How small details, thoughtful considerations, and confident professionalism can mean the world to a user's experience, especially in the complex ecosystem of IoT Device Management.
Our previous articles have covered why IoT needs UX, applications of UX in IoT, and how the future of IoT will lead to an increasing need for UX. Today we’ll cover customer service. In a restaurant, getting the customer the food they ordered is the most minimal requirement. To go above and beyond requires much, much more. The waiting staff needs to be accommodating, competent, and socially savvy. The environment needs to be welcoming and par for the customer’s expectations. The devil is in the details. The smallest things make a world of a difference, and it’s no different in a digital IoT management system. Nuanced UX makes this happen, so today we’re going to survey how our designers and developers at MachineShop have approached the solution to this unique problem.
Onboarding: Welcoming Your Customers
First impressions can make or break commitments. It’s no different in regards to a customer’s commitment to your product: in this case a solution to their IoT management headache. Customer’s first experience with your product might be guided by you or someone on your team, but sometimes you give customers the keys so that they can explore on their own. Certain customers will go through the thorough and clear documentation your team has painstakingly made, but other customers might skip this material altogether. These kinds of customers are referred to as “active users.”
Active users like to explore and learn things on the fly. Are they going to watch the short and sweet how-to videos your team has made? Not likely. Are they going to click through an automated walk-through tour? Not today. Are they going to pour over your “Getting Started” page that outlines and describes the breadth of features on your platform? Nope. Your product might have all of these great educational options, (which we always encourage having!), but the unfortunate truth is that users that are experts in the IoT field might want to leap before looking. Luckily for you, your UX and dedication to customer service will still accommodate these users.
Your users have goals, and the workflows that help them accomplish these goals might involve details or steps they’re unfamiliar with. Passive educational approaches like videos, guides, and documentation might explain these details, but they fail to do so when the customer is actively engaging the product. “Front-loading” is a teaching term that describes giving students a plethora of information before they engage with the learning material. It’s our opinion that front-loading doesn’t accommodate the detail-oriented nature of IoT management.
We solve this by ensuring our workflows always possess these three aspects:
- Important workflows have visually obvious entryways, aka, obvious buttons with clear labels so the user always knows where to start.
- Workflows are broken into sensible steps to ensure users don’t get fatigued and glaze over important details, and so that they have a top-down understanding of the process.
- Each step in the flow has tips by the form inputs, and help buttons that provide contextualized information. Contextualizing and chunking your onboarding information makes it all the more digestible.
Add small details like having the text in the “next” button convey the summary of the next step, include links that jump to the relevant pages in the documentation, and consider adding a step dedicated to reviewing the information before the workflow is finished . In conclusion, welcoming and onboarding users isn’t always as simple as front-loading your users with information; it’s about making an intuitive overall experience that consistently provides contextualized information.
Continual Service and Support
Now that we’ve provided a stellar onboarding experience, the next step is to ensure that our product continues to satisfy customer expectations. This is about quality of life improvements that keep customers happy over time. You can build a fancy house that instills awe in guests, but it’s the small details of comfort that one notices over time that makes something feel like home. The same needs to be the case for your IoT management product.
IoT management will inevitably involve detailed workflows, but that doesn’t mean your management platform can’t have shortcuts to accomplish the same goals. When customers aren’t familiar with the details, it makes sense to guide them down the careful route. Once they’ve taken that path a few times, they might be looking for an alternate, more expedient approach. This means having bulk selection and quick action options that allow the user to select several devices to configure at once. Another example might be more complex filtering and sorting abilities that allow users to find exactly the information they need, and in no time at all. Shortcuts make users feel powerful, and it makes sense: they can do what they want in the shortest time possible, and it’s your dedication to UX that gives them that ability.
Another aspect of continued customer service has to do with memory. A good server in a restaurant should always know what drink you have when you ask for a refill. A good IoT management system should also make efforts to remember what the user is doing. MachineShop’s management platform has a shortcut in the top right of the page that gives a list of recently viewed devices, and recently issued commands. The user can go through the more time-consuming process of using the filters to find a recently opened device, or they can just use this convenient feature. Quality of life improvements are about reducing the mindless work customers have to do so that they can spend their time on the more important things.
The final aspect of making the user feel at home has to do with customization options. Once the user discovers the quality of life improvements that save them time, they’re also going to want to customize the tools that they have. Being able to toggle dashboard components and build new components specifically around custom fields from data in reports, (from embedded devices, for example), lets the user prioritize the data they care about. In the same way a shortcut provides an alternative route, there are also views and displays that should have alternatives. Listing devices through the visual of detail-rich cards might make sense, but having easily sortable data tables also makes sense. Have both. Give options. Why bother building a product for something as varied as IoT around strict features when you can instead make a flexible and simple product that customers can make their own?
Confident, Professional Service
We’ve covered onboarding and keeping customers happy through quality-of-life improvements, but another aspect of maintaining customer’s satisfaction is through confidence and transparency. A good waiter needs to be personable, but also thoroughly confident and competent in order to best demonstrate the restaurant's professionalism. Even when the restaurant is at capacity, or even when the guests are in a party of 20, the wait staff must still perform to the best of their ability. In the digital world, this plays out in a variety of ways and all of them are related to UX.
Given the limited capabilities of low-powered devices, and the asynchronous nature of connectivity, unmanaged IoT might present complex data in a cloudy light. An IoT management platform must do everything within its power to make sense of this information for the customer. When online status can change in a heartbeat, the process of troubleshooting connection issues is significantly easier when the IoT management platform can do all of the following: provide all of the available information, explicitly state what information is lacking, and give expedient access to historical information. It’s one thing for IoT management to perform swimmingly when devices are online and behaving normally, but it’s another thing altogether for the platform to still excel when problems arise. The platform conveys professionalism and competence when it can illuminate the full context of anomalies. UX is about making sure the platform can provide all of these options.
In the same subject of connectivity, IoT is a domain with information that often fluctuates. Data is alive, and your IoT management platform must reflect that. If the platform and services don’t have streaming capabilities, (which makes sense because a good portion of IoT isn’t capable of broadcasting 24/7, or it simply isn’t economical to do so), the user needs the ability to regularly update information as it appears in the management platform. And no, the web browser’s refresh button is not enough. Good customer service means having the UX solutions that enable live -- or as close to live -- data, and as often as possible. This means having smart forms that provide suggested data and check for status behind the scenes. This means having individual refresh buttons on widgets, feeds, and more. When a user is sending configuration commands to devices and needs to monitor the progress of the process, having easily available refresh buttons or auto-updating components can add so much peace of mind.
Even things as simple as loading animations, loading placeholders, and confirmation messages communicate clearly to users when things are happening. IoT is complex, but that doesn’t mean managing IoT must keep users in the dark. Good UX means keeping users up-to-date with information, and giving them the tools to dig deeper into processes, especially when things aren’t going swimmingly.
There’s a lot more we’d like to discuss in regards to how small details can make big differences. We’d love to discuss how visualizations can represent data far more effectively than lines of text, or how color and a consistent usage of a design system, (a toolbox of interface elements), can make or break how intuitive your platform is. We’d mention how hover or click-to-expand components can be utilized to great effect in regards to providing detailed information without cluttering the page. There are a wide variety of details that make customers happy, but we can’t discuss them all today. Here at MachineShop, we’re constantly iterating and striving to improve our IoT management platform, and we’ll always recognize how important thoughtful touches are to a user’s experience. Handling IoT can be a headache, but we’re confident that our dedication to UX has made the process as painless, simple, and rewarding as possible for our customers.