One of the most frustrating experiences in my career was caused by Microsoft Excel. Unlike the thousands of other people who can say that, I wasn’t even using Excel at the time.
I was testing a prototype of a personal finance management app with a user who was already a habitual budgeter. They were delighted by the app’s ease of use and helpful automation. But, at the end of the testing session, the user said that, while using this new app was a better experience overall, they’d probably just stick to using Excel, like they did at the moment.
As appealing as the new solution was, the user’s current solution was good enough, so they didn’t want to switch.
In my experience of new product development, ‘good enough’ is often the enemy of great – and it’s very often an unexpected enemy. Product teams can easily get so immersed in researching competitors that are similar to them that they forget to consider alternatives that are more basic and DIY.
For instance, I once helped a client explore whether they should build a password manager that appealed to the mass-market, unlike many existing services which seem to target just techy people. They had reached this idea after reviewing the web and software offerings in this space – but they hadn’t considered the most popular ‘good enough’ competitors. Ultimately, it was just too hard to beat the convenience and simplicity offered to people by noting passwords down on their phone or a piece of paper hidden under their keyboard.
What’s the appeal of ‘good enough’?
Why do people prefer to stick with inferior, but familiar solutions instead of switching to the amazing new alternative you’re offering? Here are the most common reasons I’ve seen.
One of the great, underappreciated truths of UX is that all users are lazy. People fundamentally want to do as little as they can to achieve their goal, in almost every circumstance. If it’s too hard to switch to a better product – or if people just suspect it might be hard – they will often choose to forego the benefits of the better product. They weigh up the advantages of the new product with the effort of signing up and learning how to use it and, much of the time, decide it’s not worth the effort.
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People don’t weigh up effort versus benefits only when they’re deciding whether to try a new product. They also do this calculation as they go through sign-up, onboarding and the first few uses. If your product fails to deliver sufficient benefits quickly enough, you’ll find your retention rates are rock bottom, as your users revert to their previous, good enough solution.
The good enough solution definitely has its problems, but the users know what those problems are, and they’ve probably worked out how to get around them. A new solution offers potentially more benefits but also potentially other drawbacks or greater drawbacks.
No product is perfect, and it can be extremely frustrating to set up and start using a new product only to discover it has a limitation that makes it unfit for your purpose. Even if the limitations are minor, users still have to put effort into learning how to work with or around them.
Fear of encountering these problems puts users off switching from the devil they know.
Lack of awareness
Lack of awareness is a particular problem for new categories of product. If your users aren’t already using a product or service like the one you’re offering, they may have never even considered that such a product is available. And it’s impossible to shift people away from a good enough solution if they don’t believe a better one is available.
How to overcome ‘good enough’
Because we do so much new product development, the team at Adaptive Lab have developed a toolkit to tackle the tyranny of ‘good enough’ solutions. The only thing you need to get started with these is to know what your users’ ‘good enough’ solutions are.
Identifying triggers for hiring and firing
It’s likely that at least some of your potential market have given up on the good enough solutions before now. Find those people and ask them about the switching process. You’re looking to find the trigger moment when they decided either to ‘fire’ the good enough solution or to ‘hire’ a better alternative.
These moments will help you understand the factors that are powerful enough to overcome user inertia. Factoring these into your product experience and marketing messages can boost adoption rates. For a great example of how this works, read Chris Spiek’s blog post, Developing Your Nose for Energy.
Work out the path to adoption for your product
Once you know the reasons people give up on ‘good enough’, and how and when that’s likely to happen, you can use this knowledge to overcome a lack of awareness of your product category.
Map out the user journey (or, more likely, the journeys) of firing the good enough solution and starting to look for alternatives. You’ll want to base this on research like customer development interviews, or at least do research to validate the assumptions you’ve made.
With this map, you can generate and test different ideas for getting the attention of your would-be customers when they’re most receptive for solutions that are better than ‘good enough’. For instance, could you run PPC adverts against searches for how to repair a ‘good enough’ solution?
This kind of activity fits neatly into the overlap between product and marketing, and works best when the person or team tackling them have both skillsets.
Make sure you’re balancing immediate and long-term value
No regular readers of this blog will be surprised by the idea that products need to offer their users value. But we often forget that products need to do this really quickly – if your product hasn’t helped or delighted your user within the first couple of uses, you’re at risk of losing that user.
Reminding users of the value that will come from continued use is a good idea, but you’ll really struggle to retain users if that’s all you can do.
Even if the main benefits of your product emerge after weeks and months, start thinking of what kind of value you can offer your users straight away. For instance, while you wait for your clever personalisation algorithm to start curating content, can you show users some of the most popular content among people like them?
Take another look at the hiring and firing research you did: you may find additional short-term needs there that you haven’t previously considered.
It seems counterintuitive, but (for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above) you need to consider the ‘good enough’ competitive solutions which offer a limited, inadequate experience as well as the market leaders. These techniques are a starting point for helping your product beat ‘good enough’ – but I’m sure there are more out there. If you know of any, please share them in the comments.