The biggest difference between customer reporting and internal reporting is understanding responsibility. In customer reporting the burden of understanding is on the author not the reader. When doing internal reporting its reasonable to expect staff, peers and colleagues to invest time, know the business and react to what's been shared. Unfortunately, the same expectations can’t be placed on customers. If the report isn’t useful they won’t use it nor do they have to.
To ensure customers value your reporting investments and actively use them, report authors should:
Be Captivating - Grab their attention. There’s only a few moments to engage the reader and a couple of minutes to have them use what you’ve given them. This is less about styling and more about having intention and clarity. Squeezing every number they need onto one screen isn’t the answer. Juice’s Design Principles offer some structure on how to get started on the right track.
Guard against misinterpretation - It isn’t good enough to make the information available; use visual cues and functionality to draw the reader to the things that matter most. A few mechanisms that can help are alerts, positioning on the page, and intentional use of color and emphasis. Also, reveal information as the user expresses interest. In other words, don’t bombard the user with all the information at once. We frequently use levels of increasing detail from (a) key metric to (b) context around the metric to (c) full breakout detail for the metric. (Data Fluency page 121)
Provide a To Do List - Is it clear for the reader what they should do next? This is the hardest part. Deliver specific metrics where actions are obvious. For example, customer satisfaction is an often used metric, but the next steps are never clear. Also, ensure they have the same metric definitions and understand so that actions are clearer. Then there’s always the obvious. Tell them. You’re the expert and want to be a trusted advisor. Maybe include a tooltip on hover or some dynamic text, e.g. "If X goes below 5% be sure to…” Getting the To Do List right is the hardest, but when it works you’ve achieved report utopia.
While not as critical, here are a few other important items for customer reporting. These can certainly throw a monkey wrench into your delivery and customer expectations if not handled correctly.
Web-enabled - Be prepared to deal with the cross-browser issue. Will you restrict which browsers you support or will you ensure to test all reports and modifications across browsers (and screen sizes too).
Secure access - This is not only about SSL vs. TLS and data security, but getting users to change passwords, timeouts when idle, as well as displaying only the relevant data to them. If they already have a company login, is single sign-on an option?
User Management - An ability to monitor how customers are accessing and using their reports as well as a means of adding and removing users. Consider giving your sales and support teams access to this information.
Licenses - While the organization may have a corporate dashboard or reporting platform, that doesn't mean you have web licenses for all customers. Have a good sense as to how you plan to share information and what are the licensing implications. Quite a few folks get surprised by how their software provider handles customer access licensing.
Education - A means of getting new or novice users up to speed. This can also be important for support or sales teams that have to answer customer questions related to reporting that is shared.
This is just the beginning. If you’d like to learn more or possibly discuss this in more details don’t hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.