User reactions to self-service features: Is it “Hey, I already have a job, I don’t need to do yours, too”?

7 Sep 2012

Companies obviously want to cut down on calls to customer care centers to save money. One way is to allow (force?) users to do more things themselves. We’ve been recovering passwords ourselves for a long time, and many products include other self-service tasks. Even libraries allow patrons to check out their own books.

In a recent design project, I was afraid that customers would dislike the self-service tools we were adding. I thought they might have the same reaction that I have to self-checkout lanes in stores: “Hey, I already have a job. I don’t want to check out and bag my own stuff here!”

Self-service checkout in a supermarket

But that wasn’t the case. Our users liked the new self-service tools.

We talked with a lot of users in usability studies and customer visits.  They mostly had gotten good results when they called for assistance, but it seemed easier to do things themselves.

Calling customer care may seem like more of an interruption, while doing something yourself may seem more like an extension of what you’re already doing. Making the call requires a lot of work:

  • Deciding that the problem is big enough to bother someone about
  • Wondering if there’s enough time for the call
  • Finding out if customer care is available
  • Looking for the phone number & making the call
  • Going through the voice menu
  • Waiting on hold
  • Explaining the problem, discussing it and maybe being transferred.
  • … and then finally getting a solution

The early results for this product are good. It seems that customers are doing more tasks themselves, and the company is getting fewer phone calls.

Have you noticed that you’re doing more things yourself on the Web? What do you think about it? Are companies forcing you to do their work, or is it a time saver?

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AEDs: a great example of design

30 Jun 2011

I took the refresher course for the American Heart Association’s Heartsaver CPR & AED course recently.  Once again, I was impressed with the design of AEDs.

Wikipedia describes an AED as

An automated external defibrillator or AED is a portable electronic device that automatically diagnoses the potentially life threatening cardiac arrhythmias of ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia in a patient, and is able to treat them through defibrillation, the application of electrical therapy which stops the arrhythmia, allowing the heart to reestablish an effective rhythm.

While they may be used by EMTs with a lot of training, they’re also used by people who happen to come across a person in distress. You can imagine how anxious such a user is, so the devices must be really easy to use.

And they are. Once you open the device and turn it on, it tells you what to do, step by step.

Here’s a video I found on YouTube that shows a typical one. (The demo starts at 00:1:00 into the video.)

You might be trained on one brand of device and have to use a different brand if you come across an emergency in a store or public library. I don’t think it matters, because they walk you through the process, showing and saying what to do at each step.

I’m not sure why they’re all so well-designed. Maybe one company figured it out and the others copied, or maybe the Red Cross or Heart Association made suggestions to all of the manufacturers.

Have you taken AED training? Have you ever used one in real life? How did it work?


“Even my grandmother could do this”

13 Oct 2010

Usability studies are great for finding problems in a product under development. But we don’t only learn about bad things. Sometimes we hear positive comments and compliments.

Here are some quotes from previous studies showing how a product met users’ expectations or pleased them in some way.

  • “It’s answering my questions as I think of them.”
  • “I got a level of comfort that it knows what to do.”
  • “Kind of cool. I like this!”
  • “That was great!”
  • “This answers my question… I have options if I choose to go this route.”
  • “That’s a nice feature and it’s really easy to use. It’s really fast”
  • “He likes the summary screen: ‘Nicely laid out’ “
  • “Even my grandmother could do this”
  • “It’s nice to have a personality to differentiate you from others and helps to build a relationship — this is a long term relationship with your customer.”

It’s nice to get compliments like this. What positive things have you heard in usability studies? Do your colleagues (or clients) appreciate the positive remarks, or are they just interested in looking for problems to fix?