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Why the path of least resistance leads to higher conversion rates

Why the path of least resistance leads to higher conversion rates

Although somewhat out of vogue, and perceived as an overly academic term, “Human–computer interaction” (HCI) perfectly describes the challenge we face in trying to create effective dialogues between people and automated systems.

We see daily examples of when that human–computer relationship breaks down, exposing technology which hasn’t been designed to cope with user behaviour that doesn’t conform to the very narrow definitions that have been programmed into a system.

Very often, what we provide online is inherently anti–human. We build systems that would be best used by other technology, not people. And when technology or automation has the upper hand, it’s painfully obvious.

In project workshops, we study this exact situation through an exercise named ‘Wizard of Oz’. In this a scenario is played out between a human user and a machine that only understands the world through a ‘script’ it has been programmed with. It is often hilarious, and highly effective in highlighting the distance that very often exists between someone’s expectations  and what they have to negotiate in order to achieve their goals.

Every time we introduce complexity into a process that the human users of the system expect to be easy, we create friction. And this friction will cause drop–offs, and abandonment in any online conversion process.

But it’s not always the case that we simply lay the blame at the feet of technology. All too often, a simple lack of understanding of what the user might be thinking creates friction though an inability to answer simple questions, dispel lingering doubts, or failing to meet basic expectations.

Whether the conversion is clear–cut – such as the sale of an item – or more nuanced, where it may be a lead or qualified lead, the principles remain the same. What are the objections, expectations and questions a user has when they come to your website?

When we talk about “conversions” in the field of design for the user experience, we tend to see the path to conversion in a slightly different way – as a series of decisions, taken by humans, at key interaction points in a process, which ultimately lead to a successful outcome both for the user and the organisation. Not particularly catchy I’ll admit.

By mapping out where friction and resistance might occur in any desired user journey, we can begin to plan around it, counter and lessen it. Planning around them can take any number of forms, and they all hinge on one thing: how well you know your users.

We use a number of tools to communicate how a customer journey might look across a website or app – personas, task models, experience maps among them. One tool we are using increasingly is what we call a ‘resistance map’.  This lays out simply and clearly the key points in the user’s journey to a final decision, what questions need to be answered, in what sequence, and what that demands from the website’s content and design.

Our goal should always be to make decisions easier for the user, and to abide by rule number 1 of the web, as stated in the title of Steve Krug’s seminal book from 2000: “Don’t Make Me Think”.

By systematically addressing the needs of the user, we minimise friction and resistance, engender trust and increase confidence. And the path we create out of this, that of least resistance, leads to online success.

By Rick Monro

Rick was UX Director at Fathom from 2014 to 2017, when he left to take up a role as Principal UX Architect at Puppet.

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