In a bid to save more time and money, many companies have started using their own staff for user testing. Although this method is cheap and convenient, it is inappropriate and leads to unreliable results that do not really reflect the needs and behaviors of target users. Let us dive in and take a deeper look.
Why do they do it?
- Convenience – Internal participants are easily accessible compared to external users and are willing to dedicate time to help the company. You don’t really need a recruiter to find a participant – all you have to do is post an ad and people will turn up for the session. Moreover, you also have a variety of tools that let you communicate with your coworkers.
- Low cost – Companies have different transactional methods when it comes to paying internal employees, but the process is simple, and in many cases, does not involve any money.
- Confidentiality – Doing usability testing on an unreleased product can create confidentiality issues, especially if the product is like nothing else out there. Since employees sign nondisclosure agreements, they are unlikely to breach confidentiality.
- Attracting attention – Having employees act as test participants is a great way of increasing interest in the product. As they become familiar with the entire process, you will get invaluable UX support.
So, what’s the hitch?
Unfortunately, asking your own employees for feedback will invariably affect how sound your data is and how your employees feel about the company. More often than not, the data reflects employee bias instead of the behaviors and needs of real users.
- Since employees have prior knowledge of the company, they understand the business goals and jargon better than non-employees. They use that information to perform better in a user test, even if they don’t do it consciously. You will not see the authentic behavior, which is the main purpose of user research.
- Having prior knowledge of a project or even indirect exposure to it can affect a participant’s attitude towards it.
- Employees also have a higher motivation to use the product compared to an outsider. They tend to think that what you do is meaningful and will not take the liberty of outright dismissing what you do like an outsider would.
- Employee perspective is often clouded by what they think is the best future course of action. They make judgments based on how desirable and feasible your project is, and how much time and resources it would take to implement changes suggested by R&D. The feedback will most likely reflect this.
- Employees also feel the pressure to finish a task and spend extra time on it as they are invested in the company’s welfare.
- Internal participants might know the people who are involved in the study. Their feelings for the team members will influence their behavior. Even if they do not personally know the team, they are prone to feeling a strong connection to it as they are part of the same company. This will make them think twice before they express disappointment with the work of the designers.
- Participants might also feel a little uncomfortable being observed by their coworkers and feel the need to impress the executives who are studying their response.
When can you do it?
- If you are testing an application or intranet that has been developed for you own employees, then it makes sense to use employees as test users since they are the target audience. Even in this case, you will want to minimize bias by finding people who are not familiar or involved with the project.
- If you want to pilot a particular user test, then internal recruitment is a great way to identify the weaknesses in the test plan. If you plan to invite stakeholders or observers for the test session, make the scope of the test session clear – to give you feedback about the test structure and not the interface.
Recruiting employees as participants is not an alternative to recruiting externally. When it comes to usability testing, there is nothing that compares to recruiting actual users.