Old Habits Die Hard

Tim Deluca Smith, VP Marketing at WDS Global, discusses how best to educate users about new applications and data services

How can the mobile industry encourage more profitable usage patterns amongst consumers? Its a question on many peoples lips, because innovation in the mobile industry is like nothing else; the speed at which new ideas are realised, technologies developed and handsets launched is beyond compare. But while we celebrate this innovation, it is often the user who is left struggling to scale the heights of the technological learning curve. Indeed, many never realise the true functionality of their new device or service, perceiving it to be too complex and simply abandoning new features in a bid to return to their voice and SMS comfort zone.
Thats because if you scratch through the shiny surface of innovation, you could easily argue that not much has changed in the design and usability of mobile services and devices in the last five years. We are still expected to plough through user manuals and contend with frustratingly unhelpful error messages that seem to have been designed with the sole purpose of antagonising and disengaging us. In the background sit our mobile operators, fingers crossed that well stumble accidentally on that great new feature that may actually prompt us to increase monthly spend.
Its about time that we all took a good look at how consumers interact with new technologies.
Slow adoption of new data services still afflicts the industry, with many users simply unable to set-up and use new applications. Not only does this mean a loss in service revenue, but it contributes to the continual escalation of support costs, driven in part by end-users looking to fix troublesome services.
So we know that users dont typically read the manual (until they encounter a problem) and that while a user may change device, they wont necessarily change their usage patterns to match. But we also know that its in the first few hours of device ownership that the user is most engaged. Its in this period that he personalises the device with ringtones and graphics, imports contacts and, most importantly, explores the menus. Its a perfect time in which to introduce new services and features.
With this in min, its important that mobile devices are ready to run and configured for all services from the moment they are taken from their box and charged-up. However, as mobile devices continue to grow in complexity, this idealistic ready to run scenario becomes increasingly harder to achieve. It is also not enough to simply assume that just because a device has been configured for a service, that the service will actually be used.
Instead the need exists to encourage users, introduce them to new services and guide them through usage. This notion of on-device support, designed to captivate the user, is intrinsic in establishing profitable usage patterns and preventing subsequent (and costly) calls to customer care.
The ultimate goal for the mobile operator in the exploratory period of ownership should be to draw the user in. This is quite commonplace in the PC software industry, where applications will launch straight into a tutorial or wizard environment the first time the programme is launched. If I purchase a new handset on the basis of its camera feature, or simply if the handset I chose is heavily advertised as having a high-resolution camera, its not unreasonable to suggest that Ill give it go and take some pictures as I explore. In turn, it would not be unreasonable for the camera application to subsequently jump into an MMS tutorial, explaining the benefits of sharing photos with friends through the MMS service.
This approach also presents the user with immediate exposure to support content, and overcomes the risk of users overlooking support links that may be detached from the main operational flow of software. The presentation of support content on first time application usage is the only true pre-emptive mechanism guaranteed to expose the availability of help to the user. 
On-device mechanisms and content that are easily accessible to the user, and which guide them through the software application or service, can not only help to reduce call centre volumes, but also encourage long-term adoption of a service. Of course, the design and positioning of the content needs to be carefully designed and implemented so that is not perceived as obtrusive, or too discrete that it is overlooked; the correct approach however can prove a powerful mechanism for educating and instructing the user on how to use an
For the mobile device manufacturer, it is critical the user explores and achieves real benefit from the full capabilities of their device. If the user can benefit from the broad range of functions available to them without any usability and support barriers, they will be more likely to develop brand loyalty. Likewise for the mobile operator, the ease of use of the device provides the key to unlocking service adoption. If a user is unhindered by set-up or usability issues, they will be far more likely to adopt the service, and consequently deliver additional revenues to the operator.
The mobile industry is defined by the speed at which it innovates. Consumer demand for the latest technology has never been greater, driving new product design and service development. Unfortunately, human nature means that an end-users desire for the latest handset is not always followed by a change in behaviour or usage patterns. That end result is a lot of wasted functionality and, more importantly, missed opportunity.