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A major digital healthcare opportunity?

January 14th, 2015 by

Digital Healthcare Opportunity

Over the last year I have been thinking a lot about the opportunities that digital can bring to the healthcare realm, specifically in terms of improving patient outcomes. At Extractable we have a number of healthcare clients on both the service delivery side (hospitals and healthcare organizations) and the payer side (insurers), which has given us the opportunity to undertake in-depth research with all types of healthcare consumers and learn the nuances and challenges of healthcare delivery.

There are a couple of major trends in the use of digital channels and technology we are seeing. The first, that was everywhere in the last year, is the use of wearable and other technology to help gather data and feed that back to our medical teams to help with the treatment of chronic conditions, such as blood-sugar monitors for diabetics or smartphone-enabled heart monitors for cardiovascular patients.

More closely to the experience strategy and design services Extractable provides for our clients, we are seeing a strong push to drive improved wellness in patient communities through the use of targeted digital content (articles, tools, quizzes, etc.).  Yet, outside of providing electronic medical records (EMR) to patients, specifically driven by the meaningful use provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we are not seeing much in the way of online tools being used as part of treatment itself.

While clearly online tools are not a replacement for the appropriate drug or medical procedure, there may be a large opportunity to improve patient outcomes through readily available digital tools and techniques – through using digital to close the loop in healthcare provision.

Stepping back, there were two stories I came across in the last year that helped set the stage for identifying the challenge and opportunity I see ahead. Neither is pleasant to read (for different reasons), but the lessons are worth drawing from here.

The USA and UK are a good comparison for healthcare purposes. The populations are similar in terms of wealth, education, technology adoption and general health patterns. However, the systems are very different with the USA insurance / private model and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) single payer (state) model. Having grown up in the UK and now living in the USA, I’ve experienced some of the pros and cons of each model very personally, but this post is not about which is better, but what we can learn from the contrast.

So, what can we learn from this shocking statistic?

In 2010, for every 100,000 people in the USA, 6.1 died of HIV/AIDS. In the UK, that rate was just 0.5 out of 100,000.

Some details as to why from the New Republic article:

“In the United Kingdom and Germany, if you test positive for HIV, you’ll immediately be referred to an HIV clinic for tests to measure how much of the virus is in your blood and how well your immune system is holding up. Three-quarters of Brits diagnosed with HIV get to this next stage of care within two weeks, and 97 percent make it within three months.

…in the United States, only 65 percent of people with HIV get linked to a hospital or clinic within three months.”

The basic premise of the argument is that when there is a positive loop of continuous care, the patient does not ‘fall between the gaps’ and it requires much less pro-active effort on their part to lead to the best outcome.

The other, unrelated article that triggered my interest was by the BBC related to the growth in DIY fecal transplants! While an unpleasant topic (don’t read the article if you are having lunch!) for most of us to think about, there are multiple cases of people with untreatable conditions that have found a cure through the power of Google and online self-help communities.

From the article:

“”My colorectal surgeon said: ‘The easiest thing would be to just take your colon out.’ And my question was: ‘Easier for whom?’”

…They started the process at 16:00 in the afternoon. By 22:00 that night she felt almost completely better. “And I had been literally dying the day before,” she says. “I was going into renal failure – I was dying.”

The lesson I took from this was that the core premise of the internet truly delivered in this case – that of empowerment – the ability to connect a normal person to detailed information that they may not have ever been able to reach before.

So, we have two connected ideas. Firstly, that digital channels can connect and empower people like never before. And, secondly that people fall between the gaps in the healthcare system to the detriment of their health.

So, what can we do about this?

I believe there is a strong opportunity for digital tools and techniques to be integrated into the healthcare process to close these gaps and hence aid in people’s health outcomes.

Today we have many digital technologies designed to close gaps in marketing and sales. If we visit a shoe website we see re-targeted ads the next day when we are on Facebook aimed to persuade us to buy those shoes.  At Extractable, we use powerful personalization tools in CMS systems like Sitecore, tied with marketing automation tools like Marketo or Eloqua and integrated with CRM systems like Salesforce to track and nurture every potential customer / lead. These tools allow us to create a highly personalized and relevant experience for each prospect as they hit our client’s digital properties over potentially long sales cycles.

And, it works, with these experiences increasing conversion rates by orders of magnitude.

So my proposition is that we should, in effect, treat patients like an e-commerce customer or lead – tenaciously providing personalized relevant content and tools throughout each cycle of treatment and driving wellness throughout their life.

While I’m not suggesting we use re-targeting to promote broccoli after you visit a bacon orientated website, there are many ways in which messaging and content could be embedded within our day-to-day digital life. And, as importantly, in the same way we can report a prospect’s progress to the allocated sales person at our client, we can integrate the data back to the patient’s medical team to continue the positive cycle of care.

Of course, this will not solve all the challenges of the healthcare system, but we don’t have to do that. Just changing some of these health outcomes by a few percent (or less) can mean thousands of lives saved.

And, for me, that is the opportunity.

Banking Better Online

January 13th, 2015 by

By far, the most frequent touch point between financial institutions and their customers today is online – specifically online banking or other logged-in experiences – outpacing branches, call centers, and service representatives combined.

As one stakeholder from a large regional bank told us during a recent project, “If the online channel was a physical branch, we would have to buy the football stadium and fill it with tellers, not just put our name on it!”

Extractable recently evaluated the logged-in online banking (OLB) experiences of 20 of the largest and most recognizable banks in the United States. What we found is that, while many provide their authenticated customers an experience with rich functionality, nearly all fall far short in delivering an easy-to-use and insightful user experience for customers to actually manage their money.

What is most surprising is how similar these shortcomings are across banking brands. In our research, both the typical retail customer and the typical commercial customer are engaged with multiple financial institutions. Tens of millions of people must tolerate multiple OLB experiences, with each coming up short in a similar fashion.

In reviewing these OLB experiences, we found they are by-and-large designed in a way that is “bank-centric” rather than “user-centric.” Products, services, and transactions are expressed as a financial professional(or their product manager!) might talk about them, not as a nurse, firefighter, or teacher would be expected to.  Thus, an “inside-out” design approach manifests in which user interactions are structured around a bank’s own internal systems and 3rd-party integrations, rather than a user-friendly and informative approach.

Survey

An opportunity exists for banks to pivot and adopt a customer-centric, “outside-in” mentality, designing their online banking experiences to anticipate the needs of the user while providing valuable tools and content to support their journey.

Many of the experiences we looked at offer little or no insight into a customer’s financial condition and how certain actions, such as scheduling recurring money transfers, could affect account health. The OLB environment represents a perfect opportunity to provide contextual insight into how customers are managing their money and making day-to-day financial decisions, such as  explicitly demonstrating for a user how scheduled bill-pay will affect their balance, helping to avoid overdraft or other penalties.

A good example is the basic “balance” element of OLB experiences. It’s typically stated as a single number, or as an end-of-day total on the statements / transactions page. However, why not show the user, next to that balance, a simple chart of the balance over the last 30 days? This would help a user see the pattern (typically a saw-tooth shape) and use this to factor into their decision making.

Why would a bank invest precious resources in something that people, frankly, have no choice but to use? Because like an appetizer before the entrée, online banking sets the stage for something much more substantial.

Banks make profits off of customers that grow in deposits and wallet-share, less so those with basic checking or savings accounts. It comes as no surprise that when a customer decides to shop around for a loan or credit product, their primary deposit/checking institution can miss out on a substantial opportunity in the form of a longer-term, profitable relationship.

Consider for a moment, if a person’s primary deposit institution provided an online banking experience with which they were extremely comfortable using, and which proactively communicated with them about relevant financial products. Would the user be more likely to place additional trust in their chosen institution by opting for an added product that has already been recognized as meeting their need? We think the answer to that question is decidedly, “yes.”

Target

Providing an experience that meaningfully connects people with their money and provides sought-after, contextual advice offers banks a previously untapped opportunity to cross-sell customers and grow through a modern relationship-oriented approach.

This may sound like an idealistic yet logical direction to head in, but how can banks truly seize the opportunity to use this “appetizer” to develop deeper relationships with customers and grow their share-of-wallet? There must be a concerted effort to design and build an easy-to-use, highly-functional, and insightful user experience that provides consistency as users move fluidly between digital touch points.

Based on our extensive work with clients from the financial services industry, and a thorough assessment of the current state of online banking, we’ve boiled down four core principles that should be embraced when designing a superior OLB experience:

  1. Ensure exceptional ease-of-use by designing from the user’s perspective to present information and structure interactions in a manner that is easily understood and managed.
  2. Deliver a consistency of experience across device types by keeping the design aesthetic, content structure, and functionality the same across delivery channels to ensure that web, app, and mobile experience all work in a similar (but not identical) way.
  3. Support good financial decision-making by offering valuable, contextual-based insight that can help people recognize which financial products and services could be beneficial to their situation,
  4. Embrace a platform that can elegantly expand to house more features and functionality while moving up the value chain to deliver more products and services to customers.

4 Principles

We believe the banking industry is on the verge of a huge leap forward and that a tremendous opportunity exists in designing a better online banking experience. It starts with understanding what retail and commercial customers are looking for, and making a concerted effort to deliver a painless and fluid experience managing money. It ends with a customer experience that is differentiated from the rest, forges deeper connections across financial products and services, and empowers people to make better financial decisions.

Insurance Providers Using Digital to Drive Better Customer Experiences

May 7th, 2014 by

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According to the research service BI Intelligence, 22% of the world’s population will own smartphones by the end of 2014. Twenty percent will own a PC. And 6% — that’s one out of every 17 people on the planet — will own a tablet. With more and more of our daily lives spent in front of one or multiple screens, companies across every industry are seeking ways to become (and stay) relevant in the digital space. The insurance industry is no exception to the rule. Take a look at these examples:

 An insurance startup has simplified an overly complex industry.

Josh Kushner, founder of venture capital firm Thrive Capital shared his frustration with the health insurance space during a recent interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “I opened my insurance bill one day and I realized that I had absolutely no idea what it meant. I’m educated, I run a growing business, and I didn’t know what my benefits were with doctors or hospitals I had in my network, how to file a claim…” Being the young entrepreneur that he is, Josh decided to create a new type of health insurance company — from scratch. His goal was to “make it simple, transparent, understandable, and relatable, primarily through technology, data, and design.”

The result is Oscar, a NYC-based startup with more than 40,000 physicians in its network. The Oscar website includes a robust provider search that includes physician fees and patient reviews; an online quoting tool that enables prospective customers to fill in their marital status, number of kids, income, and zip code in a Mad Libs format; a Facebook-like timeline of the subscriber’s medical history; and, of course, clear billing information that’s aggregated per visit.

 Social media mavens have increased customer engagement.

Ernst & Young’s recent report Insurance in a Digital World: The Time Is Now discusses research that uncovered a “positive correlation in customer satisfaction between quality and frequency of contact, increased cross-selling and less switching to providers, yet we found nearly two-thirds of customers claim they receive no, or just one, annual contact from their insurer.” Certainly insurers could do well to reach out to policyholders more often.

Social media has made reaching out a two-way street. Esurance’s home page encourages customers to “Call us 24/7 or ping us on Facebook, where we have the fastest response time among leading competitors.”

Many insurance companies have taken up residence on Twitter in order to push soft marketing messages and provide customer support. And even Pinterest has gained recent popularity with insurers — American Family Insurance’s  “The house of your dreams” board is filled with pictures of inspirational kitchens and bathrooms, while Allstate’s “For Your Move” board provides checklists and other guides to ease the home moving process.

Customer-focused firms have leveraged mobile to cut costs.

Esurance has proven itself to be a mobile leader by leveraging built-in smartphone features to benefit both the customer experience and business metrics. For example, customers can add a new car to their policy by scanning the Vehicle Identification Number — reducing the probability of errors that can arise from human  error. After an accident, customers can initiate the claims process via the same mobile app and submit pictures of the damage taken with the phone’s camera — the pictorial evidence reducing the amount of time that it takes to process a claim.

And just last month, the company launched is latest mobile innovation: video appraisal. Eligible customers can now use their phone’s video function to chat in real-time with an appraiser. This enables customers to get an immediate claim estimate and also eliminates the time and cost associated with having an appraiser travel to the vehicle location.

Data-driven firms have learned to make decisions based on cold, hard facts.  

The Insurance in a Digital World study showed that an alarming 89% of insurance providers fail to leverage data about customers’ past interactions when making online product or service recommendations. Yet while many firms struggle with the basics of Web analytics and targeted marketing, Progressive has taken data science to the next level by tracking drivers on the road.

Progressive gives policyholders and prospective customers who enroll in its Snapshot® program a small device that sits below the vehicle’s steering wheel. Over the course of 30 days of driving, Progressive records the driver’s habits — like number of miles driven, hard breaks, and late night driving — and makes this information available to the driver online, along with tips for safer driving. At the end of 30 days, the company calculates a personalized rate based on the driver’s average road habits.

These insurance leaders have raised the bar for the entire industry.

Ernst & Young recently surveyed 5,000 insurance customers in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the US. According to the resulting Voice of the Customer report, “Customers expect great service as a matter of course and the fact that they have received it will not stop them from shopping around.” Providing a great digital customer experience has also become table stakes. Digital is no longer an option. It’s an imperative.

But many insurers still struggle to deliver in digital channels. A recent McKinsey survey of U.S. and European P&C and life insurers found that 39% didn’t have a digital strategy that addressed the entire customer lifecycle. Not surprisingly, a large number of the respondents (83%) had digital marketing initiatives, but digital efforts lagged when it came to supporting post-purchase activities like submitting a claim.

What’s the underlying reason? Ernst & Young found that legacy technology constraints topped the list of insurers’ inhibitors to digital growth, but constraints related to internal company structure and culture are also key challenges.

To drive the change towards becoming a digitally focused company, insurance executives need to bring a deeper understanding of customers’ digital behaviors, needs, and expectations to employees across the organization. Customer journey maps are great tools for documenting this information. Insurers should map the digital and non-digital interactions that customers have as they do business with their firm over time, overlaying information about customers’ typical digital habits. Look for pain points and opportunities to migrate non-digital interactions to mobile, tablet, or desktop channels.

Extractable works with a number of insurers across personal, life and commercial lines – building experiences that are improving delivery and service to consumers; enabling brokers and agents to better provide for their customers: and doing so across mobile tablet and desktop devices.

Let us know how we can help you with digital strategy, customer experience delivery and technology integration.

 

 

 

Beware of the Robots!

February 7th, 2014 by

How Internet Bots are Clouding Insight from Web Metrics: A Case Study in Screen Size for Responsive Design.

Google_web_crawling_bots

With our strong emphasis on the use of data in the digital experience design process, one of the first things we do when kicking off a new design process is to ask the data a key question: Who, using what devices, are we designing for?

We want to know the devices, browsers and Operating Systems that the current visitors are using so that we can optimize the experience to that mix, and deliver a responsive design that works best at the most common screen resolutions we are seeing (and will be seeing moving forward). Knowing the networks (mobile/fixed) and bandwidth are also helpful to determine the typical/sweet spot experiences a user will have with the new sites and apps we are designing.

We started working with a new client in the B2B technology space a few months back and started digging into their current Google Analytics data from the first day. First we wanted to take a look at the current typical screen sizes to determine if a responsive or adaptive (or hybrid) design was the best approach for them, and to determine which breakpoints were optimal.

Screen resolution settings in Google Analytics

(Screen resolution settings in Google Analytics)

Pulling the screen resolution out of Google Analytics for the last quarter, adding a secondary dimension of Device Category (so we could filter to just desktop, removing tablet and mobile) and then importing into Excel so we could extract and average the Horizontal and Vertical resolutions separately, we ending up with the following ‘average’ screen size:

1,119 x 798 pixels

With an aspect ratio close to 4:3 (4:2.8), this seemed low, compared to others we see, but was within the realms of the possible. However, the average screen size is not that helpful for determining design sizes, as we need to know the full distribution of screen size. Taking the raw horizontal screen resolutions and turning them into a cumulative chart produced this more visual representation of the data.

Screen Resolution 2

The chart basically shows, for each horizontal screen size, what % of users have a screen larger than that size – so 1 pixel has 100% of users with larger screens, etc. It also filters out mobile and tablet for now.

Instantly we can see a problem. 75% of all users seem to be at a screen resolution of 1024×768. And, as we have filtered out tablets, this must mean a lot of people have very small screens. In fact, a cursory glance at the Best Buy website shows that it’s not even possible to buy a computer or monitor with such a low resolution today.

So, we have a bot problem.

Some recent research from Incapsula (report here) showed that more than half of internet traffic is bots – some good (like Google’s search crawlers and monitoring tools) and some nefarious (like scrapers and malware). And both our friendly and less friendly bots tend to report as ‘standard’ agents, i.e., 1024×768 running on Windows and IE.

So, with our known infestation of bots we went back to Google Analytics and worked closely with the client to identify and filter out as many of these bots as possible. The easy ones (like Google) were already filtered. Some more were easy to spot, based on identifiers and IP networks. But for others we had to dig deeper and look at behavior on the site, such as visiting every page, something a real user would rarely, if ever, do!

The filtering had a dramatic effect, as the chart below with total traffic to the site over the last five months shows.

Visits per day 3

Once we had stabilized the data, we could revisit the screen resolution and other key data that would help inform the design. This chart below shows the “before & after” data for the horizontal screen resolution.

Horizontal Resolution 4

This totally transforms the view of the physical set up of our users’ desktop devices.  The data also looks more ‘natural’ with jumps at standard resolutions. The average resolution also moved from 1,119×798 to 1,501×922, a really significant change.

So, now that we were confident that we had killed off most of the bots (victory to the humans!) we could get back to the first question – what screens should we optimize the design to?

Merging the tablet and mobile data back in, and adding the vertical resolution to the horizontal chart we end up with this true picture of the users of the current experience.

Visits 5

Quickly we can see the main device resolutions and the share of users seeing each. The big takeaway for this project was that 65% of the users are seeing the site on a screen larger than 1,200 pixels, and almost 20% were using monitors at the full HD resolution of 1,920.

This changed our design strategy completely.  From maxing the screen resolution at 1,024 we are now focusing to optimize the desktop experience at 1,200, on tablets for resolutions closer to 1,000, and all within an overall responsive framework.

The lessons?

Always validate your web analytics to ensure your data is correct.  Bots are insidious on the web so filter them out. And as the actual desktop users are using big screens optimize for them, not just for tablets and mobile.

Post-PC Digital Teams

October 24th, 2013 by

Mark Ryan, Chief Analytics Officer of Extractable, and I were recently interviewed by Sam Stern, a Senior CX Analyst from Forrester for his new report “Digital Customer Experience Teams in the Post-PC Era” and I wanted to share a few thoughts on the topics raised.

Sam’s report looks at how companies are trying to shape their digital teams against an environment in which customers are moving between devices (PCs, phones, tablets) and channels in a very fluid manner, and demanding a consistent and functional experience across them all.

We had a great conversation, sharing anecdotes and strategies from our clients, comparing our thoughts against what Sam was hearing from others during his research.

There were many observations and opportunities that we shared with Sam, based on what we have been seeing with our clients and engagements over the last few years, but two major insights stood out that I wanted to discuss in more depth today:

#1 – The external / internal cycle

As we know, larger organizations find it hard to change quickly, and this is especially true when confronted with new technology that not just challenges the current way that business is done, but also requires new skills or ways of thinking to take advantage of the technology. So, what we often see is the creation of a new group or team, outside of the standard organization, with a remit to take advantage of the new technology. We saw it with the ‘web team’ in the past, and to a lesser extent with SEO and social media in more recent years.

Over time, as the technology becomes mainstream, the external team is absorbed back into the organization, changing it in the process.
Today, we are seeing some clients and organizations with ‘mobile teams’ as a reaction to the rapid growth of the new, post-pc multi-device world we are now in. However, it makes no sense to have a separate mobile team, as mobile devices are just one touch point that customers have with an organization. Of course, certain key mobile skills are needed to fully utilize mobile platforms, but that should be delivered within the context of the total customer experience.

One good question to ask of anyone proposing a separate team focused on mobile is: “If a social media tool is delivered to the customer via a mobile device, is that the responsibility of the mobile or social teams?”

The takeaway: Focus on the total customer journey and not the specific delivery device.

#2 – The business is the experience

In his report Sam talks about the importance of getting business stakeholders involved in the customer experience design process and how customer journey mapping can be a good tool to aide in that process.

We strongly agree.

With one of our clients in the financial services industry we are working on a major overhaul of the client’s b2b broker portal. The project’s business stakeholders deeply understand their business but are new to the customer experience design world. Consequently it is proving hard for them to clearly express experience requirements and give feedback on the more advanced interactions being contemplated.

Just last week during a call to review some wireframe concepts, one stakeholder asked a question, “I understand how the navigation is supposed to work, but how will our users interact with the menu on the left?” The menu on the left was just our index of the screens we were showing in the session, not part of the design, indicating a lack of familiarity with the process we live by every day. However it is our responsibility, as experience designers, to ensure those stakeholders are part of the success of the new experience not the other way round.

Journey mapping is one tool to help with this, allowing stakeholders to see the total customer journey and where digital can assist customers.

Customer Journey Workshop

(In progress Journey Mapping exercise)

Another technique we are using much more frequently is to put higher-fidelity concepts in front of stakeholders so we can gauge their reactions earlier in the process. Once they see how principles that sometimes seem esoteric come alive in a ‘real’ experience, it’s much easier for them to express valuable feedback.

Combining the customer journey maps with interactive concepts at key touch points can become a powerful tool to evangelize an organization behind digital change.

How has your digital team changed? Do you see big changes in the future?

And, thanks to Sam Stern for helping to drive an ecosystem-wide approach to building digital customer experience teams.

Data-Driven Design: The results are in!

May 2nd, 2012 by

Here at Extractable, we are strong advocates of the data-driven design approach to creating powerful, enjoyable and successful web and digital experiences for users. You’ve heard us talking about our experiences with data-driven design on this blog, at conferences and in person, but we wanted to go further and learn about how firms across America, both b2b and b2c, used data in their design processes, what tools they used and what outcomes they generated.

So we commissioned a study from Forrester Consulting to do just that, and the results are now in!

The full study: “Data-Driven Design”, a commissioned study conducted by Forrester consulting on behalf of Extractable, April 2012 is now available for download on our site.

We have also created a great infographic of the key findings, available here.

In this blog post, we will focus on a few key findings and what we at Extractable have learned from the study. Over the next few days, we will dissect the study further with a series of deeper posts on key findings.

We saw two key findings in the study.

Firstly, some 60% of firms surveyed had seen improvements in their website due to use of data. And, if the company also reported they had a repeatable design process, the numbers reporting improvement grew to 71%. This is a powerful result. To us as advocates of incorporating data in the design process, the result is a key validation that the process can produce measurable business outcomes. On a daily basis the projects we undertake for our clients using data-driven design are seeing positive results which we are now seeing across a larger and diverse sample size.

However, the second key finding is that many firms are struggling with data: measuring the wrong kinds of data; missing out on key inputs; and even ignoring key data points.

Some specific examples from the study include:

  • Companies don’t know how or can’t apply the right tools and processes to optimize their sites. Only 28% of companies are happy with the tools and techniques they use to measure their websites today. As high as 52% believe there are other tools that could provide them with better insight.
  • Many firms are measuring the wrong kinds of data. Sites are often measured on metrics that don’t show business value. For example, 46% of respondents indicated they used “time on site” as a key measure. This doesn’t always indicate a positive experience—it could also mean that users are lost trying to navigate the site.
  • Some key data is being ignored. 37% report ignoring data that is uncovered and 34% that they gather data but do not use it. Sometimes this seems to be a factor of the ‘Highest Paid Person’s Opinion’ overriding the insights drawn from key data.

Based on the study and our own experiences, it seems that many firms understand the value of data, are looking for the best ways to use it, but fall short in terms of creating a strong data-driven design process, supported by the right skills, teams and tools to be effective.

After reviewing the study, the strategy team here at Extractable synthesized our thoughts into some core recommendations. To make the most of data-driven design, companies should look to:

  • Define the metrics for the site based primarily on the central business goals/outcome of the site (or other digital asset), such as sales, leads, customer service efficiency, etc.
  • Measure the right set of data that will allow you to see the effect of the changing elements of the experience on that goal/outcome.
  • Include a wider set of data/tools, including behavioral tools as well as data from non-web systems such as financial/sales and customer service tools, to ensure you understand why users are doing what they are doing.
  • Apply these insights to the design process. Test the updated designs, analyze the results and repeat.

As a reminder, the full study can be downloaded here:

Additionally, Extractable is hosting a Webinar on the study’s findings featuring guest speaker, Forrester Research Inc. Analyst, Adele Sage. Sign up here.

My love / hate relationship with users

September 13th, 2011 by

Here at Extractable we employ a data-driven user experience design approach. That is a rather formal way of saying that we gather as many types of user behavior inputs into the design process as possible, from deep web analytics through user concept testing and full user testing. And once live, aggressively optimize our sites based on actual usage patterns.

In the last few weeks we have been working on a series of contextual user interviews, user concept testing and formal usability testing for a range of clients from including a b2b semiconductor manufacturer, a consumer facing financial services startup and a credit union.

This is where both my frustration and love of users kicks in.  Just on Friday we were sitting with one user (contextual, at his desk) for a couple of hours. At one point he was searching on our client’s current site for a specific document – a document that was highlighted (in bold with a big icon) on top right of the page. He diligently scrolled through pages of document listings below the fold, clicked on every tab and scanning the page as if he were a leopard stalking its prey. All to no avail. He never saw the document icon/link that probably took up 15% of the page real-estate.

Throughout this process I had to physically hold my arm from pointing at the screen and my tongue from shouting out some expletive along the line of “What is that big red thing in the corner”!

Of course I exaggerate my reaction, but it was a frustrating experience as the user was not doing what I, or the rest of our design team, were expecting them to do. And this is why I love data based on real users and their real behaviors. They challenge us to think beyond our expectations of what they should be doing and especially to challenge the perceived wisdom that can exist in many companies,  often of the form, “no, our customers don’t want to do that”. This challenge, knowing that each of our ideas will need to successfully run the gauntlet of user research and testing, pushes us to think wider, deeper and hopefully, more innovatively.

Plus sometimes user research delivers incredible insights, like the user last week that had pretty much downloaded the entire product catalog of our client and all its competitors, and had then built out his own taxonomy to store all the files!  That one session gave us more insight into how their users see the client’s products than many hours of stakeholder sessions with the client’s product managers did.

But, of course, not every session delivers such value.  One testing participant when asked what else she might want to see on the test site answered “More information”. When asked what type of information, she responded “just more information”.   Which takes me back to my starting point, I love users and all the things we learn from them to help us deliver rich user experiences, but sometimes it can be quite a challenging experience for the user experience design team.