Have you ever got lost when using a machine? For example when buying metro tickets. There's this unpleasant feeling when you cannot do the simplest thing by yourself.
Anxiety kicks in.
Are other people looking at me? Oh no, they are!
Finally someone comes to the rescue and shows you how to do it. How humiliating is that?
My friend recently sent me this photo. The management of a parking lot decided that machines should take over collecting payments.
Did it simplify the process? Not really.
Imagine all the people who got stuck there because they couldn't figure out how to make the payment. Getting nervous as the queue behind them was getting bigger and bigger. Feeling embarrassed to ask guards for help.
Guards were frustrated as well. Finally one of them "fixed" the UI with two simple post-its.
Let's Take a Ride in Spanish Metro
Unfortunately, it's not an isolated issue. Some companies are aware of similar issues they have and hire more people as a workaround.
A few years ago I was on vacation in Valencia, Spain. There was one thing at a metro station that caught my attention. A lot of tourists were rushing to catch their trains but had no idea what kind of tickets they needed. Neither tickets machines nor huge posters with fare conditions helped.
But there was a man standing next to those machines, whose job seemed to be helping people to buy the right ticket. People queued up to ask him for assistance. It didn't matter that he didn't speak English well. He was still more helpful than a long list of rules or a machine that asks a lot of confusing questions.
What's even more fascinating is that people kept asking the same questions. Can I use a regular ticket to get to the airport? Can I share a metro card with my friend? Think how much effort goes into solving a problem that could be fix by the right fare conditions message.
Explaining at Scale
Hiring more people to do that works well if the business is small. But what happens when it grows?
Let's take a look at Amazon. At peak they sell about 400 items PER SECOND. That means 35 million items a day. Even if only one in every thousand clients had issues, Amazon would have to deal with 35,000 support requests per day. How many customers would be so frustrated that they would spend their money somewhere else?
That's why their user interface needs to speak for itself. Imagine the poor guy from metro helping so many people.
There's No Direct Value in Customer Support
You cannot escape helping your customers, but the less you have to do it the better for everyone.
People love it when they can figure things out by themselves. If you'll make it easier for them, they'll easily fall in love with your products.
For your company, doing less customer support gives a chance to reach more users. You can easily scale machines but hiring more and more people to help customers use your product is not the way to go. Hacks like using chatbots for customer service don't work either.
There are so many better ways to use this money and energy for.
Make the Product Speak for Itself
In order to reduce the amount of assistance that your product requires, you need to make sure it speaks for itself.
There's a few things you need to keep in mind through the whole process of building it.
Keep It Simple
You shouldn't have to be an expert in public transportation to buy a metro ticket. And you don't need to have a finance degree to pay for a book that you've ordered online.
Software helps people achieve their goals faster. Nobody wants to spend a whole day starring at an app, trying to figure out how to use it. Every additional step or custom option makes it a bit more difficult.
Keep things as simple as possible. The less effort people have to put into using software, the more they use it. No wonder why Amazon patented buying items with a single click.
Follow the Rules
Every time when you buy something online, you instinctively click on the cart button in the top right to navigate to the checkout. No matter if you've already been to that store or not, you know how it works.
That's because all online stores follow the same patterns that people are used to. Changing people's habits is difficult, so the best you can do is to help them by using the existing ones. This way, they won't have to learn how your product works and will be able to use it right away.
What happens if you won't follow the rules? Your users will get lost, need help or leave saying that it's counterintuitive. Sometimes they won't even notice that they've done something without thinking. Even a slightest difference in how ATMs work in different countries can cause a lot of problems.
Be careful about what people are used to.
Communicate to the User
If you do your tax returns by yourself, you probably know how frustrating it can be if someone uses the wrong language when communicating with you. Reading all the tax laws to figure out how much you owe the government isn't the most pleasant thing.
A lot of small companies hire accountants, even if their finances are simple. They use them as translators that help them extract important knowledge from thousands of paragraphs.
Make sure that your customers don't have to do that.
When you have to explain something, make sure the explanation is as brief and simple as possible. Remember to use the kind of language they understand. If they get lost in your message, you've lost them.
The Poor Guy Is Still There at His Station
Every day he keeps explaining exactly the same things. Don't be like him.
When building your products, make sure that using them doesn't require too much thinking. If people keep asking the same question over and over again, don't waste your time answering them every time. Make sure the interface of your product addresses them.
After all, that's what it's built for.
Question to you: When was the last time you had similar experience and needed help with using an app or a website? Tell us about it in the comments!
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