The Importance of Usability in Your Self Storage Software
Tim Schlee |April 10, 2014
How “usable” is the software you employ at your storage facility?
Usability may seem like something you don’t need to know a lot about. Either a software is easy to use or it’s not, right? But there’s actually a lot that goes into usability testing, and a lot of it would be useful for you, the consumer, to know about. The more you know about how a software provider makes its software usable, the easier it will be to make an informed decision about which software to purchase.
So let’s look at usability and how it can help you make the right choice in selecting software for your self storage business.
What Is Usability?
Usability is a bit of an umbrella term that software developers use to refer to a number of features that help make a program easier to use. The Nielsen Norman Group identifies five components of usability:
Learning more about each of these components will help you to make a more informed decision about what software to invest your time and money in.
It’s important to distinguish usability from utility. Utility refers to the actual capabilities of the program. It answers the question, “Does this software meet all my needs?” Usability, on the other hand, answers the question, “How easy is it to use this software in order to meet all my needs?”
Usability is something many companies spend a lot of time testing. Some software providers settle for simply asking test participants qualitative questions such as, “Do you enjoy using this software? How easy is it to use?” This, however, is not true usability testing, which involves rigorous, controlled studies that analyze the speed and ease of use of various functions in the software.
Let’s take a closer look at the five components of usability!
The Five Components of Usability
How quickly can you learn to use the software?
You might have a tough time figuring out how to do something the first time, but that doesn’t mean the software is too difficult. Highly learnable programs become easier over time. In usability studies, testers ask participants to perform similar actions and measure the time it takes the participants to perform these actions. As participants perform more and more similar actions, it becomes easier and they are able to do the tasks more quickly.
Let’s take a look at an example:
You’re testing two different kinds of software for their lead management tasks. Software A is a little difficult at first – 90 seconds – but as you enter more and more lead information, it proves to be highly learnable. By the sixth task, you’re taking only 25 seconds.
Software B, on the other hand, is easier at the beginning (only 70 seconds) but does not offer a lot of room for improvement. It’s not a difficult software, but it’s also not very learnable. In the end, the average time it takes you to enter lead information is nearly 15 seconds longer than Software A. With such a disparity in learnability, Software A seems to be the better long-term investment.
How quickly can you perform the desired task?
In the learnability section, we looked at the length of time required to accomplish a task. The very first times took a while because you were just getting to know the software. Once it levels off, we find the amount of time that a particular task will take you each time you want to perform it. This is efficiency.
The faster you can perform a particular action, the higher the efficiency.
Let’s return to our lead management example. How long does it take you to enter a lead into your lead tracking or facility management software? This is an action you will likely perform a lot, every single day. A quick and easy process is almost a necessity. At 39 seconds, Software B takes 14 seconds longer than Software A for a single lead.
If we expand our view to look at the time spent on lead tracking throughout the life of your software, the disparity will become even greater. Let’s say you enter information for two leads a day and use the software for three years, or 1,095 days. How much time will the two programs eat up?
After three years with Software A, we’ll have saved 8.5 hours on lead tracking compared to Software B. That’s more than a full day of work! Do you really want to pay your manager for an extra full day of entering lead information?
How quickly can you remember how to use the software?
Memorability is similar to learnability. We want to know how fast the times drop as you use a software more. Memorability, however, refers to how quickly you can remember how to perform tasks as opposed to how quickly you can initially learn them.
Let’s say we’re looking at the steps you take to handle severely delinquent accounts. The really bad ones that you’re probably going to have to take to auction. They don’t happen too often, so you might not have handled that part of your billing or CRM software in several months. How quickly do you remember how to perform all the tasks the program requires?
Let’s look at another graph, similar to the learnability graph:
Here you only encounter the task every few months. Software A starts out a little tougher, taking 75 seconds to perform the desired task before dropping down to 30. Software B is easier to learn initially, dropping from only 60 seconds to 30. When we encounter the same task again in June, however, Software A proves to be far more memorable. It only takes you 45 seconds to complete the desired task.
Software B, on the other hand, is not memorable at all. It takes you 60 seconds again to perform the task. This can end up wasting you a lot of time. No matter how learnable or efficient a software is, you don’t want to end up re-learning the thing from scratch every time you have to perform an action.
How often do you encounter errors in the software?
Nobody likes errors. While I’ve yet to encounter an error-free software, some are more error-prone than others, and errors can end up costing you a lot of time to fix. Let’s assume it takes an average of about 30 minutes to fix an error between your own attempts to solve the problem and calling customer support for help. How much can that add up to in a year?
If Software A makes only one error a month, you’ve wasted six hours per year on hold, frustrated, and possibly swearing. If Software B, on the other hand, makes two errors a month, you’ve wasted twelve hours each year. That’s a lot of time. A program that makes fewer errors can save you a ton of time and money.
On a similar note, learn what you can about a provider’s customer support services before making any kind of commitment. If two software companies make a similar number of errors, but one has exponentially better customer support, you’d obviously want to choose the one that will help you solve your problems faster.
How much do you enjoy using the software?
Your level of satisfaction is important. Even if the numbers tell you a particular software is fast, learnable, and memorable, it can be tough to get past a poor design. Maybe all the font is bright yellow and gives you a headache. Whatever the reason, you need to consider how much you (and your manager) enjoy the software in addition to how well it works.
Or maybe you’re trying out a program that looks fantastic on its own but has trouble integrating with your website analytics, your lead tracking, or your gate management software. It’s good to know all the numbers that usability testing can provide, but in the end, it might be something else that directs you toward or away from a particular brand.
Be Proactive in Your Search for Self Storage Software
With this information, you can speak the language of software developers to better understand the steps they have taken to ensure a high level of usability. Don’t be afraid to ask about the extent of their usability testing.
By being proactive instead of reactive, you can identify problems with a software’s usability before you make any kind of commitment. It’s never fun to stumble over difficulties after you’ve already bought a software or signed a contract.
With this guide in hand, you can make an informed decision and find the self storage software that works best for your needs!