One of my favorite authors is Seth Godin, who has written multiple books on how the world is changing as a result of the web and mobile phones. He recently wrote a blog post titled: The obligation of the adjustable display on the need for companies who manufacture or sell products and services to spend more time on the documentation that comes with the product, whether it is printed, online, or as part of a help screen. It his his contention that it costs less to invest in explaining how to use things than to take the service call afterward.
There has always been a movement towards usability. Some companies have thrived because their product was just ‘easier to use’. And not everyone invests in this. But the ones who do stand out.
Let me give you a few examples that I have encountered.
1. Intuit Quicken.
I use Quicken from Intuit to manage my personal finances and it is one of the best tools I know to manage your personal affairs. They have other products for business, but I will only talk about the personal finance product. Some years ago I attended a Software and Support Professional Association meeting where Intuit management was on the agenda. They talked about how they test for usability of their product.
They bring in people from their target market who have never seen it. They have someone sit next to them as they observe them installing and starting to use the product for the first time. If the consumer hesitated, the professional next to them asked them why they were stopped and what, if anything, was confusing them. After 2 days, the consumer was too ‘familiar’ with the product to be of any use, so new consumers were brought out. Each of those ‘hesitations’ was examined, improvements were made until most consumers could get through the work without any hesitation or help.
After that lecture I purposely went out an bought Quicken to see just how intuitive it was. And I have been a faithful upgrader for many years, as a result.
Did this approach reduce their support costs? Yes they did. And increased customer satisfaction as the consumer did not have to stop what they were doing and call for support. And the ease of use has kept me a loyal customer for many years.
2. Staples Business Depot – Office Chair.
I recently bought an office chair from Business Depot to use in my home office. Normally, the kit comes with all the parts and a package of screws, tools, and instructions. This package was different. Instead of providing x screws of a particular size and y of another size, Staples provided the screws by step. So each step in the instructions, was associated with screws that were packaged together with the words Use with Step 1, or Use with Step 2. There was a package that said ‘Extras’ which has one of everything you had to use as an extra, just in case. And the needed tool was included as well. Of all the instructions I have ever received as part of something I had to assemble or install, this was by far the easiest to put together and most appreciated.
Was there a number to call for help in the packaging. Yes there was. But I imagine they don’t get many calls about assembling their office chairs.
Upfront investments in usability and explanations can and will save companies money in support. Don’t expect the support people (unless they are overloaded) to tell what needs fixing as this approach will reduce their workload. Invest in tools to capture cause codes ( what was the reason the customer had to call ) and then work to eliminate the need for the call. That’s probably a better way to reduce support expenditures than other cost cutting methods involving front line personnel.
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