Employees Know About Usability Than We Think

In Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set,… Test!, Carol Barnum lists several great sources for internal information about users:

  • Technical Support/Customer Support
  • Training for Internal/Customer Use
  • Technical Communicators
  • Sales and Field Support

All these sources are helpful, but a recent experience convinced me that an even wider group of employees may posses powerful, but overlooked, usability information.

I placed an order for pictures on the Walgreens website, but when I arrived an hour later to pick them up, they weren’t ready.

“The order wasn’t placed,” the photo clerk informed me.

“But I placed an order,” I responded.

“You have to submit the order. A lot of people don’t notice that,” he responded.

And when I looked at the site again, he was (not surprisingly) right. I had missed a “submit” button at the bottom of a “Review and Submit Your Order” screen. Maybe the employee was just trying to make me feel better, but from the sound of it, he often encounters customers who make the same mistake. Here in my local Walgreens sits an employee with valuable usability insight worth time and effort to customers and money to Walgreens. Presumably, some of the customers who forget to submit will not repeat the order later. Also, they take up time when customer lines are long and frustrate already overworked employees.

While it’s unrealistic to expect companies to survey every employee for usability insight, it’s equally realistic than many of the on-the-ground, lower-level employees possess a wealth of usability expertise about their company’s products (and this includes employees beyond the Sales and Field Support that Barnum lists). The ultimate solution is finding efficient ways to gather to this insight and providing motivation to employees to share their knowledge. But the first step is for usability professionals to recognize that employees possess this knowledge is the first place.



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