After several years of developing digital experiences in a variety of industries and companies, all the projects I worked on had one thing in common: When designing so-called B2C (business-to-customer) experiences, essentially the same goals always apply. For example, a typical business goal is: Get users to buy a certain product or use a certain service. Goals for users are usually: Convince and make it easy for me to buy and use a certain product or service.
However, there is a small but subtle difference when designing B2E (business-to-employee) experiences:
User = Employee
The seller-buyer relationship, and thus tried-and-true design conventions, no longer apply. This has implications for the design process.
B2E is a term that describes all corporate activities that are directed at the company's own employees. The term reflects the fact that they are an integral part of the company. B2E activities include all efforts of a company to enable employees directly in their work to lead the company in the best possible way.
A key part of my job as a UX designer is to understand the needs of users and make design decisions based on that. The empathy required to understand these needs varies greatly between B2C, B2B, and B2E experiences.
We are all, in a sense, so-called end-customers, interacting with dozens of digital offerings and applications every day. Therefore, it is relatively easy to put ourselves in the shoes of end customers when designing any B2C experience. However, when designing any digital product, it is always beneficial to engage with future users and understand their individual needs. Nevertheless, as designers, we can benefit from our own experience to a certain extent.
When designing business-to-business (B2B) experiences, the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of the user is much more difficult. Business customers usually work in a very specific environment with individual needs and motives. But compared to a consumer experience, the roles of seller and buyer do not change. Even though B2B experiences are more complex and require more effort to understand the needs of the user, proven design rules and conventions, such as the conversion funnel model, can be applied equally and serve as a guide in the design process.
In employee experience (B2E), the buyer-seller relationship no longer applies. It is therefore inappropriate as a guide in the design and empathy process. The motivation for employees to use an internal application can vary. However - and this is crucial - it is not based on commercial intentions. In addition, the internal processes in which employees work are very individual and usually do not follow a scheme for which there are proven solutions that designers could apply in the design process. This also makes it very difficult for designers to empathize with users and understand their needs and pain points.
If the motivation for using an internal tool is not based on commercial intent, what else can provide guidance for designing B2E experiences?
Here are some simple but valuable aspects to consider:
1. We are not the users
For every design decision we make, we need to ask ourselves how it relates to a specific user need. To bridge this knowledge and empathy gap, collaboration with users and experts plays an absolutely critical role in the design process. Only then can meaningful and valuable user experiences be created. Therefore, if possible, internal employees who will be working with the tool should be included as stakeholders in the design process.
2. Task-driven UI
Regular marketing concepts such as the conversion funnel and the customer journey only apply to a limited extent in the B2E sector. Nevertheless, to provide a clear user experience, valuable B2E experiences should help user:s get things done efficiently. "Jobs-to-be-done" can be an important method to uncover the underlying motives and needs of the user. This can help to identify and prioritize tasks to be solved by the application.
3. Information density
Unlike visitors to a marketing or e-commerce website, employees typically work with internal applications on a daily basis. Therefore, information and functions must be available in close proximity and with as few clicks as possible. Basic UI elements such as buttons and typography, as well as spacing and grids, should be optimized for internal applications.
To enable users to work efficiently, B2E applications should offer the option of customizing interfaces to meet individual needs and work styles. In this way, users can deeply integrate and customize the tool into their specific daily routines.
5. Be patient
Looking inside organizations and understanding the complexities in which employees operate is a never-ending empathy process. Restrictions on research activities due to home office arrangements do not make it easier. If there are not enough insights or they do not seem robust enough, start with a set of assumptions. As the process progresses, these can be validated through regular feedback loops or collaboration sessions with users.
In B2E experiences, the regular buyer-seller relationship is being replaced by an employee-employer relationship. This has implications for the design process, as described above. Defining user:s as employee:s places a strong focus on understanding work environments and the business context in which employees work. We designers should be careful to uncover these contexts as they influence how employees work.
While some design concepts and models may not be applicable to every user group, as designers we still have a wide range of tools and methods that we can use to ensure that the individual needs of users are met in the best possible way. Whether they are employees, consumers, or business customers, at the end of the day they are people with individual expectations and requirements that need to be uncovered and transformed into valuable user experiences by applying appropriate methods.