Focus on Usage Maturity: Part II

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Meet Users Where They Are, Draw Them Deeper In

If we want users to remain our users, we ought to entice them deeper into our design ecosystem.

Attempts to extend or expand users’ usage, frequently results in designs complicated by added features, and functions. My user experience research has informed digital and physical designs often with an emphasis on correcting the usability of such complexities. Users interact with the things we design at varying levels of usage maturity. Usage maturity is a measure of users’ comfort and familiarity with, and degree of use of a product, process, or place. 

Usage maturity is different from usage. To illustrate, I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve used customer relationship management (CRM) systems of varying robustness for over 20 years. If a UX researcher asked me about my usage, they might determine that I am an expert user:

UX Researcher: How long have you been a CRM user? 
My response: Over 20 years.

UX Researcher: How familiar are you with different CRM systems? 
My response: I’ve used probably half a dozen different CRM systems and worked on the design of another.

UX Researcher: How frequently do you use your current CRM?
My response: On average, a few times a week.

Diving Deeper

Here’s where research needs to dive deeper. If you explored further, through observations, interviews, surveys, and diary studies, you would find that I use my current CRM system for just a few very basic tasks, despite two and a half years of regular use. My prior CRM knowledge hasn’t transferred well into the CRM I currently use.

This system’s user interface (UI) doesn’t lend itself to curious exploration, so it doesn’t entice me deeper into its ecosystem. It has extensive functionality and can probably do a million things – or maybe more, I’ve not quantified them – I’m merely daunted by them. 

The system is frighteningly complex and not easily learnable or navigable. Every time I attempt something new, I get myself lost in its complexity and I have to seek help. Because of the system’s complexity, “help” is usually a teammate hurriedly “showing-by-doing” vs “walking-me-through-doing,” which further hinders my exploration and learning. My usage is constant, but my usage maturity at a beginning level.

Complex ecosystems ought to be laid out so users can choose whether and when to interact with expanded features and functionality. 

Functional Priorities

Thoroughly researching users’ usage maturity discloses the basic functional priorities for beginning users and for each subsequent usage maturity level. We need to learn what these priorities are, not simply from a feature perspective, but by fully understanding the jobs to be done by users. 

Creating a new record is a functional priority for users anywhere in the usage maturity continuum for a CRM system. How detailed to make that record extends upwards through the usage maturity matrix from beginning to advanced.

  • The beginning functional priority in a CRM system is creating and saving a new record, without creating duplicate records 
    • A basic record requires a customer’s name and a unique contact identifier such as a cell phone number or email 
    • This is enough information to call up potential duplicate records and is enough to save the new record 

Functional priority: create and save a new (non-duplicate) customer record. 
Job to do: secure the trust of, build a relationship with, and close a sale with that customer

When we understand the functional priority within the larger ecosystem, we can better understand users’ needs. Creating customer records is often done while the user is interacting with the customer. 

Learning the Job to be Done

Learning a new CRM system is sometimes further complicated because the user is also learning the job that utilizes that CRM. The easier we can make creating customer records in our system the more likely our users’ success. 

In 2015 I interviewed a car salesperson named Gary. Gary was a great car salesperson; affable, knowledgeable, and gently firm, but not pushy. Yet on the day I met him, his manager had just given him one heck of an “ass-chewing” as Gary called it. Gary was not keeping records in the CRM. Since that’s the product I was there to research, I asked Gary about it. I had to draw him out a bit, but when Gary did eventually open-up he shared that he has a learning challenge that makes entering information into the system, “With all its tiny boxes and all the words crowding the boxes” really challenging. 

When he did try to enter the customer’s contact info while seated with the customer, he found he made so many mistakes that he had to ask for the information repeatedly – annoying his customer. When he wrote down their information, and took that to a computer away from his customer, he didn’t have to ask for their info repeatedly, but it took him so long to correctly enter the data, check for duplicates, and save the record, that his customer would get frustrated and leave the showroom. 

This is the difference between the functional priority and the job to be done. The functional priority must enhance the job to be done. Though Gary was an expert salesperson, he was at a beginning usage maturity using the CRM system. He was amazing at earning the customer’s trust, and quickly building a rapport with them, and obtaining their important data. The CRM system was so clunky that it hindered him, and he lost customers, which meant he lost income. However unintended, the complexity of this system reduced Gary’s ability to care for his family. Clearly, he had no motivation to spend more time with this system.

By designing with the beginning level functional priorities easily executable and designing out the hindrances, we reduce the users’ frustrations, increase their successes, and open up the potential that they may explore additional features. 

Higher Usage Maturity

Advanced tagging a record accurately is a next level functional priority and requires a higher usage maturity. 

Functional priority: appropriately tag the customer record for productive follow-up
Job to do: maintain the trust of, follow-up regularly with, further a relationship with, and close sale(s) with that customer

One quick way to lose a customer is to ask for too much information and slow down the business that customer is trying to complete!

If, upon easily creating and saving the record, the CRM system offers the ability to advance tag now, or the option to be reminded to advance tag later, the user is introduced to the advanced tag feature. They are also given an opportunity to think about how best to use that feature at a time when they’re not interacting with their customer to complete a transaction. Advanced tags could be about the vehicle preferences, the family, the financials. 

By giving users the opportunity to learn, away from the pressure of closing a sale, but still exposing them to the feature, we draw them deeper into additional features and functionality of our system and we increase their usage maturity. 

Exploring Features to Learn

Using new features in a thoughtful way can improve that user’s skills in their job. If a user can explore and learn about advanced tagging when they’re not rushed to finish whatever business their customer came to them to complete, they might learn to ask qualifying questions during their next customer interactions. These qualifying questions would enable them to properly tag that record, and better able them to serve that customer’s future needs. However, if they are required to tag that record before saving it, they might simply guess and check radio buttons so as not to delay the customer’s immediate business completion. 

Imagine Gary trying to tag a record before returning to his customer and the undue pressure that would cause. A flustered, frustrated salesperson does not create a positive experience for the end customer. This user experience completely defeats the purpose of the CRM system. CRMs are intended to house customer records and enable productive follow-up. Think about it. How likely are you to answer the follow-up calls or emails from a salesperson who was aggravated and seemed less than confident? Gary was right in his rejection of the CRM system: he was considerably more effective with his paper system. 

When users can self-pace their discovery of the features and functions of our designs they control their forays into our product ecosystem. As they become more familiar, more comfortable, and more adept at using these features and functions they increase their usage maturity. If their progressive discovery is a positive journey, they may be more likely to extend their use, and potentially to recommend our design to others.

Had Gary been able to create a new record quickly and easily while maintaining his friendly conversation with his customer he might have been encouraged to explore a next level tagging feature. If the follow-up scheduling features that make up many CRMs had been at least as easy as his paper system, he might have actually found the advanced tagging features useful. If his exploration of these features could be done when the showroom floor was quiet, he might have found time to build his skills and confidence with the system.  

Imagine Gary learns his customer has a 15-year-old kid during the test drive. His excellent memory would enable him to tag that record later to follow up and find out if they needed a good used vehicle for that kid in a year, or a new vehicle to replace the old one they’re handing down to that kid. If he called them in a year, and they had another friendly chat, he might learn that they planned to wait until that kid graduated college before they helped them get a vehicle. Tagging this record for steady follow-up “Hellos” over the years, might work better than Gary’s paper system which he might forget over the course of six years. 

Well-designed products, processes and places, expose features, functions, and integrations at a progressively discoverable pace. We first need to meet users’ beginning functional priorities and then gently expose the features which meet functional priorities further along the usage maturity matrix. Users’ exploration of increasingly advanced offerings brings them along into higher levels of usage maturity. They don’t just continue usage, they extend, expand and sometimes even evangelize our designs.

Alesha Arp

Alesha Arp is a Senior User Experience Researcher whose work has informed the design of software platforms, digital and physical spaces, and business processes. At MIND Research Institute, her plate and heart are full with UX research, CX strategy and impactful design of digital, physical, and experiential products for pre-kindergarten through high school students and educators Alesha earned her Master’s in User Experience Design, Information Architecture and Knowledge Management from Kent State.
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