Sometimes, a user comes to us for help, and we realize they are utterly helpless. They have no idea how WordPress works, and worse yet, they don’t seem particularly interested in learning. In fact, they’re making it pretty clear they would rather dictate to us what they want done and we do it for them.
If our mission is to democratize the web, then a subset of that mission is to empower our users to build their own sites. So, if we end up with a user who lacks the motivation to do so, what can we do to gently nudge them along?
Here’s a subtle technique that we can use. It draws from education research on kids (#, #), but can be applied to anyone who lacks the intrinsic motivation to perform a given task:
If a user asks for help with something, instead of choosing a single series of steps and helping them through it, offer choices along the way and ask them to decide which ones they’d prefer.
In the simplest instance, if a user asks us to recommend a theme for them, instead of picking out just one, we give them links to two or three, and then ask them to look through and pick the one they want. And then we help them with the setup.
Offering choices nudges the user to play a more active role in the process of building a site. And in doing so, we are subtly encouraging them to take ownership of their own site.
At the same time, it also distills this active role into a manageable task for them. Trying to pick from a showcase of 350+ themes can be overwhelming (i.e., the paradox of choice). Trying to pick between two recommended themes is totally doable — and not something the user can reasonably protest. And that brings us to the second benefit of offering choices:
It conditions them to start doing things for themselves, but in a way that they can’t actively resist. Furthermore, once it does come time to leave them to work on their site on their own, we’ve already spent some time helping them closely, so they’re less likely to feel like we’re being dismissive.
For instance, let’s say a user asks us to set up a menu for them. If we respond by sending them a link to the support page, they may get frustrated that we’re not helping. On the other hand, if we go over several different ways they can set up their menu first, then they won’t feel as neglected. We may say something along the lines of, “What you can do is add all the content you want to a page, publish it, and then add this single page to your main menu. That’s the simplest way to set it up, but if you want to be a little fancier, you can split up the content into smaller chunks that people can click through. To do this, you create what we refer to as a top-level menu item, and under this you add several submenu items.” And so on.
And then ideally, once the user settles on the options they want, we’ve gone over enough background information that the support page will seem less daunting. At that point, there’s a much higher likelihood they’ll be willing to tackle the support page on their own, without feeling like we’re blowing them off.
From my own personal experience, I do find that users are generally appreciative when I take a “bigger picture” view of their site and discuss different ways they can build it first, rather than just helping them through the simple tasks they request. And it all starts with offering small choices here and there, to empower and motivate.
I like to refer to this as the choose your own adventure way of helping a user. Remember those awesome kids books that are really pretty fixed in how they can end, but offer just enough binary choices that you feel like you’re playing an active role in deciding how the story plays out? Yep, just like that, but with building a site.
With enough of these little nudges, the user will gradually become more and more self-sufficient, and less and less reliant on us for every little task.
I hear this technique is great if you have kids, too: Instead of trying to make them eat broccoli, for example, you offer them the choice of broccoli or asparagus. Often (though not always, depending on how finicky your kid is), just the added element of getting to choose is enough to disarm a kid’s resistance to eating vegetables.
Give it a shot! Look for different ways of doing things, and offer these options to users as often as possible.
tl;dr: Offer choices to empower and motivate users. Okay, so that’s just the title of this post, but it pretty much says it all.