset). Airbnb is memorable thanks to a combination of its design, the product itself, and the overall customer experience that remains consistent in each interaction, whether on mobile or desktop.
6. Establish a common language.
Consider communication in a broad sense. It is quite difficult to understand someone when they are speaking in a language other than your own. The same can be said when it comes to representing a brand. With so many teams that make up a single organization, it's crucial that everyone is on the same page in terms of communicating with their customers.
Once you establish a common language, you can unite your design with your software. With the right clarity and focus, you can ensure your team is promoting the same concept. Why is this important? After prioritizing consistency, your brand language will be in sync and your customers will associate a greater sense of security with your organization.
A fundamental way of achieving this common language is via brand books. Some brands, like Slack, are opening up about their brand structure, going so far as to publicly share their own brand guidelines. These brand books and guidelines are the evidence of consistent brand execution and overall CX.
7. Consider all platforms.
Today, brands are expected to be everywhere. People anticipate quick responses across the platforms that are most convenient for them. Whether it's a live chat feature on your site, Facebook Messenger, Twitter mentions, or Instagram DMs, brands and their customer experience need to evolve with the digital transformation rather than at their own pace alongside the changes.
According to 2017 research from Forrester, 95% of customers use three or more channels to connect with a company, and it's natural for customers to experience frustration when the experience with the company is inconsistent.
Tracking communication and gathering a thorough picture of correspondence at all points in the customer journey is crucial. Regardless of platform, ensuring consistency in customer interactions, and especially with millennials, is key for seamless digital experiences.
Human nature craves security, which often stems from consistency. Focus on the customer with a Voice of Customer solution and you're able to incorporate this human need in your business strategy. The result? Seamless digital experiences that will keep customers coming back, again and again.
To learn more, read about the freemium business model next.