• Chasm Communications

A Great First User Experience

April 18, 2017

Even in the digital world, we don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.  So, even if your website or product is great, if the first use experience is dismal, chances are users won’t return.

So how do we define a "first time use experience"?  It is generally considered the first time a customer interacts or uses your website or product; however, first time use actually begins the first time the customer is directly or indirectly introduced to your website, product or brand.  This is a critical time when customer adoption is won or lost.  Unfortunately, many products fail to create a great first time use experience and customers never get to fully experience what the product has to offer.  In this article we'l discuss the importance of the first time use experience and 4 tips for creating successful first time use experiences. 

"80% of companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience but only 8% of customers agree." ~ Bain and Company from Harvard Management Update

Many years back, before DVDs, VHS players were used to watch and record movies.  I remember the first time I attempted to use my VHS player to record a show and as I recall it was a disaster.  The experience was less than intuitive and I’m sure like many others attempting this for the first time, there was a point when I wanted to give up.  VHS technology was new and generally complex and accompanying manuals offered little to no assistance, leaving you to just "figure it out".  Some of us figured it out, while others said, “Forget it!” and refused to use it.  Today, consumers have options, and unlike the days of the VHS player, they simply won’t waste time “figuring it out”. 

Tips for Great First Use Experiences

Creating a great first use experience should begin with these tips:

Tip #1 - Make the need for your solution or service obvious

A first time use experience begins with brand perception. A well-received brand builds trust and sets the tone for future interactions including the choice to engage or not to engage with your website or product.  It is important that you define what your product does, who it is for and ultimately, why they should buy it from you.  If the benefits are unclear, you’ve lost the game.  Don’t make your customers guess how your product will meet their needs, because chances are they may not bother.

Tip #2 - Be sure your product is simple and user-focused

As I described in my story about the VHS player, struggling to learn a complex product or website can result in lower conversion rates and possibly product abandonment.  Simply put; users will not engage if your product is difficult or unpleasant to use.  Help users achieve their goals by doing the necessary industry and user research, focusing development on exactly what the user needs and by applying industry best practices.  The goal is to create a product that is logical, easy to use, visually engaging and most of all, useful.

“The more we live with a product, the greater our bias shifts toward a professional user.” ~ Allan Grinshtein

Tip #3 - Provide the user with the appropriate level of instruction 

What may be intuitive to us as product designers, may not be as intuitive to a user.  Familiarity with a product can breed bias causing us to overlook areas where guidance or user assistance may be necessary for a user. User assistance can be provided through a variety of techniques such as short videos, overlays, tooltips or simple UI walk-throughs.  On first use, set users up for success by providing a short orientation to your product or website.  Observe users interacting with your product and see where they stumble or require assistance. If the issues detected cannot be corrected through a change in the design, use this information to proactively create guidance around these areas.  Whatever help or coaching methods you choose, make sure it is short, easy to follow and is always available if the user needs to view it again.

Testing with just 5 users can find 85% of usability issues on your website.  ~ Jakob Nielson

Tip #4 - Test, test, test

Test early, and test often.  Getting user feedback early, as well as throughout the process can save time, money and ensure that only the features your users need and want are being built. Testing real users yields more reliable data resulting in more informed design decisions and ultimately more effective solutions.  There are many testing methods available for all phases of the design process such as surveys, focus groups, interviews, personas, card sorts, prototypes, usability testing and expert evaluations.  Remember, even a small amount of testing can help, just be sure to use real users from the start.  Testing delivers a number of benefits, including:

  • Discovery of stumbling blocks that may hinder a user’s path while using your product
  • Revelation of blind-spots and oversights that are hidden by bias as designers due to proximity
  • A more robust understanding of the true needs and desires of target audience(s)

Don't leave your users' first use experience and possible future engagement with your product to chance.  Use these four tips to greatly improve first use experiences, as well over all user experiences, leading to increased product engagement and satisfaction.