When customers don’t understand your terminology or topics, they can’t appreciate your product.
By Wendy Eichenbaum
I was listening to the podcast Code Switch, which examines race and culture in America. During the episode, the panel pondered how much context to provide when exploring topics. The speakers discussed the dilemma of including this context: adding explanations might water down the experience, but refraining from explanations could confuse listeners who did not have the background.
I realized that they were debating the very same issue that I discussed in my article on the knowledge gap. The sum of a user’s knowledge is the current knowledge point. The amount of knowledge a user needs to complete a task is the target knowledge point. When there is a gap between the two points, an interface does not feel intuitive to a user.
My original article focused on product design. But the podcast illustrates that the knowledge gap can be applied far more broadly. When podcast listeners don’t have the historical background, they can’t appreciate the commentary. And it’s the same for your customer experience (CX). When customers don’t understand your terminology or topics, they can’t appreciate your product.
Therefore, it is critical that you evaluate all of your touch points on the customer journey for this gap. This includes your marketing materials, blog articles, user guides, and social media posts. Will your target audience understand the concepts, the references, and terminology that you use? Or will they leave prematurely due to confusion?
To guide your content choices, return to the data you compiled about your target audience. Review your personas and customer demographics. What is their background? What are their pain points and needs? And then focus on your task research.
Competitive analyses will highlight which terms are regularly employed, and how they’re defined. You’ll need to explain new or infrequent terms and consider if you should select a more familiar term. You can forego an explanation of popular terms so you don’t talk down to your customers.
Contextual inquiries will reveal how much background and involvement users have with concepts and tasks. Then you can structure your content based on users’ experience levels, from a “101 tutorial” to no explanation at all.
Usability tests will indicate if customers can follow the directions in the user guide or a customer support call. The size of the gap will enable you to calibrate the scope of and explanations in your materials: FAQ’s, manuals, online help, and customer support topics. And when you combine this data with a competitive analysis, you’ll identify the best formats to provide the data: text, images, or videos, etc.
On the flip side, you may want to attract customers who have a particular knowledge base. Perhaps you earn most of your revenue from people who are experts in a particular subject. Or maybe you are the only company to optimize a product for a certain demographic. Then you’ll need to revise your marketing strategy to find those people.
The knowledge gap is an important concept to consider for your entire customer journey. Don’t alienate your customers before they try your product. Instead, attract and retain customers with descriptions and terms that are relevant and appropriate for their knowledge base.
About the Author
Wendy Eichenbaum has been a UX professional since the early-1990’s. She began her career as a technical writer. She then earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, studying both writing and UI design. Over the years, she has worked across verticals, from start-ups to multi-national firms, in many areas of UX including research & strategy, Information Architecture, usability testing, and focus groups. She started her own UX consulting firm in 2008, Ucentric Design. And she is an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Fullerton. There she teaches a class that she created, User-Centered Design for Web and Mobile Interfaces.