Understanding how your target audience uses your product is crucial if you wish to achieve high levels of user satisfaction. Now, for the most part, the answer to this question can only be revealed by actually talking to users and watching them interact with your product.
This is known as user testing, and it’s one of the simplest and most effective ways of ensuring your product is the right fit for your audience.
What is user testing?
User testing (sometimes referred to as usability testing) is an essential part of the user experience (UX) design research process wherein you evaluate your product design decisions against a representative set of users to test if your assumptions about its usability and quality are correct.
So, usability testing is akin to black-box testing of your product (could be a physical product or an app) to ascertain if the product built is intuitive to use and deemed high quality by the actual users.
Essentially, in this UX research technique, users are given specific tasks to complete and when they are at work, you carefully observe their body language, expressions, and emotions and encourage them to speak whatever comes to their mind while using the product.
In doing so, you get real-world qualitative and quantitative data and feedback about your product’s design and uncover possible usability issues that need to be fixed. In other words, you get your potential customers’ thoughts and observations on what they like and what can be improved before the product goes live in the market.
Why is user testing critical to customer experience?
Today, standing head and shoulders above your competitors is all about creating an outstanding customer experience. With usability testing, you’re keeping the customer experience in mind from the very beginning.
Conducting usability testing with the right set of people early on decreases the risk of building and launching the wrong product, thus saving you from wasting time, effort, and money.
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So, for instance, when you have your SaaS product’s prototype in hand, you might think you’re good to go with the final build of the application, but it’s important to pause and carry out some user testing at this stage in the process, as having actual users try out your prototype pre-launch enables you to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
Likewise, once you’ve launched your product, you must again leverage usability testing and use your findings to revisit your design and address any issues you might have discovered. That’s because UX design is an iterative process. You’ll always find ways to improve your product, informed by the data gathered from your testing.
“Put simply, when done at an early prototyping stage, user testing helps you identify the problems when they are easy and relatively inexpensive to fix,” explains Devesh Sharma of Design Bombs. “And when done again at a later stage with the live product, it helps to understand the user’s satisfaction rate and time spent to complete a task using your product,” he adds.
There are countless cases when usability testing proved to be a fruitful exercise in terms of ROI. For example, with a small tweak in design concluded from user testing for Mac’s UI, the company got 90% fewer support calls.
Thus, user testing should be performed at every stage and as an integral part of the iterative product design process. Doing so, you will be able to:
- Verify if the product meets the user’s expectations
- Align business decisions to real-world use cases
- Reduce or even eliminate flaws in the product
- See how successful and satisfied users are in using your product
- Garner initial user reactions and feedback about the product
As a moderator of the usability test, you must monitor how:
- Easy it is for the users to achieve a task or set of tasks
- Whether the user had enough and clear information available to accomplish the task(s)
- Whether the information was easy to follow and well-organized
- What mistakes the user made along the way and their impact on their ability to complete the task(s)
The feedback and data from the usability test can then be used to make design changes and improvements in order to improve the customer experience of the final product.
Importance of user testing from the user’s perspective
Sure, from the business perspective, it’s all about boosting your user base and profitability. You want people to pick your product over a competitor’s. For that, you need intelligence from the users themselves so as to make a product that people truly want.
But for the users, they want to buy something that solves their problem or helps them complete a task more efficiently. There’s always a concrete reason behind the purchase – no one buys a television just to own a television; they buy it to watch content.
So if your product empowers people to achieve their goal, they will love it, will continue to use it, and willingly spread a positive word about it. And for all that to happen you need to know how they use it – which is what user testing is all about.
Usability testing allows you to understand how the end-users will use your product and for what purpose. Do they really use it for the same purpose you designed it for? Are they easily able to use it to its full potential, and if not, why not? Even if they’re able to achieve their goals using your product, are they happy or a bit frustrated? Find the answers to these questions, and you will surely create a top-notch product for your customers that your competitors just can’t rival.
User testing isn’t the same as market research
Yes, user testing is at the heart of UX research, which is the systematic study of target users and their requirements, in order to add valuable contexts and insights to the product design process. But user testing isn’t about testing a hypothesis or surveying the market.
Instead, it is about establishing how well real-world users can use the product before and after its launch. So, user testing usually involves conducting controlled experiments wherein you can watch people use your product (or prototype).
That is, you create a realistic situation wherein the user performs a list of tasks using the product while you or a team of observers watch and take notes.
It also recommended creating scripted instructions and pre- and post-test questionnaires as part of the process. Here are the three key areas you must measure:
- Time: The amount of time it takes them to complete each task.
- Accuracy: The number of missteps they make and where along the way.
- Recall: How well the user can do the task again after taking a break.
Also, a crucial thing to check is the user’s emotional response. After all, you’re using usability tests to improve customer experience and satisfaction levels.
This even applies to the in-house adoption of tools. For example, if you’re planning to adopt an enterprise-grade software like SharePoint in your company, and you find from usability testing that users (your employees) are finding it tricky to adopt the new tool, you can decide to leverage a SharePoint training platform to make the adoption smoother and consequently ensure that everyone is using the new software to its fullest potential.
And so, it is important to gauge how the person feels about the tasks completed. Did they find the product intuitive? Was the process frustrating or fun? Would they recommend your product to a friend? These are some must-have questions in your test questionnaire.
Best practices for effective user testing
While the “how-to” of user testing is already covered neatly in this guide, there are some best practices you should bear in mind when conducting user testing:
- Before the test, make sure you identify the exact goals of the test. Based on this, define the user base or buyer persona you’ll be testing.
- Aim for at least five people with little-to-no knowledge about the product being tested.
- With the first test as a baseline, run a series of tests after each iteration of the product.
- Conduct the test by testing each user individually, not as a group effort. Ensure you explain to the testers what you want them to do using your product and how the test is going to work. Emphasize that this is not a test of their ability and that your focus is to look for ways to make the product better and easier-to-use.
- Observe and take notes. Do not engage the users unless absolutely necessary.
Once the test is done, you may wind up with a lot of data and feedback. Some of it may be structured (according to your predefined system), and a lot can be in the form of informal comments. Both can be extremely useful and will help you in making informed design decisions.
Prioritize issues that appeared most frequently and ones that created a big hurdle for the users. Apart from issues in your product, you’ll also learn what your users really love about the product, and which features they find appealing and easy to use. Those aspects can be used as selling points for your product.
Long story short, with user testing, you’ll learn a lot about your own product from people who originally knew nothing about it. You’ll know its plus and minus points from the user’s perspective and thus, be on the right track to make it as good as possible.
Gaurav Belani is a senior SEO and content marketing analyst at Growfusely, a content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO. He has more than seven years of experience in digital marketing. He likes sharing his knowledge in a wide range of domains ranging from eCommerce, startups, marketing to human capital management and much more. His work is featured in several authoritative business publications. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter at @belanigaurav.