Onboarding and Interaction Cost

BMJ Best Practice & CME / CPD Tracking Feature

In a perfect world, when a user visits a BMJ website the information they’re seeking is front and centre. It’s right there, visible and obvious. This is the zenith of usability, when zero interaction cost is levied on the user.

“The interaction cost is the sum of efforts – mental and physical – that the users must deploy in interacting with a site in order to reach their goals.”

– (Jakob Nielsen ~ Alertbox)

As you might imagine this is a rare occurrence, as most sites offer a range of interactions users are loath to perform – clicking, browsing, reading, form-filling etc etc. In addition, the user must understand, remember, make decisions and weigh up the alternatives. This can amount to a significant  cognitive and temporal effort.

Usable sites reduce the interaction cost necessary for task success. Good UI design acknowledges where an interaction cost exists and redresses the balance when this cost is considered high. If you have to impose an excessive interaction cost on the user – for example endless form inputs (I’m talking to you ‘ My Account’!) – you must pay it back as soon possible, or risk losing your users through poor usability.

This ‘cost / payback’ paradigm is particularly important at the onboarding stage, where high interaction costs can stop users in their tracks.

The BMJ Best Practice ‘CME / CPD’ Onboarding Journey

Ok, so you have a new feature that you want your users to interact with. To use it, they have to register. This is onboarding, the goal of which is to get users to cheerily provide you with their personal information so they can access a feature you want them to access. Simple, right?

Best Practice is offering users the ability to gain CME / CPD points for doing what they’ve always done -consume BP content. On the face of it, this is a free win for users. They should be happy and grateful that we are so generously providing them with this feature, right? Yes, but as ever, there’s a caveat.

For BP to track a user’s usage, they have to be logged in as personal subscribers – not institutional, not Athens or Shibboleth (our third party identity and access management providers) – and this ‘personal user’ registration journey has always imposed a high interaction cost.

To make the task less onerous, the registration process was simplified. Existing technical constraints were bypassed and the registration form surfaced front and centre on the UI. This, we felt, would reduce some of the interaction cost previously levied via the ‘My Account’ journey. So, what next?

We broke down the constituent components of the ‘new’ interaction cost for the CME / CPD Onboarding Journey (outlined below). In the interest of brevity, we’ll assume that our user has entered bestpractice.bmj.com into the address bar. Here goes (read aloud – in sequence!):

Interaction Cost diagramInteraction Cost of CME / CP Onboarding

What came to light was that the task doesn’t begin and end with filling out our much-reduced registration form.  Despite our initial thoughts, onboarding users for the CME / CPD feature is not entirely painless, and the interaction cost of the task is not insignificant.

So, what to do…

The team discussed ways to best reduce and ‘pay back’ the interaction cost levied on the user and smooth the CME onboarding process. How could we meet or exceed user expectations – a key UX goal.

After some discussion, it was decided that we bring forward the ultimate payoff for already registered personal users. CME tracking was enabled and released in the backend while the frontend was being pushed out. Thus, on first access to their CME / CPD activities, personal users will be (unexpectedly!) presented with backdated data for which they can claim CME / CPD hours. Crucially, they won’t have to wait for it to populate over time! Payoff immediate and expectations exceeded.

At least we hope so. We realise that this represents just a subset of users and, while newly registered users will benefit from the quicker registration process, they won’t get backdated data on their CME activity.

The new feature has just been launched and we await feedback from users. Responding  quickly to a real user need adheres to our our agile philosophy and hopefully our efforts to keep interaction costs down and improve product usability are successful. Watch this space.

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