If you’re a retailer, you already know that product returns cost money. When a product is returned, purchase price is refunded, and that revenue lost. That’s a direct cost of a product that doesn’t perform as promised or expected. An indirect and often overlooked cost is tech support. A customer needs help with a product and calls the tech support team. Whether in-house or outsourced, someone is paid to take that call.
Perhaps even less tangible is the cost of low customer ratings that hit in two ways. Poor online reviews and ratings reflect unhappy customers. When a product is returned, not only do you lose that purchase price, you might also lose a customer’s trust and future business. Worse, some studies indicate that 97% of consumers say reviews and ratings influence their purchase decisions, while 35% say just one negative review can make them decide not to buy. What this means to retailers is that you stand to lose customers before they ever buy even one item from you. Add that to the fact that social media enables unhappy customers to share frustrations faster than ever before, and the impact grows exponentially. What’s a retailer to do?
Understanding what drives costly returns, support calls, and poor ratings is key to improving overall customer experience and turning things around. Many times, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a product. The problem might actually be in customer communications. Maybe neither online content nor retail packaging accurately convey features and benefits. Maybe product documentation or instructions provided aren’t clear or concise. Maybe customers simply can’t find what they need when they need it. That’s where data analysis and usability can play a critical role. How can they help?
Data (tech support calls, ratings, and reviews) offers a wealth of information, but data alone is not enough. A human element is necessary for true understanding. Many companies collect data but don’t have the resources or time required to really dive in and analyze, much less learn from and leverage, what they have. Effective data analysts collaborate with usability experts and a development team to determine what’s creating problems, prioritize impact, and define an appropriate and actionable plan of attack. Data and usability provide a powerful one-two punch of “what” and “why” that goes beyond identifying problems to actually solving them. There are several reasons why both add tremendous value to product documentation:
- The value of data analysts is in their innate ability to crunch numbers—to sort and look at them in various ways and from different angles. Their expertise allows them to recognize trends and to identify both strengths and weaknesses related to product documentation that might negatively impact customer experience. Two valuable data points might be the number of support calls about assembly or an overall rating that is low, compared to similar or competitor products.
- Effective data analysts are able to pull and evaluate more than numbers alone. The best also run text analytics in order to quantify customer sentiment expressed through online reviews. For example: say dozens of online review comments for a cat tree include words like “instructions,” “directions,” “poster,” or “manual.” If customer ratings for the same product are low and returns are high, text analytics help tell a story of frustration—that product documentation for the cat tree might be vague, confusing, or inaccurate and, as such, customers are unhappy with the product.
- Usability experts add the human component needed to understand and put meaning to data. What is usability? Essentially, it refers to how easy or satisfying a product is to use that, ultimately, contributes to a positive customer experience. How do usability professionals do this?
- Most usability professionals have a background in psychology, so have an intimate knowledge of human behavior. That, with real-world experience, gained through tools like testing and surveys provides real, tangible evidence/science pointing to their conclusions. They can often anticipate user needs and, at times, pinpoint potential pain points before they even happen. For example, related to product documentation: usability experts understand how typical users install a TV wall mount. They know from user studies and surveys that people tend to use the wrong screws. They may not measure drill holes correctly. Done incorrectly, a TV could fall off the wall, which could damage both the TV and any furniture below it. Worse, it could fall on a person, causing personal injury. Usability experts work with a communications team to create instructions that help ensure a successful installation.
- Usability experts bring additional value to product documentation by understanding how customers interact with technology. Through experience and testing, they know how customers might prefer to get certain information. For example, usability experts might recommend animations on a tablet to demonstrate navigating with gestures. They might suggest troubleshooting tips in an HTML manual, accessible online, for repair technicians working in the field. Usability experts work with a communications team to select the best tools or technologies for providing the information that customers need in a way that works with the product and complements other instructional materials.
Alone, both data and usability are powerful tools. Together, they help retailers get to the truth of consumer behavior. It’s really easy to (intentionally or unintentionally) bend data to fit personal bias. Taking a team approach helps avoid that. With a strong communications team, consisting of a technical writer, graphic designer, and editor, data and usability add value to customer communications, whether product pages, packaging, marketing materials, usage instructions, or online support. By understanding what customers are saying through data, data and usability teams apply learnings to help retailers deliver products that function as promised and as expected. A positive customer experience reduces costs associated with product returns and ultimately strengthens brand image. In the end, data and usability help make people happy and, to retailers, that’s a value to the bottom line.