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User testing – Don’t guess at what works; Test it!

Would a company create an expensive product without asking customers if it has the attributes they want or need? Would they release a product that doesn’t do what it is supposed to? The answer to both questions is no. Companies work hard to get products right – both to increase profitability and to reduce liability.

Yet, companies often create information without the insight and opinions of the people who matter most – the actual users. Everyday companies send out thousands of letters, account statements, explanations of benefits, invoices, promotional advertisements, and other types of information – without ever checking to see if consumers actually understand it. That's a huge investment to make without assuring that the messaging is hitting the mark.

There’s an easy way to fix this: user testing.

User testing helps us determine the effectiveness of the information we produce. It helps us uncover real behavior and real opinions from real people. This feedback can help us identify areas of confusion, remove bias, and improve messaging so that it meets users’ needs.

What Is User Testing?

User testing is the process through which a product, service, or communication is tested with real people who have the similar attributes and demographics as the target consumer. In terms of communication, testing helps uncover what works and what doesn’t – it helps us identify areas of confusion before release. When we know what might be confusing to consumers, we can fix those problems early – saving time and money.

Ultimately, user testing allows us to test our assumptions. We may assume our information works, but we don’t really know until we watch actual people try and use it.

How Do You Conduct User Testing?

There are many ways to conduct user testing, and it doesn’t have to be extensive or expensive. Qualitative user tests provide insight into the behaviors and thought processes of consumers. User testing methods that are effective for qualitative tests are focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and immersions. Qualitative tests have small testing pools and are flexible in scope. When you test, you may not uncover every issue in your information, but you will uncover many (if not most). Every test you run will allow you to potentially find more issues that you can correct – designing better information for your users and saving yourself the headaches of bad messaging.

What are the Benefits of User Testing?

Honest Opinions from Relevant Audiences

Real people provide real feedback. User testing simulates how your target audience will respond to the design and content of your information. Some key questions you might explore in testing are: do they understand the information you are providing? Do they know how to respond? Do they know what you want them to do next? Will they take the appropriate action – or will they do something else?

These questions aren’t just “nice to know”; they are critical. Having honest answers from users is the difference between information that works and information that fails.

Identify Issues Before Implementation

Most misunderstandings in your information will be identified during user testing. If there are points of confusion, user testing will show where (and why) consumers went off track. It might be that they understand the purpose of the information but don’t know how to respond. Or, they might be so overwhelmed with the information that they give up. They might not be able to use the information because the design is confusing. Or, they might not understand the content because it’s too complex.

No matter what the issue is (and every piece of information will have some issue), it makes sense to identify it and fix it before release.

Remove Bias

Is too much knowledge ever a bad thing? It can be when we create information! Information is often drafted by industry-leading professionals who possess extensive background knowledge and expertise on their subject. Often these folks (well-intentioned though they may be) write from their own perspective, assuming that everyone shares the same level of understanding as they do. This bias – called the “curse of knowledge” – can lead to information that is complex, confusing, and out of touch with the typical user.

User testing helps us assess where we might be communicating at a different level from our consumers. It helps us strip away our own biases so that we can explain even complex information at a level that typical people can understand.

Improved Conversion Rates

All communication is designed to persuade people to do something. When people understand your communication, more of them will do the something you intended (as opposed to something you didn’t). This is called conversion. Conversion is simply when people take the actions we want (or need) them to. For example, if we want a people to pay their invoices online, then information with good conversion would compel people to do just that (as opposed to – say – ignoring the invoice or calling to get more information about it).

User testing helps us uncover what actual people will do with our information. We can ask them: “if you go this invoice in the mail, what would you do next?” Consumers are typically quite honest and will tell you “I’d ignore it” or “I’d call to find out more” or “I’d pay it immediately.” You can make changes to the information to increase conversion to the actions you want them to take.

Increased Customer Loyalty

Have you ever gotten a piece of information that you couldn’t understand? How did you feel? Most consumers will decide in literally seconds if they think a piece of information is useful or worth their time. They may feel annoyed or frustrated. Poor design, difficult language, jargon, or confusing instructions can feel intimidating and can “turn off” our desire to engage.

But it goes deeper: consumers pass judgment. Think of the information you put out as the “face” of your organization. Easy information can be interpreted as the face of a kind, helpful, approachable organization. Bad information can be interpreted as the face of an unhelpful, bureaucratic, possibly untrustworthy organization. Are these interpretations correct? Likely not. But remember, consumers will never meet you, but they will meet your information. Your information is your brand. However well intentioned you are, consumers will judge you by the quality of your information.

User testing allows us to gauge how people react to our information and how they perceive it. And, when we know better, we can do better. User testing allows you to construct better, easier-to-read documents that increase the level of trust and confidence a consumer has in your business – directly correlating to increased customer loyalty to your brand.

Save Money

Ultimately, catching pain points within a piece of communication before publication saves businesses time and money. When ineffective (or confusing) information is issued to consumers, a waterfall of poor outcomes can occur. Customers take the wrong actions, so businesses spend money redirecting them to the right ones. Consumers don’t understand, so businesses spend additional money on customer hotlines to answer questions. Consumers become upset, so businesses compose follow-up documents to apologize for misunderstandings. Consumers develop mistrust and move on, so businesses lose revenue and have to spend money to try and “reacquire” them (and consumers often don’t come back).

In short: bad information has bad outcomes. However, by learning more about what consumers will do with your information before issuing it, you can avoid many (if not most) of these bad outcomes. A small investment upfront to fix potential misunderstandings equals a huge saving in organizational time, energy, and money. It’s always cheaper to fix problems upfront and user testing gives us a way to do this.

Ready to put the power of User Testing to work?

Kingsley-Kleimann Group has over 25 years of expereince working with top brands to improve their communications and consumer engagement. We achieve results because we test with real people.

It's never too late to user test. If your company could benefit from the power of user testing, let's talk.

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