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10 Reasons to Make Usability Testing a Priority in Your Product Life Cycle

by Pamela Gay , 28.01.2011

This article is re-posted from User Centric’s blog.

In these tough economic times, many companies are asking themselves what can be done to ensure the financial success of their products and services.  The need to differentiate yourself from the rest of the herd has never been more critical.  Incorporating usability testing into the product lifecycle can help achieve this goal while supporting long-term stability.

Consider these 10 reasons to include usability testing in your product life cycle:

1. Decreased development time and cost. Incorporating usability early into the product lifecycle will enable building a product that is easy to use and provides customers with the information they want from the beginning. Opportunities for improvement are discovered early in the cycle because customer needs and wants will be built in from the very start. User-related errors are also discovered and fixed.  Iterations that are made along the way are less costly than making changes later in the product life cycle. Also, spending the time now to understand customers’ work flow process, needs, likes, and dislikes will allow you to not only create a product that is easy to use now, but also will provide you with a strong fundamental building block for future applications.

2. Increased sales. Say you have a contact center that takes calls from customers; in your experience, products that can be ordered easier sell easier.  Tools that fit your representatives’ workflow allow them to spend less time searching for information and are more focused on closing the sale.

3. Increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Happy customers turn into loyal customers.  User-friendly products and services demonstrate your company’s commitment to creating positive experiences for consumers.

4. Increased accuracy. Client frustration and distrust intensifies if they think you have misplaced or misinterpreted their valuable account information.  If systems are tested to ensure customer information can be managed more efficiently and with fewer errors, this facilitates the maintenance of positive relationships with clients and customers.

5. Increased productivity of employees. Designing a user-friendly application will allow your employees more time to capitalize on potential opportunities, spending less time on non-value added activities.

6. Decreased training and customer support. A product that is intuitive, easy to use, and naturally fits into the customers’ workflow process requires less training, support time and cost. If valuable resources are spent answering phone calls from aggravated customers, it’s time to evaluate the product or service to determine if a simple change might drastically reduce customer frustration.

7. Designers and product engineers understand their product from the inside-out, but customers have the reverse perspective. Designers are aware of all the background, constraints, and goals of an application and have assumptions on how customers will respond and use their product. Customers, on the other hand, do not have the benefit of this knowledge. When designers test their own applications, these assumptions can lead to a bias in usability test script as well as their interactions with users.

8. Capturing the user perspective requires an objective mindset. Customer feedback and responses to an application can be very enlightening and informative. It can also be humbling and totally unexpected. Organizations reap the greatest value from testing when they can evaluate user feedback objectively and spot trends from the perspective of how the customer expects an application to work. So-called obvious insights - from the user's perspective - can provide clarity to a year-long development cycle.

9. Experienced user researchers bring far more to the table than just testing. Usability experts recognize patterns in user behavior very quickly while moderating, based on knowledge of human behavior, experience in design, and years of experience testing products and services.  They also have the ability to identify potential usability and design solutions for the low and high-hanging fruit while identifying what types of problems users are having (e..g, navigation, visual design, mental model disparities, etc.) and sharing that with the design team in a collegial, collaborative manner that works.

10. Designers should be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Designers and product engineers should observe all the usability tests associated with their application. It can be extremely rewarding to watch customers successfully use your product and know where it works well and where does not. It can also be extremely interesting to watch them use your product in ways that you did not anticipate. One can learn more about a product's users by exploring the reasons for users' behavior in an impartial and objective setting.