Improving the Customer Experience with Usability Testing

Improving the Customer Experience with Usability Testing

  • Type: Article
  • Author: Laura Boniello Miller
  • Date: October 2018
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Usability Web Design Originally published in Kiosk Solution Magazine (August/September 2018)

As an industry, how can we do better to improve how customers experience kiosks?

From manufacturers to kiosk application designers, we must consider the customer experience early and often throughout the development, design, and deployment of a kiosk project.  When a customer interacts with a kiosk, what do they experience? Does their experience align with their expectations? Is the customer happy with their experience?

Further, how many kiosk deployers build in time for usability testing of the kiosk application and hardware prior to rollout? For a bit of outside perspective, interviews were conducted with a few user experience experts, individuals who spend their careers focusing on improving application and website user experiences by conducting research and leveraging an iterative design process. 

What are the benefits of user testing?

Libby Safford, Senior UX Designer at Tank Design advocates that testing with real users is necessary before being released into the world.  Safford states, “an easy way to do this is to identify the main task or tasks you want kiosk users to be able to accomplish, find some real customers, and observe if (or how well), they are able to complete the tasks.” 

Usability Testing of the Application can be independent of the hardware

Kiosk applications can be tested in absence of kiosk hardware (on a traditional computer or tablet), to start. Testing can be conducted in person or remotely, with such tools as:


The iterative portion comes in after analyzing the results of your test and updating the application to solve problems identified in the testing. According to Safford, User testing can be eye-opening. Being armed with insights from testing will save more work in the long run. This is also the type of quick testing you can continue to do even after you’ve deployed your application for regular optimization.

Usability TestingSome recommendations Safford makes, specific to creating user-friendly kiosk and self-service experiences, include:

  1. Keep it simple. An uncluttered interface, large and clickable buttons, plain language.
  2. Provide users with a clear path to exit or back up, or to undo any errors.
  3. Take the environment into account, whether it is loud, busy if there is servicing staff available.
  4. Consider accessibility concerns, including the height of the kiosk, the color contrast of the interface, the legibility of text.
  5. Iterate and iterate some more. The beauty of applications is that they are changeable and can - and should - be continually updated.

Testing the application remotely is one method for understanding what customers experience. 

Contextual Testing Includes Observational Testing of Hardware & Software in the Kiosk Environment

Researching the broader customer experience and gaining a better understanding of the situational kiosk environment is another aspect of research that should be conducted. If you are redesigning a subway system ticket kiosk, for instance, it may be helpful to observe and question customers buying tickets during rush hour. Conducting observational and ethnographic research on location provides information about how customers behave than can influence kiosk placement, application design, and inform expectations of kiosk usage.

Usability and Customer Experience What are the costs of not testing?

Holly Hester-Reilly, founder of H2R Product Science draws parallels between successful usability testing of e-commerce websites and kiosk applications.  From Hester-Reilly, “One of the most common cases for usability testing and improvement is e-commerce conversion. That's because it's easy to measure and high volume. A highly usable checkout flow will result in more completed purchases and more revenue. This can generate 10x returns.” Translating that to self-service applications, unsuccessful experiences will result in more customer requests for human assistance, incomplete interactions, and frustrated customers.

While traditional usability testing can be expensive and time-consuming, there are options that will allow for testing without a significant financial investment. Hester-Reilly suggests that solutions such as can provide participants at a reasonable cost. Moreover, while the expense of usability testing is clear, the cost of not testing is ongoing and can be significant.

One such cost is challenging to measure. For high-frequency kiosk use cases, the end user will have the option to find alternative methods for completing their task (chose another restaurant, visit another ATM, etc.).   When kiosks are difficult to use, they may relocate to find a more user-friendly experience. In addition, more customers will ask to speak with a human attendant. As a result, more usable kiosks will save money on support and reduce customer frustrations. Usability can also ultimately improve conversion rates.   

Other than increased conversions, why does usability matter?

Usability is not just about increasing conversions, it is about providing customers with an enjoyable experience, one that reflects well on the brand and inspires loyalty and goodwill.  This holds true for any user experience be it product, website, or kiosk. Brian Smith, Design Director at Fullstack Labs believes that “there is no greater turn off to an experience than feeling harassed by the very product you are trying to use. Customers will quickly abandon and seldom repeat using a product that makes them feel incompetent or induces rage.”  If someone has trouble with a kiosk, their feelings will likely carry over to the brand itself and can be counterproductive to the kiosk’s intention.

Another point Smith makes is that the experience should be enjoyable across demographics.  Regardless of the demographic composition of the target user, it should be accessible to users of any age and gender. 

Deployers must also consider that if a kiosk is not usable by a percentage of the population due to lacking handicap accessibility features, it does not matter how good the experience is for everyone else.  For instance, if visually or hearing-impaired users cannot interact with the kiosk, or if those in wheelchairs cannot properly reach the kiosk or touch the kiosk screen, that population will automatically be excluded from use. A lack of accessibility can be interpreted as a disregard for that population and may inadvertently spread a larger message about inclusiveness as a company value. Of course, there is also a potential hard cost to being non-accessible, in the form of lawsuits or government fines.

While kiosks are meant to provide a service, share information, allow users to perform a task, and any number of other goals, kiosk usability is a key component to how successful a deployment is and the ultimate impact on customer perceptions.  Deployers and designers must take the time to run tests throughout the development process, and even once a project is deployed. This iterative approach to kiosk projects will only lead to happier users and more productive kiosks – and ultimately a more positive perception of kiosks in general.