Written by Henry Poskitt, originally published October 2009

The out-of-box experience (OOBE) describes the users first interaction with a product or service. In the technology sector this first experience invariably involves plugging stuff in, installing some software and crossing your fingers in the hope that the product will work. The problem is that, in far too many cases, it doesn't.

Recent research conducted by Accenture in the US shows that each year consumers return millions of electronic products – not because they don't work, but because customers think they don't work. Home networking products are one of the most problematic categories. Not only is the market being hit by high volumes of product returns (68% of which are due to poor OOBE). But added to this is the cost of customer support averaging at USD 25 per call. The total cost of poor OOBE in the US alone is USD 13.8 billion.

So why are home networking products so difficult to get out of the box? There are a number of factors. Until recently Wi-Fi networking has been the domain of the System Administrator. Products, procedures, and terminology have evolved in ways that require user with specialist expertise to understand them. Recently, the demand for Wi-Fi products has exploded and consequently, the level of technical expertise has fallen. Novice users have now replaced specialist as the primary user group. However, manufacturers have been slow to recognise this – with predictable results; increased product returns and higher customer support costs.

Five Ways to a Better Out-of-Box Experience

We have completed several large-scale analysis and design projects in the OOBE field. Through our research we have documented five key steps that should be followed to improve your product’s chances of success.

  1. Know your customers
    Not everyone understands technology as well as your engineering team.
  2. Understand the purchasing environment
    How are your customers going to make a purchasing decision: based on packaging, demo, sales advice?
  3. Provide a clear and easy to use task flow
    From the outside of the box through to the set-up instructions, installation CD and quick start guide.
  4. Test your designs with real customers
    You will always learn something that can improve your OOBE.
  5. Be consistent
    OOBE is already becoming a key part of the consumer electronics brand landscape.
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