If you are a software company, this question is probably something you haven’t given much thought to. Of course your product is easy to use…that’s why you are still in business and have customers! But I invite you to step back, take a breath and really think about that reaction. It’s not strictly true that customers would leave you if your product isn’t easy to use because there may be other factors at play. Maybe they are in a contract and it would be prohibitively expensive to break it. Maybe they fear going through a conversion to a new product. Maybe they are simply so used to the way it is they can’t think of any other ways it might work.
Now you begin to see why every software company should be concerned with the usability of their product. If your product is not easy to use, or it makes the task the user is trying to accomplish more cumbersome or difficult, your customers won’t be happy. And unhappy customers leads to poor sales. It can also be a self-feeding cycle: Users who are unhappy with the way a process works may develop a work around that is easier for them, but results in higher data inaccuracies, which leads to errors down the road, which leads to higher dissatisfaction and so on.
So where do you start? How can you even begin to gather the data on how usable your system is? You don’t need to hire a team of user design experts, at least not right off of the bat. You also don’t need to engage in extensive market research, although that could be a great idea further down the road. What you can do now is look to your existing staff to give you some ideas.
Important Note: Existing staff does not include your UI staff, programmers or the like. They are too close to the software to be able to see it through unbiased eyes and give you honest feedback.
Here are three places you might consider looking for some less-biased feedback on your software’s usability:
- Customer Support Staff – These are your front line in dealing with current system users, and they’ve likely heard complaints or comments from your customers on how the product works. Ask them to note when this happens, what was said and then check those logs regularly.
- Education Staff or Trainers – Your trainers can be your biggest untapped resource in this area, because they are working directly with brand new customers who are not familiar with your product. Not only are the students fresh eyes to the product, because they are learning how to use it they may raise questions of why it takes five clicks to do this or why you need to complete this step before finishing the task. This is usability gold!
- Your Sales Force – They are selling your product, and as such are approaching people at a time when they are making comparisons between you and your competitors. It’s highly likely your sales team could give you some great scoops on usability from the competition, just from the questions they field during the sales process! Think of it as a market research bite: Not enough to satisfy, but enough to give you direction.
Stay tuned for some great tips and tricks on how to measure your products usability!