Mangled Mental Models: How Poor UX Methodology Hurts Your Bottom Line

“What do you mean, we don’t have what we need? We have marketing profiles. That’s enough!” blurted the project manager at a large financial services company. The discussion had begun amicably but had quickly spiraled into a tense debate about the company’s most important B2B customers.

As always, I felt it necessary to advocate for the customer or end user by explaining the importance of learning as much as possible about this customer base including their expectations about the online services my client provided for their B2B clients.

I began by extolling the virtues of marketing profiles: “We agree. The demographics are critical; they definitely help us understand users. These profiles are a great start.”

“Start?” asked the project manager.

“Yes, the perfect basis for identifying the people we need to interview in order to develop personas,” I said. While skeptical, the project manager and stakeholders seemed ready to listen. With an inward sigh of relief, I briefly explained the influence emotion plays when people make decisions. I also outlined the importance of learning about an individual’s physical work environment, daily tasks and responsibilities, and their views about the quality of software products and services currently offered by my client. With this information in hand, we would gain deep insight into customers’ actions and attitudes.

A long but ultimately worthwhile meeting.

This was not the first time I had had this discussion. The reason is the prevalent and erroneous assumption that marketing profiles are just as effective as personas. Profiles are not sufficient because they do not offer insights into the user’s needs, priorities, and work environment. For example:

  • Is the environment noisy, such as a call center?
  • Does the customer have highly specific fiduciary responsibilities as in the case of insurance agents and financial advisers?
  • Does the customer work in a high-pressure environment such as an ad agency where daily deadlines are the norm?

Understanding these dynamics helps us better understand the user’s psychographics, the emotional dynamics that profoundly influence the user’s and customer’s perceptions of your company’s services.

These emotions play an important role in a user’s experience with your site or web and mobile apps. The quality of this user experience is critical because, online, seconds matter. You must grab and retain the user’s attention, no small task in a world overflowing with online channels.

Don’t guess. Don’t speculate. Devote the necessary resources to learn about your user’s needs, desires, and opinions by:

  • Conducting contextual inquiry, a method involving the observation of customers in their natural environment (office, home, or in the field).
  • Harnessing the qualitative data from these sessions to develop personas that bring your customers to life and serve as one basis for fun, usable products and an engaging online experience.

The ROI of this qualitative research is high because understanding the user’s mental model makes it easier to meet the user’s needs. Coupling this research with analytics reviews and frequent usability tests will gradually expand and refine your understanding of the user’s mental model. With this understanding in place, you will have the information you need to deepen your strengthen your organization’s connection to users and customers.

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