After being interviewed on this matter by whatuserdo, I thought I will extend my point. It is not a secret that (pretty much) every website or another digital product is created in order to achieve some business objectives and a great UX is a tool to achieve them (unhappy users do not convert). In the ideal world the dilemma of business vs. user objectives should not arise – it is in the interest of the business to provide excellent user experience and fully meet user objectives, so that they convert, return, become brand advocates and do not get attracted by competitors.
However, in the real world it is more complicated – there are plenty of features that go against user objectives to sustain a business, for example online advertising or asking users to sign up before they can use a feature – nobody likes it, however, that is how business objectives are met. It is not an easy task to change a business model and it is often unrealistic to ask businesses to do so, especially when there is some evidence that users are motivated and there are not many alternatives for them. But maybe it would hurt the business in the long run? Is there a compromise?
The best tool for solving the business vs. user objectives dilemma is looking at the issue objectively (without an almost religious focus on creating a perfect user experience or a narrow focus on short-term business objectives): by how much does it hurt user experience? Does it affect the business in the long term? Could anything mitigate the effect? Is it a deal breaker? Alternatives and compromises that would satisfy both sides are often available, however, not without a full understanding of the issue and both the short and the long term implications of it.
When looking at a bigger picture, there is less conflict between business and user objectives
Although business objectives should ultimately win, that does not by any means imply disregarding user objectives. Even when users cannot simply go and use a competitor’s digital product that meets their objectives better than your product, not understanding and meeting their needs goes against business objectives. Users might not give up and leave when the user journey is slightly annoying, however, they are likely to get a negative impression of your company and subconsciously associate it with frustration or inefficiency (so many clicks to achieve their goals), which is always harmful.
Always mind the Halo effect: if customers have a negative impression of one thing associated with your company or brand, they are likely to have a more negative perception of the company as a whole, which is exactly what new potential competitors need. When taking long-term business goals into account, there is less of user vs. business objectives dichotomy – a way of making user happy but still meeting your business objectives needs to be found.
Look objectively and compromise
When looking objectively, often it is easy to see a clear deal breaker. Let’s say UX-wise it would be better if users could download your client’s white papers without filling out a form (we all hate wasting time filling out forms when we just want to get something quickly and go). But from the business perspective, if the business model relies on monetising its database, not having a form would obviously become a deal breaker.
It might be unreasonable to suggest changing the business model in order to meet the user goal of getting everything effortlessly, at the same time it is still a problem that most of the users would get annoyed while trying to access the white papers. However, as long as it is known what users want and what is not easily changeable, an expert UX designer would look for compromises and ways to mitigate the issue.
Maybe it is possible to offer something extra as additional reward for filling out the form, for example a free guide or something similar, which would serve as an additional motivator or a pleasant surprise (to undo the negative feeling of having to waste time to fill out a form)? Since it is known that users want to get the document here and now, making the form as short and simple as possible would help as well – there is a difference between a long boring looking form and a short “just a couple of questions” form. Informing users in advance that they would have to fill out a form would help as well, since clicking on “Click here to download” and getting a form instead of a promised download link would make users feel deceived, which would increase the level of frustration significantly (it is a bad practice to have misleading links anyway). Probably there are some better and more creative compromises, as long as both user needs and business requirements are fully understood, there are always some possibilities of finding a middle ground.
It is also worth understanding the extent of the issue and its implications by carrying out A/B testing for two versions – one more user needs focused and one more business needs focused, as well as some qualitative user testing to see the extent to which a proposed less user focused version damages user experience. The more you know, the better decisions you make.
It is OK to offer not 100% perfect user experience as long as you know what you are doing, when it is an informed, well thought out and researched decision, not just following short-term business goals and hoping for the best. There is a difference between going against some user objectives because of not knowing about them and doing so as a well calculated move, always clearly observing the effects of it and being willing to change when needed. Creating a great UX while working within business constraints is a challenge that makes working as a UX designer more exciting.