When data isn't sticky enough to keep customers

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A few years ago, at the urging of my accountant, I switched from a single-person LLC to an S corp. Sure, I'd have to do my own payroll from that point forward, but the tax benefits easily justified the move. Every quarter, I would now process payroll for all Simon, Inc. employees—and, by that, I mean yours truly.

I selected a payroll provider but almost immediately regretted my decision. I struggled with its dated user interface (UI) early and often. I simply couldn't find what I needed without calling my rep and doing a screen-sharing session. I attributed my frustrations to the fact that I only paid myself every 90 days or so. It's tough—if not impossible—to learn an application if you dabble with it infrequently.

The tipping point

After two years, though, I finally tipped this past week: I had had enough with its unannounced changes, glacially slow load time, vexing terminology, and clunky layout. What's more, I know payroll very well because I spent a decade implementing HR and payroll systems! The final straw: ZenPayoll finally made itself available in Nevada.

For the purposes of this site, the data ramifications of my decision are interesting. Sure, it wouldn't have been hard to convert the equivalent of eight paychecks (two years x four checks/year) with zero deductions excluding taxes. I doubt that the entirety of my payroll data consisted of more than 100 records. Unlike businesses with dozens or thousands of employees, however, I didn't need my payroll data. I never have to run multi-year reports on my payroll data because I can just access my tax returns.

The point here is not to excoriate one company and praise another. For all I know, 99 percent of my prior provider's customers love its interface. Maybe I'm the exception, not the rule.

Rather, it behooves companies to attempt to determine which of its customers might be data-agnostic. And, they need to be aware of times when the difficulty of extracting, transforming, and loading their data into a new system or application isn't enough to keep them.

Simon says: Data may not be as sticky as you think

The stickiness of data isn't a compelling reason for all of a company's customers to overlook massive design and usability problems.

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About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business (Department of Information Systems). He also runs 5marbles, an Agile software-development shop.

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