In Part 1 of this post, we explored five techniques that will help you overcome the typical difficulties that you may encounter when trying to sell web site usability evaluation as a service to a company. These techniques have been summarized in an easy-to-remember sentence: First understand usability, then explain the benefits in a language that the company understands, in terms of ROI and for the sole benefit of the user. In this post, we will look at the remaining two techniques namely the need to explain the benefits of usability “in terms of ROI” (Return On Investment) and for the “sole benefit of the user”.
4. In Terms of ROI
Usability testing and the subsequent alterations to the user interface and the workflow of a web site is a time consuming process that may delay the launch of a web site. Because of this and due to the fact that usability evaluation needs to be carried out by an expert like yourself, the process will constitute an additional cost. The problem is that this delay and the consumption of additional human and financial resources erode the profit that the company – something that defies the main objective of a company – that of generating profit.
The only way to counteract this negative perception is to shift away from selling usability concepts, values and ideas and instead focus on selling it as an investment that will eventually yield a better gain. Essentially, you will be speaking about Return on Investment (ROI), which is a measurement to evaluate the efficiency of an investment. The whole objective of usability evaluation is to identify any issues that may prevent users from achieving their goals. So, really and truly, identifying these issues and correcting them will result in a better return on the financial and human resources invested in the evaluation and subsequent correction of the identified problems.
I have personally witnessed a number of success stories in which the investment of usability evaluation has yielded a good ROI. One particular example that springs to mind is an online motor insurance quotation and purchasing system that me and my team evaluated. Without going into the specific detail of the usability problems that we identified, suffice is to say that the system involved 9 pages of form filling in order to be able to get a quotation for your motor insurance, not to mention the additional 4 pages for the checkout process that followed. To further complicate matters, the system was littered with insurance terminology and misleading pre-selected options. Following the usability evaluation that we conducted the re-designed workflow reduced the quotation-booking process to just 2 screens and the checkout process to three. Although the system is still not publicly released, user testing has already indicated a considerable improvement in the ability of users to achieve the set goal of getting a quotation and booking their motor vehicle insurance. In fact, the insurance company’s management have already expressed their satisfaction at these changes and are eagerly looking forward for the deployment of the redesigned system.
Another very interesting real-world case is presented by Jared Spool in his article “The $300 Million Button” whereby he recounts how renaming a button from “Register” to “Continue” in the check out process of an e-commerce web site allowed users to purchase without having to register. This change prevented irritated users who did not want to register to be able to buy a product from leaving the web site – a problem that was identified during the usability evaluation of the web site in question. Such a simple change resulted in an increase of 45% more visitors and additional sales of $300,000,000 in the first year.
On a side note, please remember that in this post I am discussing a commercial company whose objective is to make a profit. Not for profit organizations and public companies may have other factors that influence them in their decisions such as accountability towards shareholders and the general public.
5. And for the Sole Benefit of the User
Companies typically have a pre-conceived image of how the user interface and the workflow of their web site should be. Very often this is based on their corporate identity, the web site of their main competitor(s) or a combination of the two. Faced with this scenario, you need to try and alter this pre-conception into one that is structured around the goal of the user for using the site. After all, a usable web site is one which makes it possible for users to achieve their goals. Whilst such a shift in mentality is not easy, especially during the initial stages of communication, you need to try and at least compromise.
What your client’s competitors are doing is important from a research perspective, and indeed demonstrating an understanding of your client’s competitors strategy will get you earn you respect during your meetings. However you need to state to your clients that you want them one step ahead of the game. One good technique that I make use of is to access a competitor’s web site and ask the audience to perform a simple common task that the user would need to do. Obviously, you need to prepare beforehand to select a task that is common, yet difficult to execute on the web site you are accessing. I remember once, during a meeting discussing the usability evaluation of a leading bank, I accessed a competing bank’s web site and asked the executives present at the meeting to try and find the opening hours of the bank’s branches. Whilst the site contained various means of contact, including a contact form, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, nobody could locate the days and hours during which the physical branches were open to the public. Such a flaw probably meant that the bank was losing business due to the fact that potential customers who wanted to visit the branches became frustrated in looking for the opening hours and left the site. At the very least, the bank was unnecessarily increasing the workload on its customer care department by having them handle enquiries about opening hours.
As I have stated in my opening sentence, selling usability to a company in the real world is no easy feat. In this 2-part post I discussed what I consider to be the five most important techniques that will help you in overcoming the typical difficulties that you may encounter. This is by no means an exhaustive list nor is it a rigid structure that you must adhere to, particularly because every sales meeting will have its own scenarios. However, if you get the basic techniques as explained in these 2 posts right, it will be easier to adapt yourself to these scenarios. Experience does play an important role, so don’t worry if you don’t get it right in the beginning. Rest assured that you will fare better with time. Good luck!