A good software company doesn’t stay still for long. Products are constantly in motion, from minor updates to major revamps. Technologies advance.
However, just because you release a quicker, sleeker, better version of your application, don’t expect that your user base will automatically love the new design.
The fact is, people get used to doing things a certain way, and getting comfortable with any change takes time.
From a software development standpoint, this means that successfully launching a major design improvement or UX change involves more than just writing good code. You have to also manage the transition for your existing user base.
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Yet even with these improvements, we still needed to help transition our end users for a significant change in the user experience.
Here are four tips we learned to help other developers ease their end users through a similar UX transition.
1. Bring your customers into the process from the beginning
When customers use an application on a daily basis — in some cases, eight or more hours per day with some enterprise apps — they form a close connection. These types of users don’t like to be caught off guard by surprise changes.
If you have an active and vested user base, let your customers know your plans as early as possible, including the underlying motivations driving the change. Do what you can to make your users feel they are an important part of the process. In some cases, this may be soliciting feedback and input from the user community before you begin the project.
2. Have a long beta period
Instead of just rolling out your new UX version all at once, it’s wise to have an initial soft launch to a smaller group of users, followed by a long beta period. Soft launches allow you to manage the transition with a “friendly” set of users who are open to the changes, while a long beta period will let you to see how users responds to your new design, workflow, features, etc.
We started with a soft launch to a small subset of Zendesk customers. This was followed by a four-month beta period, which allowed us to see how customers responded to the new design and workflow.
The other key benefit of a long beta period is it keeps the design team close to end users and their needs; this can be particularly important to keeping designers grounded and focused on real end user needs during long development projects.
3. Provide a transition period
Once you’re ready to release your new version, the official launch should also be carried out in stages. You’ll have a smoother transition if you don’t force everyone to switch at once.
After the launch of the new Zendesk, we immediately provided the new version for all new accounts and trials. However, we let all existing customers stay with the original version for an extended period, enabling them to transition at their own pace. Added flexibility lets customers switch back and forth between the former and new version, until they decide to transition for good.
Don’t worry about have to maintain two separate software versions. Going forward, you can make new features and enhancements available only on the newer version. That will provide extra incentive for even the most diehard legacy users to transition to the latest and greatest.
4. “Sell” your existing customers on the changes
Your company’s marketing material and sales team might be focused on pitching new customers, but don’t forget to talk to your existing customer base.
Whenever you’re rolling out a big UX change, it’s critical that your existing users fully understand what they’re getting. After all, you didn’t invest in this major development project just for the sake of change. Therefore, make sure all your users understand why you did it, and most importantly, how it will make their lives better or job easier.
Don’t be discouraged if some users are resistant to change. That’s a sign you have passionate users who are fully invested in your product. However, by following these steps, you can ease your customers’ shift away from the status quo and help them reap the benefits of your hard work.
This post was written by Alexander Aghassipour, Chief Product Officer and co-founder of Zendesk.