Understanding the value of a Usability Study

Often at Cognitive we are asked the question of what is the benefit of doing a usability study compared to a consumer marketing study.  While it is true that both studies examine the satisfaction of the client in relation to a certain product or service; each of them provides different insights into the relationship of costumer-product. While the aim of a marketing study is tell you what promises to make to your customers, or what the general public may think of your product, a usability study will give you insight into how to improve your products and services so that those promises are kept. What drives you to purchase a product is different from what motivates you to regularly continue using it.

As an example, imagine that a customer has bought a cell phone, based on the promise of a broad spectrum of functionality; what makes the user happy is the fact that his cell phone is easy to use and indeed helps him to keep in contact with others. 

Usability concentrates on understanding the way the consumer uses the product, such as the thinking process involved in achieving a task, subtle operation, points of attention, and the internal and external factors that influence the interaction with the device in question.  

The document ISO 9241-11 (1998) Guidance on Usability, issued by the International Organization for Standardization, defines usability as: “The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use. A usable object will be: 

  • Effective: was the task fully completed? Were the user’s goals met?
  • Efficient: was the user able to complete the task quickly?   
  •  Prevent errors: did the user interface help users avoid making errors? Were errors minor rather than major? if the user made an error, did the interface assist them in making a successful recovery?   
  • Be Easy to learn
  • Satisfying to use 

How a usability study worksA usability study involves a working session where the individual user interacts with the product or its prototype. Usability studies aim at assessing the points at which the user faces difficulties or hesitations while performing a task, and analyses the navigation and thinking process of the consumer whilst using a product.  Usability studies focus on the potential errors that might occur while using a particular product, and assesses how easy is to recover from these errors. 

The main activities that distinguish a usability study are: Performing tasks with the user.  In a user study, each user is asked to complete one or more tasks related to the product or service studied. Each step is carefully recorded and analysed. The precision in recording and analysing these steps makes the results of a user study much more specific and actionable than a simple satisfaction rating.  Improving products and services. The main purpose of a usability study is usually to help to improve a product (or service), and make it work more efficiently.  Usability has a broad knowledge of best practice.  Combined with user research, the insight that usability conveys helps increase customer satisfaction of the product. Subsequently, satisfied customers buy more of your products and services, and enthusiastically recommend them to others.  A company that includes usability as part of their development cycle allows the product to be better specified from its inception.  The process will be rewarding in terms of accurate product development schedules and the final product will require fewer product support enquiries and incur fewer returns.   Various companies have experience the benefits of this approach.  For instance, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), approached the Cognitive group to determine how best convert the cumbersome and manual process of opening a second account, to an easy, self-service online model.  RBC now saves more than $1.5 million a year through an online process and enhances customer loyalty every day.  

About Cognitive Cognitive helps clients reduce development time and increase product satisfaction by tightly targeting their product development efforts to meet core needs of their users. Cognitive group offers customer research, usability testing, and user interface design for products in the hardware, software, and Internet arenas. Customers include: Nortel, Ericsson, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Amazon, Telus, Alis Technologies, Global Medic, Emploi Quebec (government), Bell, Hydro Quebec, Banque Nationale, RBC Financial Group, Desjardins, among many others. To contact Cognitive in Montreal call (514) 861-1212, or visit the Cognitive Group Web site at www.cognitivegroup.com 

One thought on “Understanding the value of a Usability Study

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