Performance support tools have been extremely effective in providing concise and relevant information to its users right when they need it. The user could be anybody- a newly onboarded person on a product looking for help, an employee undergoing training, or a person working on a software, who needs just in time information to finish his task in hand.
But, before creating one such tool, you will need to have a clear understanding of three issues – why, how and what to do? After you have a fair understanding of all the three answers, you can go ahead and create it.
The reason behind why you need to create a performance support tool is simple – to accelerate user productivity and performance. The equivalent of one day per working week – is wasted by employees searching for information to do their job effectively. But if you use performance support tools for the same, the time taken can be cut down to a great extent. Apart from this, it has so many added advantages that we had to devote an entire article to how performance support systems accelerate user performance.
Now coming to the how and what part of it. The creation of an electronic performance support system(EPSS) needs to be done in two phases –
– In the first step, you identify all the characteristics of an electronic performance support system as per your business requirements.
– And then in the second step, you incorporate all those characteristics into a system in phases – making it better with each new phase.
This article talks about how to incorporate the desired characteristics of performance support tools into a system to make it a fully functional EPSS. We have broken down the entire process of creating it, into three phases.
Before you read further – the EPSS discussed throughout this article is used on a web app/website, and helps users carry out tasks on the app/website efficiently. Also, the terms – EPSS, electronic performance support tools, and performance support software are used interchangeably in this article.
The EPSS created in this phase would be in its most nascent form, exhibiting only the key EPSS characteristics. And what are those key performance support tools characteristics? As per a research report by Michigan State University, there are mainly five of them. The first one stating that “an EPSS should be computer based”, which it definitely will be in our case. So let’s skip it and talk about the remaining four key characteristics.
– Ability to provide access to specific information needed to carry out a task, right when it needs to be performed
– Used on the job, or in simulations or other practices of the job
– Controlled by the user
– Reduces the need for prior training on the tool for which the EPSS is used
It makes sense to say that, in its first phase an EPSS should be capable of providing help on the go, as and when needed. For understanding all the three phases, let’s take the example of Whatfix – an electronic performance support tool and create it in phases.
In Whatfix, for onboarding new users on the application – a task-list widget is displayed on the screen. As the name suggests, it’s a list of all the tasks a new user is supposed to carry out, to get acquainted with the application. When the user clicks on a task mentioned in the task-list widget, he can seek help to carry out the tasks, in either of the two ways:
1. Static Slideshow
It’s a simple slideshow that begins on the user screen and explains him the series of actions needed to be carried out to complete a task. The gif below demonstrates how a slideshow provides static help.
2. An Interactive Walkthrough
An in-app interactive walkthrough appears as a tooltip or balloon tip that highlights particular elements on the web-app and prompts the user to take an action.
The difference between static help and interactive walkthroughs is that – using a walkthrough, a user can read the steps he needs to perform and can also carry them out simultaneously. While in static help, the user first understands what he needs to do and then implements it. The gif below will help you understand an interactive walkthrough better.
In its first phase, apart from new user onboarding, an EPSS should also help you showcase new features on your website/app.
How do you make sure that your users take note of a new feature on your website/web-app? One of the ways to ensure this is with the use of a ‘beacon’. A beacon allows you to highlight the particular feature that you want your users to know/ interact with. The fade-in fade-out motion of a beacon is very eye-catchy and can be also be used to feature important elements like call- to-action buttons, new feature update, new promotions, etc.
The gif below shows how a beacon looks like.
In its intermediate phase, an EPSS should have the potential to train existing users along with onboarding the new ones. The existing users are the ones who have used the platform earlier and are acquainted with it, but require help only when they are stuck with a task in between. In this case, they might just be given a small refresher to recollect things they had learned long back.
This means, in this phase, the EPSS should provide different levels of learning to the user, based on his pre-requisite knowledge. This feature makes it an efficient tool for employee training.
Getting back to the example of Whatfix, in order to provide help to existing user:
-A help widget is placed over the application on which Whatfix is used – this widget, popularly known as the self-help widget, opens up to display a list of help topics. Each help topic is a how-to question in itself. When a user clicks on a help topic within the self-help widget, an interactive walkthrough begins and demonstrates the process of carrying out a certain task on the application, one step at a time.
The gif below shows, how a basic EPSS helps users to use Salesforce with ease, with a help widget.
Also, in this phase, it should be easy to edit information in the EPSS. Although this information can only be edited by a user who has ‘admin rights’ ie the one who manages the entire EPSS.
The admin simply needs to type in the information that he wants to be displayed in the tooltip, it is actually as simple as writing a word document, and at times even simpler than that.
In this phase, an efficient and fully functional EPSS is finally created. Besides all the functionalities it had in the previous phases, it’s now also capable of providing information based on the user’s learning style and his job role.
Providing Information Based on User’s Learning Style –
An individual’s learning style is the preferential way in which he grasps knowledge easily. There are mainly four learning styles: visual, auditory, digital, and kinesthetic. An EPPS in this phase should be potent enough to make learning easy for at least the first three types of learning styles.
Providing Information Based on the User’s Job Role-
Two users, with different job roles, are not required to read the same piece of information from an EPSS. For example, a person from non-technical background should be provided different information than the one from a technical one.
With Whatfix, providing information based on user’s learning style is accomplished through an ‘auto trigger’ and hypertext links in the tooltip of a walkthrough.
An auto-trigger, pops up on the user screen right after he logs into the website/app. It can contain a video/ audio clip or text (depending on his learner type) to give him a product tour kind of experience. He can also choose to ignore the popup if he thinks he knows the platform enough.
Hypertext links can be used within the balloon tips inside a task list widget or self-help widget to redirect users to appropriate further learning resources. For example, if the user is a visual learner, he can be redirected to a live video, as shown in the GIF below. If he’s an auditory learner, he can be sent to a voice note and so on.
More characteristics of performance support tools can be further added to this system, as and when a requirement pours in.
Summing it up
It was the year 1991 when Gloria Gery wrote a book on how to remake the workplace with the use of an Electronic Performance Support tools for training. Back then, it was a technology totally unheard of even by the ones who love to call themselves as tech enthusiasts.
But now this technology has gained a huge traction and is being used extensively for simplifying employee training, customer support, user onboarding, and change management. Creating one such multi-functional system is a tedious task, but if you follow the series of steps mentioned in this article, the process will be streamlined and you can soon begin using your electronic performance support software to fulfill your organizational requirements.