Why and How You Should Seek to Reduce Risk

Paul Boag

One of the main reasons people fail to act on your site is concern over the risks. If we reduce the risk, we increase conversion. But how do we reduce risk?

Any call to action has some form of risk for users, and our primitive brain does not respond well to risk. In fact, outside of cognitive load, risk is the number one reason people fail to act on our sites.

It, therefore, falls to us to reassure people by reducing any real risks and reassuring users about perceived ones.

To achieve this, we need to understand the kind of things that concern users. With that in mind, let's jump into those concerns, and after we have that overview, we will explore some solutions.

Common Concerns

The risks that users worry about will vary depending on what you are asking them to do. With that in mind, the best way to understand these perceived risks is to talk to users. However, you will see specific reoccurring subjects that come up time and again such as privacy.

Worries Around Privacy

Many users are deeply concerned about their data and irritated by companies that share it with third parties. That is especially true in light of the exposure GDPR legislation has brought to the issue.

However, this post is not about how to comply with GDPR and other legislation. It is not enough to adhere to the letter of the law if you want to alleviate concerns. In fact, some compliance rules do nothing but increase worries, such as intimidating terms and conditions, that nobody has the time to read, but they know they should.

The degree to which people are concerned about privacy will depend on their age and culture. For example, American’s tend to be more concerned about privacy than the British. Meanwhile, younger people are less worried about the subject than the older generation.

Understanding the strength of feeling will help you work out how prominently you should feature this issue on your site.

That is where user research comes in as we cover in my posts on empathy mapping and customer journey mapping. But for now, let’s turn our attention to a related problem to privacy, that of security.

Concerns Over Security

Users worry that their data might be breached, such as when Ashley Madison got hacked exposing the email addresses of thousands of people seeking affairs to the public.

High profile cases of hacking such as with Ashley Madison have left many concerned over security and privacy.

But, although people are worried about their email addresses getting stolen, they are more concerned about their financial data such as credit card numbers.

The plethora of scare stories and urban legends around credit card fraud (as well as the real occurrences) have made many paranoid about purchasing online. We, therefore, need to take every opportunity to address this concern if we need people to part with sensitive financial data.

However, it is not just third parties getting their hands on personal data that concerns people. They are also worried about what you might do with that data.

Irritations About Spam

For example, many users are sick of receiving unsolicited email. This spam puts them off of giving out their email addresses for fear of getting unwanted email.

Part of the problem is that what you see as spam is not the same as users. An email you perceive as useful can be clutter to a customer. Notifications, updates and special offers can, if sent too often, drive users crazy.

What your company considers Spam and what the user thinks are two different things. Even useful emails can become irritating over time.

That means that when asking a user to part with their email address, we should explain exactly how we are going to use it and how often they can expect to hear from us.

Users have come to expect the worst from websites, whether that is spam or even hidden costs.

On the Alert for Hidden Costs

Experience has taught users that many websites are not always upfront with the costs associated with a call to action. That might be a financial cost like a delivery charge, or it might be a cost of time, such as an unexpectedly long application process.

In our desire to encourage action we downplay the cost to the user, and this can ultimately alienate them and deny us the conversion.

Then finally there are the what if scenarios that go around in the user's brain as they seek to identify any downsides in acting.

What-If I Want to Change My Mind?

For example, a big “what-if” is what if they change their mind about whatever call to action you are asking them to complete.

If they have signed up for your newsletter and no longer want it, how easy will it be to unsubscribe?

My own newsletter call to action reassures users by explaining they can unsubscribe in a click.

If they have ordered a product and did not like it, can they quickly get their money back?

We need to focus on addressing these what-if scenarios and reassuring the worried user. But how do we do that?

Advice for Addressing Any Concern

How we reassure users will be largely dependant on the nature of their concerns, but there are some general principles worth bearing in mind. For example, we need to work harder to remove the risk!

If Possible, Remove the Risk

The trouble is that a lot of the concerns users have are justified. We do hide delivery charges and spam customers. We do take shortcuts with security or offer a poor return policy.

The problem is that those of us responsible for conversions, often don’t have the authority to address the cause. We cannot change the return policy or scrap delivery charges, so we do our best to downplay them. But in doing so, we undermine trust.

Instead, we need to start demonstrating the impact of these risks on sales. We can do that by running small trials to see how removing the obstacle will impact the number of users acting. One way of doing this is multivariate testing.

Of course, despite our best endeavours, not every risk can be avoided. In such cases, we need to do our best to reassure people. However, we also need to make sure that they will spot that reassurance when they come to act.

Don’t Make the User Search for Answers

When I run usability testing for a client, it is not uncommon for me to have to report back on perceived concerns users have. It is also not unusual for the client to then throw up their hands in exasperation because they clearly explain why users don’t need to worry about that on the site.

However, just because a site addresses a concern about the return policy, spam or delivery charges, doesn’t mean a user will see it. Users are often more focused on the task of purchasing a product or signing up for a newsletter than they are in seeking out answers.

That means, if you know users have concerns, you need to place your answers as closely to the actual call to action as possible.

We need to closely associate objection handling with the call to action.

Take for example this ecommerce mockup. Notice that the buy button mentions security, so reassuring users. Also right next to the button it talks about the return policy and delivery charges. All of this reassurance happens at the point of conversion. Users are not forced to search around the site looking for answers to their worries.

It is also worth noting the padlock on the buy button because that brings me on to another common mistake people make when attempting to reassure users about perceived risk.

Use Plain Language

I often encounter websites that fail to make their answers to users concerns easy to understand. For example, instead of a padlock and wording about security, they display a Verisign logo or equivalent. Of course, to most users this is meaningless.

That might be an extreme example, but I see variations of this all the time. Overly complicated return policies or technobabble that is incomprehensible to most people.

Privacy policies are one of the worst culprits. Written by lawyers and often referring to technology such as cookies, they are impossible to understand. Users care about their privacy and failing to reassure them will undermine conversion.

We need to fight for plain language in our privacy policies and terms and conditions.

We need to get better at reassuring people in plain language, not couched in legalise. My privacy policy is an excellent example of this. I worked hard to keep things as easy to understand as possible and provide a way for people to contact me if they have questions.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand that companies need to say certain things from a legal perspective, but that doesn’t mean there cannot be a plain language version too. Something that the average visitor can understand.

By writing in plain language we empower the user, giving them the information to make an informed decision. And when it comes to reducing risk, giving people a sense of control is the best thing you can do.

Provide the user with control

If people feel they are in control over what is happening they will be less nervous and more likely to complete your call to action. Clear communication is one way of providing that sense of control, but it is not the only option.

There are in fact lots of small ways we can empower customers from the ability to easily unsubscribe from a newsletter to let people manage their orders or track a delivery. If we provide these tools and communicate their existence to prospective users clearly, they will be much more inclined to ‘take a risk’ and complete your call to action.

Thanks to adike from Shutterstock for allowing me to use this image.

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