Most Product Simulations Aren't All That Helpful. Here's Why.

Think back to the last time you drove a friend home.

You drive along, they give you directions, you make it there just fine.

Fast forward to the next time you go to pick them up.

Could you get there without GoogleMaps?

I’m betting the answer is no.

And if you’re a banking professional in charge of product simulations — that answer should alarm you.

The Biggest Problem with Current Product Simulations

Most product simulations are like Google Maps — they’re really handy when you’re using them, but they don’t help you actually learn the route — or in the case of banking, the product.

Here’s why that matters:

Confidence comes from mastery. And when someone doesn’t feel confident using your product the chances they’ll adopt it plummet.

Unlike GoogleMaps, your customers aren’t going to turn to your self-serve support resources everytime they need to complete a banking transaction.

Your product simulations need to do more than guide your users through a process. They need to educate and build confidence.


Building confidence through repetition

Think about the last time you learned a skill — like playing guitar.

You have to practice to be able to actually play. And then practice some more before you can confidently play.

The same holds true for learning how to use new tech.

This means you need to get your customers & staff to use your simulations repeatedly to build their confidence using your products.

The problem is (unlike learning to play guitar) learning about banking technology is well... boring.

Nobody wants to spend their free time learning about how to use remote deposit capture.

So in addition to rewarding customers for engaging — you have to make the process of learning interesting. One way to do that is by adding a challenge.

Why challenge matters

As humans we’re hardwired to want to overcome challenges.

The scientific theory that explains this is called Flow Theory.

Basically, the theory states that when we are able to overcome a challenge, the experience is so enjoyable that we will continue to try to overcome challenges, even without an external reward.

Flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

In other words, the fact that we enjoy challenge means we’ll engage repeatedly just to master the skill and overcome the challenge.

This means that if we add an element of challenge to our product simulations, customers & employees will likely engage repeatedly just to overcome the challenge  — even without an external reward.

The importance of practice

The most important caveat of flow theory however, is that the level of skill match the level of challenge.

This means when we’re designing product simulations, we need to give people a goal and sufficient opportunity to increase their skills and practice achieving it.


It’s time to get rid of the “blinking light”

Most product simulations follow the same formula: there’s a “blinking light” that shows users where to click next.

We know this doesn’t work. Following the blinking light doesn’t teach you how to use the product; it teaches you to follow the blinking light.

The problem in the past has been that alternatives to “blinking light” demos have been expensive and time-consuming to create.

But that’s not really the case anymore.

There are software options (like Lemonade) that don’t require you to sacrifice quality for speed & cost.

Putting it all together: a recipe for effective product simulations

Let’s quickly re-cap the scientific theory we just covered.

People enjoy the experience of being challenged when:

  1. They have a clear objective

  2. Their level of ability is matched by the level of challenge —OR — there is adequate opportunity to increase their level of ability

  3. They get feedback on their progress

Let’s now look at how we can directly apply this theory to product simulations. We’ve found the best way is to increase challenge without compromising speed-to-market & cost is to have different “modes” to your simulations, that function a bit like “levels” in a video game.

For example, Lemonade demos have 3 modes or levels:

  1. Guided Practice

  2. Play Mode

  3. Real Challenge

Here’s how (and why) they work:

Guided Practice

Similar to a blinking light demo, this is a practice mode that gives users clear directions on how to complete an activity. The idea of this round is to give users a chance to practice; to “level up” their abilities so they can master the next round.

Fig 1. Example of a “Guided practice mode” in Lemonade

Fig 1. Example of a “Guided practice mode” in Lemonade

Play Mode

After a user has mastered the guided practice round, they’re directed to a “play mode” which mimics a real-world interaction with the product. All the guiding tips are removed, and users must complete the action without any hints.

In addition to removing the guiding tips, there is an added challenge: users can only make a certain number of mistakes before they need to restart. This not only ups the challenge, it gives the user feedback on their progress. Users are also prompted to re-take the guided practice mode if they lose all their lives, which encourages repeated play and mastery.

Fig 2. Example of the same screen in “Play Mode” in Lemonade

Fig 2. Example of the same screen in “Play Mode” in Lemonade

Real Challenge Mode

After a user successfully completes play mode they can be directed to the actual live product. This encourages users to take the final step and actually try the product — encouraging adoption at the moment they hit flow.

Fig 3. Prompt to try out the real product after a successful “Play Mode” is completed

Fig 3. Prompt to try out the real product after a successful “Play Mode” is completed

The Bottom Line

Effective product simulations use the basis of flow theory to create an experience where learners engage repeatedly and master the product.

In other words, they give users a challenge, opportunity to practice overcoming it, and feedback on how they can improve, or master, the skill.

Conditions in which flow happens are characterized in the literature by an optimized level of challenge, a feeling of control adapted to the learner, a touch of fantasy, and feedback of the system.
— Daniel Schneider

Using flow theory not only increases engagement with your product simulations — it ensures people understand and feel confident using your products.

And that means they’ll be a lot more likely to actually adopt and use those products regularly in their day-to-day lives.