Photo by Dirk Gently
UX Researcher, Google
Apr 24, 2012
Change is good. When a product becomes more fun or makes us more efficient, we embrace change. Technology startups often lead the way, rapidly iterating in an ongoing effort to create better experiences for their users.
But dealing with change can be difficult. We’ve all experienced it. For example, moving to a new city or changing jobs might be positive in the long term, but can be formidable in the short term. When products change and advanced users suddenly become novices, you should expect anxiety to result.
Change aversion is the negative short-term reaction to changes in a product or service. It’s entirely natural, but it can be avoided — or at least mitigated. I’ll share what we’ve learned and offer some principles for minimizing the negative consequences of change aversion.
Stakes are higher than ever to launch changes in a way that minimizes anxiety and discomfort. Users of technology products (especially online) often face sudden changes they can’t control. When these changes generate strong reactions, people often turn to social media to vent — amplifying individual voices into a torrent of angry petitioners, digital torches in hand, demanding a return to the familiar, older, “better” product.
As a startup, you may not (yet) have a large user base to upset when you change your product. Early on, changes are expected and the risks of alienating users are often outweighed by the benefits of a better product experience for users. But keep in mind that at some point the balance may shift, and people who are happily using your product will react negatively to changes — unless you’ve planned ahead to minimize their change aversion.
Here are the broad categories of software product changes:
- Infrastructure changes: improvements to speed, reliability, and scalability of existing functions
- Functional changes: adding or modifying product features
- Interface changes: visual redesigns, interaction changes, information re-architecture
Of these, interface changes are the real hornet’s nest, where upsetting users’ established habits and expectations can have dire consequences.
How to avoid (or mitigate) change aversion
A savvy change-management strategy can cut down on negative reactions, focus users on benefits, and make the change more successful. While we’re still learning with every launch, some principles are emerging to mitigate change aversion:
1. Warn users about major changes. Unexpected changes catch people off-guard and can provoke a defensive response. A simple message can set users’ expectations, for example: “Soon we’ll be introducing a redesigned site with new features to improve your experience. Stay tuned!”
2. Clearly communicate the nature and value of the changes. An explicit description can help users to appreciate the changes from your perspective. For example: “We’ve redesigned our site. It’s now cleaner to save you time. Here’s how it’ll help you…”. With framing like that, users will be less prone to change aversion, such as: “Ugh, it looks totally different. I don’t know why they did this, and I wish they hadn’t messed with it.”
3. Let users toggle between old and new versions. Giving users control over the timing of the change can cut down on feelings of helplessness. Allow them to play in the new sandbox before removing the old one.
4. Provide transition instructions and support. If a city changes its street layout, residents need a map of the new streets and a way to direct lost people to their destinations. The same principle applies for your product’s alterations.
5. Offer users a dedicated feedback channel. Without a way to connect with those responsible for the changes, users will vent publicly and further entrench their negativity. Users will respect you more if you actively solicit their opinions.
6. Tell users how you’re addressing key issues they’ve raised. This completes the feedback loop and assures users that their feedback is critical to prioritizing improvements. Try a simple message like: “We’ve been listening to your feedback about the changes we’ve made. Based on your comments, here’s what we’re doing…” Leer más “Change aversion: why users hate what you launched (and what to do about it)”