We are constantly piloting, testing and innovating at Viamo. We work to create optimal user experience for low-literacy consumers using basic mobile phones. Why do we do it? Because improvements in user experience increase impact.

Here are some things we’ve learned from improving user experience on our 3-2-1 Service:

1 – Measure What You Need to Know

This might sound simple, but take a minute and think about the project, product, or program you work on: do your KPIs measure if it’s working? Do they inform decisions that help you improve your impact? Before you can even measure the ultimate impact, you need to be correctly measuring outcomes.

Two years ago, the 3-2-1 Service measured the numbers of callers who stayed on the line for more than 30 seconds. We were incorrectly assuming that those who called for longer than this significance threshold had accessed the information they needed. In fact, once a caller has accessed the Service, they still must navigate the menus, select a relevant topic, and listen to the information. A caller who does all of these things is what we now consider a listener. Each relevant, informative, and actionable message they listen to is considered a key message. When we first measured our caller to listener conversion, we were shocked to find out it was only 37.5%.

So we switched from measuring callers and calls to listeners and key messages.

Making our product easier to navigate means hundreds of thousands more callers can access the information they need to improve their lives. These improvements are not monumental changes. They are incremental, focused, and often context specific.

2 – Balance Width vs. Depth of Options

Once we had a system in place that allowed us to observe the user journey through the system we could see how each decision point was also a potential place to lose our users.

We implemented standard best practices to balance the depth of menus with the breadth of options:

  • No more than four levels to get to a key message (theme menu, topic menu, sub-topic menu, key message).
  • No more than seven options in a menu (ideally less if the topic allows).

3 – Pay Attention to Word Choice

Choosing wording that users understand is important:

  • Avoid jargon words or phrases that will not resonate with your users, even if they are common in your office. For example “water and cleanliness” instead of “WASH”.
  • Test wording in every language to confirm comprehension and interest.

4 – Understand Selection Tendencies

Callers have a bias towards picking the first selection on a menu. Use this to your advantage:

  • Put the most essential topics and key messages higher up on the menu. This will draw people towards these messages.
  • Put beneficial themes like health and agriculture before popular dynamic content such as news. When users call for the news, they will be tempted to explore these other areas as well.

5 – First Interactions Are Crucial

Callers who do not become listeners are most likely to be lost in their first two interactions with the Service – for us this is the language selector and the welcome menu (where users select a theme).

You probably can’t remember the first time you encountered an automated language selector (think “for English press 1, para espanol, marque dos.”) because they’re now ubiquitous. However, if it’s your first time ever hearing one, or if you are not used to services being offered in your local language, it might not be so intuitive. When adding a language selector to a voice service, it should be:

  • In local languages (e.g. “para espanol, marque dos” not “for Spanish press 2”)
  • Ordered so that more popular languages are first (not English)
  • Tested to emphasize the word press/choose/select to convey the action users are meant to take
  • Repeated for convenience
  • Programmed to default to a universally understood language, where culturally appropriate, to move users to the main menu (where they can later choose to change their language)

6 – Provide Tips and Training

As a channel of information delivery, IVR allows us to reach lower literacy users with spoken languages through basic mobile phones. But these users are not all comfortable using their phones in an interactive way. They are mostly comfortable with calling friends or family or answering the phone when those people call them. These users will listen to menus on repeat, wanting to select health or news or gender but simply not understanding how to do so. For users who are new to IVR, we have found creative ways to help them learn, to teach IVR using IVR.

Previously if no selection was made at the welcome menu the call would end. Now, if no topic selection is made, callers are diverted to a short but detailed message explaining how to use IVR. An example may be:

“Oops! You did not make a selection. You need to use the keys on your phone to choose which topic is important to you. Listen carefully. Find the number you want and press the key to select it. Here are the options again.”

This message is adapted for local contexts, such as including instructions for finding your keypad on a smartphone in countries with higher smartphone penetration. Results from a number of countries show that this simple message works.

Results: Uganda & Rwanda, September 1st – December 16th, 2018

Comparing those who listened to the IVR help message (treatment) in Uganda and Rwanda, to those who hung up during the theme menu and did not reach this message (control), we observe that those who listen to this message are about twice as likely to become listeners.

We are continuing to improve our IVR help through testing wording, segmenting users, and adding gamified instructions.

Global pilots to incrementally improve UX represent real impact for real users. In January 2017, our global ratio was 37.5%. Now, our global ratio is 70.6% This represents almost 300,000 more listeners because of improvements in UX. That is hundreds of thousands more mothers who know the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, more farmers who know improved planting techniques, and more informed, engaged, and empowered people. To many of them, these changes were not incremental, they were life changing.