Common problems can sabotage the user experience. Here are 5 ways to fix them.

Common problems can sabotage the user experience. Here are 5 ways to fix them.
By Anna Cameron
Oct 24, 2019

Explore solutions to common challenges that companies face when looking to enhance the customer experience across digital channels.

Whether B2B or B2C, organizations know they should focus on customer experience. The benefits of improving customer experiences are clear, as are the costs of failing to do so.

According to a report by Forrester, every dollar (on average) invested in user experience (UX) generates $100 in return. Investing in digital customer experience increases customer retention and market share, and it decreases the cost of customer acquisition and support1. Customers who are happy with their experiences are most likely to complete transactions, recommend a product to their friends, and return. Without an effective digital customer experience, companies will see less repeat business and lower rates of customer satisfaction.

That’s why the top item on Google’s guiding list of “Ten Things We Know to Be True” is “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” And in the first year of Amazon, Jeff Bezos invested 100 times more money in customer experience than in advertising. Airbnb’s co-founder Joe Gebbia claims that good UX transformed the company from a failing startup to a $10 billion business.

With so much evidence proving the importance of prioritizing user experiences, why can it be so difficult for companies to excel at it? We explore the solutions and strategies that will help organizations enhance their user focus.

1. Prioritize user needs over fancy design features.

When stakeholders focus on design features that customers don’t want, use, or understand, they’ve lost sight of the user experience. Though a new feature may solve a problem as the designers imagine it, users need to demonstrate that the feature will work for them. And once it’s been developed, they also need to understand how to use it and get the most out of it. If a feature only serves to confuse the user rather than help them easily accomplish a task, it needs to be revisited.

Choosing usable headers

Not long ago, we tested a cutting-edge site concept focused on providing important health data to users. The site required users to click on clean-looking headers and tabs in order to access more in-depth information. But it wasn’t clear to users that the headers and tabs were meant to be clicked on. There was no underline in the text, or other wayfinding queue to indicate they were interactive. You can imagine what happened. Not a single user found the additional information unaided. Since then, the site has changed to a clearly clickable list that may not look as sleek, but lets users easily see how to access the information they need.

Remember, customers and designers will use and think about features differently. To ensure that your customers can understand and use new features, it is important to first understand who they are, what they need, and what they can do. That’s why usability testing is so important. The usability testing process will help make sure that new features are going to be useful in the way stakeholders are expecting. In some cases, your desired audience may be difficult to access, but any kind of usability testing is better than no testing: Even a usability test with just 5 participants usually identifies approximately 85 percent of all usability problems. Testing new features with anyone not involved in the design process will help to identify features that are generally difficult to use or understand. From there, you can find ways to improve the usability of these features.

2. Use easy-to-understand, user-friendly language

Web designers and other stakeholders working closely with a design will have a detailed understanding of the product and how it works, but users may not. As a result, designers can miss the information first-time users need to get sufficiently interested in the site to want to understand it. And a site that’s challenging to navigate will prevent users from understanding or engaging with the site’s full capabilities. For stakeholders and designers who already understand the product, this can seem like a smaller problem than it is.

Clarifying New Concepts

We saw this recently in testing a new idea for a subscription-based website. The key stakeholders and designers working on it had a good grasp on the concept, how it would work, and how it would be priced. However, this concept was relatively new to users. We observed that they needed a lot more background information and help understanding the concept than our stakeholders had initially thought.

You may find that writers and designers who determine product details on web pages can leave off details necessary to users. Using internal or industry language might make a lot of sense to stakeholders but will actually confuse and frustrate users. We often see this in cases where legal and regulatory requirements can shape site content. For example, healthcare industry professionals tend to use industry language, like ‘provider’ and ‘payer’, instead of user-friendly language, like ‘doctor’ and ‘insurance’.

To make a product’s capabilities clear, it is important to use user-friendly language and provide key information in a way that is easy for users to understand:

  • Avoid industry language or extensive jargon in favor of straightforward language that concisely provides whatever information is needed.
  • Use bullet points and bolded words to help users digest the information they need to know.
  • Break up longer blocks of text to help users who are scanning the page find important information.

Once again, testing with anyone not involved with the project is the best way to ensure that most users will be able to understand a product.

3. Fix issues early by investing in user research.

“Know your audience” is a tale as old as time when it comes to marketing and communications. However, to truly know your audience takes spending time, resources and money on something that feels like a new requirement, or like something competitors aren’t investing in. It can be hard to find the right users, and even harder to recruit them for a study. And the tangible results from conducting user research aren’t always as clear as other measures of success. These challenges can make user research seem optional, unnecessary, or not worth the trouble. As a result, when a project begins to run short on time or resources, user research is often one of the first elements to be cut. But user research has long-term cost-saving benefits. Even if it doesn’t always provide clear, immediate, measurable results, over time it will pay off.

Making the investment

User research reveals mistakes early enough that they can be fixed quickly and (relatively) easily, before more expenses are put into developing them. Resolving a problem during product design costs 10 percent of what it would cost to fix in development, and 1 percent of what it would cost to fix after the product’s release. Analytics let stakeholders track site use over time so they can identify problems early enough to fix them easily. As soon as something starts to deviate from what’s expected, it can be fixed before major and expensive problems occur.

4. Consider the user when determining business goals.

Prioritizing the user experience can be a balancing act for organizations. Stakeholders will sometimes find their priorities are at odds with those of another internal group. Sometimes they find that business goals and consumer goals may differ.

When internal business goals are in conflict, usually different groups of stakeholders are pushing for the best way to measure success. Designers may want to prioritize the feature they designed, while another group wants to move users through a page, and yet another is more focused on conversion. Sometimes, a solution is as simple as content placement, hierarchy, or navigation structure. Other times, it can be more complex. Regardless, these internal discussions can lead to stakeholders losing sight of what the user needs. As user researchers, we work to define and build consensus around usability testing goals prior to testing, but occasionally, this conflict takes hold in the observation room during testing.

When there’s a disconnect between user goals and business goals, however, everybody struggles. Consumers use products in ways stakeholders don’t always expect. For example, most shoppers do some kind of online research before making any kind of purchase. If a site makes it challenging to find information, or if it keeps pushing users towards a sales page when they intend to visit a brick-and-mortar store to make their final purchase, users will get frustrated and likely abandon the site.

Choosing the user over metrics

We recently tested a feature for a client that was very concerned about site metrics. The site had a feature that linked to affiliated sites by opening a new tab, and getting users to those affiliated sites was a priority for the client. However, in prioritizing site metrics over user experience, what we observed was they were actually MORE likely to lose a user.

Representing the user in discussions that determine goals and success measures will help keep the user’s needs at the center of your design efforts. By prioritizing usability, customers will continue to use and visit your site, which is necessary to meet any other business goals. Do the user research to get an accurate picture of who your user is and what they need, then keep those ideas in mind moving forward.

5. Make changes demanded by the user, even when difficult.

Stakeholders will understand all the inner workings and systems that go into making the product, but users will only see the final result. What stakeholders understand as the clear organization of a system, users can experience as frustrating redundancies. For example, users may have to enter the same information multiple times or go through multiple pages to get what they need because an internal system works differently from how they would expect. Being asked to repeat the same action multiple times without a clear reason is frustrating, so users may abandon the site altogether. Users are not interested in hearing about the way the system works internally. They just want the problem to be fixed.

Understanding the user’s perspective

We recently conducted research for an organization in healthcare whose members were reporting low satisfaction with their ability to find a provider; both on the website and when they contacted customer service. In reality, the user experience was adequate, but the provider database accessible to members and customer service representatives was not updated in a timely manner. Members were visiting doctors they thought were in network only to find out – either at the time of visit or when they received a bill – that their provider was not, in fact, in network. The hurdle to address the issue involved changing both process and technology, bearing a large investment for the organization.

Making changes to internal systems can be difficult, time-consuming, and seem unnecessary to stakeholders familiar with the internal system. However, when existing organizational structures are creating major pain points for users, something has to change. If testing and research determine that the problems are significant, then the investment is worth reducing frustration for the user.

Put the user first, and all else will follow.

Organizations are usually working to balance competing priorities with limited resources and conflicting points of view. Inevitably, the voice of the user can get lost. While not immediately visible or obvious, at some point all that time and those resources will end up in a product that doesn’t do one thing that will be key to its ultimate success: create a positive experience for the user.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
Go to ICF Next
Meet the author
  1. Anna Cameron, User Researcher, Digital

The latest marketing trends, uncovered.

Subscribe to get insights, commentary, and news sent straight to your inbox.