The Importance of "Occasional User" Requirements | TechWell

The Importance of "Occasional User" Requirements

Organizations in both the public and private sector are increasingly providing consumers with the ability to interact digitally, rather than in-person or by phone. For the right type of interactions, online self-service can provide convenience to the customer while also saving the service provider money. The UK government’s stance of “digital by default” illustrates the weight that this argument is given.

When processes move to the web, non-functional considerations—including usability—become crucial. There is often a perception that certain sections of the community will simply refuse to use online self-service tools. This doesn’t have to be the case.

In Chelmsford, UK, the council recently introduced online self-servicing for a range of services, and they were surprised at the uptake. In a Computer Weekly article, council sources are reported as saying; "…we were surprised by how many people were willing to do it, particularly for senior [citizens], which is the customer group perceived most difficult to self-serve."

A particularly important dynamic in situations like this, where each individual user might log on only occasionally, is to ensure that the system is designed to cater to infrequent users. You might log on to your Internet banking website every week; if so, it’s likely that you’ll be prepared to accept a slight learning curve. However, you’re likely to have less patience for systems you access only occasionally. I know I’d be unlikely to go paper free and log in once a year to view an annual pension statement if the system were extremely hard to use.

The important point here is that occasional users are likely to revert back to more traditional, offline methods if the online equivalent isn’t immediately intuitive. There is little benefit to them for taking time to learn the system—as they’ll only be using it once a year. If left unchecked, this could significantly impact the business case for moving a process to the web.

In the article “Usability—The Critical Factor in SharePoint User Adoption,” Neicole argues that it’s important to understand which user tasks are common but also which are critical. Clearly common tasks will be undertaken frequently and need to be intuitive and easy—but tasks undertaken occasionally may still be critical, and therefore the system needs to enable users to undertake them as effectively as possible. This is a useful perspective.

However, providing an excellent user experience shouldn’t be confused with providing less functionality, as Scott Sehlhorst argues very logically in his article “Why Being Simple Is Better Than Being Simplistic”. As Scott quite rightly reminds us:

There’s a difference between easier to use and does less. Removing a capability from your product doesn’t make your user’s life simpler—the problem doesn’t go away, just your solution to it.

For us, as business analysts, the key lesson is to make sure we understand why certain types of users are going to be accessing the system and at what frequency.

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