Site visits are perhaps the best way to get a closer look at the users while they perform in their native environment. In a site visit, user researchers, stake holders go to the office or home of the user to observe them completing tasks in the real world environment. You can observe users interacting with the website, software or a service in the midst of all the distractions (ringing phones, weird pop-up blockers, or office workers causing interruptions) of their environment. This experience is very different from that of the usability testing in a lab as the complicating factors are not present in the lab.
The users show us how they interact with our product. This process is more like a training session as the users teach us how they accomplish tasks. The goal for the company employee is to be avid observers of everything that is in front of them: the user interacting with the product, the work-space layout, behavior exhibited by the user, environmental variables that affect the user experience.
Site visits can either be entirely observational, or interactive- you can simply observe during the entire course of visit or what you can do is ask questions for more information or you can answer to the questions that user might have. The site visit can be a mix of both, but it is better to be in the observational mode for most of the time, as it allows us to understand how the user is using our product from the micro level perspective. We want the user to teach us how they use our product and not the other way round.
Successful site visits like Usability Lab tests also rely on observation as user’s perception of the experience and the reality of the experience might differ. Human beings can have hard time finding what they want on the site or software but if asked to rate that experience, they might give it a 7 out of 10 (with 10 being the best), whereas our observation would give that experience a rating of 4.
I will discuss about Conducting the Site visit, tips while conducting the site visit, its benefits, etc. sometime in the next couple of weeks.