Blog: Flexibility has a price: the cost of never saying no

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When you first start out in business you have to do everything you can to get ahead. For the first few years at Infigo it was custom development. We gained a reputation of being the guys that never said no.

So what do I mean by that?

Custom development

We wanted to offer things that competitors couldn’t. So, when our competitors were effectively saying to prospects “This is what the platform does, take it or leave it”, we always asked “What do you need? How do you want to use it?”

So that’s how we started to stand out in the market. We carried out a lot of custom development and added a lot of features to our system. But these were on demand and focused on what individual customers needed.

At that moment in time it was the best business decision to stand out. And if you carry out custom development once, it’s not an issue. If you do it three times, 10 times, it’s still not an issue.

But to stay ahead of the competition we did it hundreds of times. And when you keep adding on things, without the structure to accommodate it, and then move on to the next piece of functionality, it causes a lot of confusion both for the customer and for us internally causing technical debt.

Because you configure it for the individual customer. But then if you go back in two years and need to configure it again, you might not remember how it’s exactly configured. Which then means you’re creating bespoke documentation and training content for both you and the customer. Again, adding to our workload for every new customer.

UX went down as flexibility went up

Everything was very specific to that scenario and that option, which means the user experience of setting up and using our solution as a product was going down, but our flexibility was going up. But as I said, at that point, to get ahead in the market, what you needed was flexibility.

So the result was – exactly what the customer wanted and a great user experience for our customer’s customers on the front end but with significant repercussions. It was, however, sometimes difficult for some of our later customers to manage the features, as you needed in-depth knowledge of how to configure them and a common sense capability of the feature was missing as the customer it was developed for did not have it as a requirement.

So the cost was a bad user experience and a steep learning curve for our later customers.

Every time we did this, we knew it wasn’t a sustainable practice and we always had plans to do it more systematically. But when you are a growing business steady cash-flow is a priority.

You can’t afford to step back and say, “Okay, we won’t do custom development for a couple of months so we can focus on improving and standardising the process” because no revenue is coming. We just never had a break from this.

£2m investment in UX

We always had plans to standardise the process, but the business needed to be in a stable position where it could invest in its own product improvement.

If we factor in how many hours of development we have invested in the last four years, when we started focusing on UX  first, they add up significantly. Put it this way – if we would’ve been paid by customers for this effort, it would easily go into £1.5-2m pounds worth of work.

But this was an investment we were happy to make, because in the long run, it’s not just for the benefit of our customers, it’s for our own benefit as well. When we configure these sites for customers now, it’s easier for us, it’s easier to train them on it, less support is required because it’s just easier to use and just works.

Customers are more like partners

User experience isn’t something that you get right from the first moment.

It’s a reiterative process, especially in a system like ours. Every printer and every customers have a different workflow. They use the system differently and they have different focuses of what data they want to see at any given point.

So, we have focus groups for new developments that we are undertaking. We have customers who are more like partners, where every time we make an improvement they actually look through and give us detailed feedback on the new feature, new layout or new structure.

And customers stay with us because they notice that we are always trying to improve along with them.

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