What Does User Experience Really Mean?

Convergence Corner

What Does User Experience Really Mean?

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  May 22, 2012

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.

If you ask communications vendors about their latest product innovations, or stroll through the aisles at a tradeshow, it won’t take long for you to notice language incorporating the concept of user experience. It’s not a new term, but it is one that has lately become something of a catch phrase.

It’s not that mobility, unified communications, cloud, and other hot topics have gone by the wayside. Rather, it seems the industry at large has conspired to group all innovation under the user experience heading. The result, effectively, is an inability to define user experience, which actually plays favorably to the industry as a whole. Instead of conforming to standard definitions, vendors and their customers alike are at liberty to define the term as they see fit, allowing them an easy – and effective – path to enriching their offerings.

This theory was abundantly apparent as I met with a number of companies recently at the Enterprise Connect (News - Alert) show in Orlando.

One of the hottest topics in the enterprise space over the past 18 months has been the E-SBC. The SBC traditionally has been a service provider network element, but more recently it has evolved into an enterprise-class product from the likes of AudioCodes (News - Alert) and Ingate, allowing enterprises to leverage more effectively SIP trunking to make use of the UC features available to them. ADTRAN has now also added SBC functionality into its Total Access 900e and NetVanta 3430 products, with additional products to follow.

The company doesn’t claim to be first to market with such a product – or even with a software-based SBC capability, which AudioCodes announced at the same time and Ingate had introduced in February at ITEXPO (News - Alert) East in Miami. According to Chris Thompson, senior product manager, and Bob Locklear, director of business development, enterprise networks, at ADTRAN, the launch is about adding stability and increased functionality to its products by eliminating the need for a third-party product, and follows the ADTRAN model of entering a market and enhancing its product capabilities once market has begun to mature and demand has been proven.

Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) brought out OpenTouch, the rebranded evolution of its enterprise communications platform. According to Craig Walker, director of worldwide product marketing, OpenTouch is about enabling the BYOD trend in enterprises, while breaking down the traditional UC silos that have hindered true adoption of many UC features. Among the features available with OpenTouch is the use of a single application across all device types, allowing users to choose or switch devices at will without changing their experience.

“Users want to communicate with a person, not a device,” he says. “So, you need to be able to dial the individual, regardless of what device they choose to use. The system must have device awareness.”

And Voice4Net’s new CCHD (Contact Center HD) software has been designed to allow businesses to run their contact center environments leveraging all modalities of their choosing, rather than limiting them to traditional voice.

“We look at voice as another contact type – chat, social media, SMS, e-mail and other forms of communication are all contact types that need to be incorporated into the system,” says Founder and President Richard McFarland. “It’s about how the customer wants to come into the contact center.”

The company is also developing a Facebook (News - Alert) “handshake,” which will create a relationship deeper than a simple “like,” allowing businesses to leverage more effectively customer data, with an eye toward creating a richer vendor-customer relationship to drive customer satisfaction.

These are only three examples, representing three very different businesses and models, but all ultimately explain how the company is delivering a better user experience. They also are representative of the overall trend in the enterprise communications space finally to deliver on the promise of unified communications.

But, much like the definition of UC is subject to interpretation, user experience also lends itself well to the whims of both vendor and customer.

Some might argue that innovation seems to have slowed in the industry, looking merely at a small subset of the community, where several vendors are bringing like products to market. Or they may point to the apparent overuse of the concept of user experience. But that’s how the competitive market thrives – when you see something that works and is in demand, your best bet is to follow, then continue to evolve.

As for user experience, there are as many definitions of user experience as there are vendors – or perhaps customers. We’ve heard this song before, when UC first came into being as the evolution of VoIP. While it may seem confusing, the fact remains that each customer has a unique expectation of experience, making it inevitable that the vendor community will find itself defining it in the eyes of its customers and its products. After all, customer experience is akin to customer satisfaction, which is the ultimate business driver.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi