A list of equipment to install in the My Spectrum app.

CenturyLink self-install instructions

How might we make the self-install process clearer and easier for customers to follow?

A growing majority of customers choose to self-install their internet equipment to save time and money, do it on their own schedule, and feel accomplished of having completed the setup themselves.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when technician installs were unavailable, helping CenturyLink customers successfully install their services became even more critical. With potential savings of $16 million per year, there’s a clear financial incentive to make sure self-install customers can easily follow the self-install process without having to call about questions or issues that could be addressed in the instructions. 

make it better in one week

The Customer Experience (CX) team requested that our team update the paper instructions included in the self-install kits. The team consisted of a UX researcher who had been researching self-install, and me.

The existing instructions had been tested with real customers, and we knew there were some important issues to address. However, we only had a week to get something to the printer, so I had to look for the biggest improvements I could make within the existing one-page format.

Side 1 of the previous self-install instructions, which asked customers to determine the path they should take based on whether  they have already signed the Terms and Conditions.
The previous instructions (front)
Side 2 of the previous self-install instructions, which asked customers to determine the path they should take based on whether  they have already signed the Terms and Conditions.
The previous instructions (back)

Project goals

  • Improve the one-page design based on the findings of previous research, and deliver it to the printer within one week.
  • Design and test a proof of concept for the next iteration of self-install instructions.

Most customers couldn't remember if they'd signed the Terms & Conditions, so they weren't sure which path to choose.

The diagram didn't provide enough detail to be considered "instructions."

Customers sometimes downloaded the wrong CenturyLink app.

Even little things, like having to enter the URL perfectly, suggested that this process was complicated and easy to mess up.

understanding the issues with the existing instructions

To understand what we'd learned from testing the existing instructions, I sat down with Linda, a UX researcher on my team. I also watched several recordings of these sessions to get a sense of how real customers were feeling during self-install.

From the customer perspective, there were five questions that often arose from the current instructions:

  • Which path do I follow? The existing instructions had three paths for self-install, and the choice they should make hinged on the customer remembering whether they’d previously accepted the Terms and Conditions. Only 55% of customers accept the Terms and Conditions before they self-install, and most customers don’t remember doing so, leading to uncertainty of which path to choose.
  • Where am I? Customers often lost track of where they were on the double-sided one-page sheet, so they’d resume the flow in the wrong place. 
  • Do I use the mobile app? Customers often preemptively downloaded the CenturyLink mobile app because they expected they would need to use it during self-install. But if they used a different self-install flow, they were unsure of when to actually use the app. Some customers also downloaded the wrong CenturyLink app.
  • Why isn’t it working? About 33% of customers began connecting the modem without reading the instructions. Even if they connected everything correctly, however, the activation will not work if they haven’t accepted the Terms and Conditions. At this point the customer referred to the instructions to try to figure out why it’s not working, but their next step was unclear.
  • Do I have instructions? Several customers commented on the absence of instructions, which was fascinating. There seemed to be a clear mental model of what instructions are and look like, and the existing instructions didn’t match it. As a result, some customers felt unsupported and less confident they’d be successful with their self-install.

why are the existing instructions the way they are?

I had lots of questions about the existing instructions, as well as the self-install workflow, so I interviewed five different stakeholders for the project: supply chain, mobile app, web, zero-touch (plug-and-play) activation, CX and internet product.

A user flow of the self-install process, from ordering to installation.
A summary of the self-install workflow.

I learned that self-install as a whole didn't have a leader. Instead, it was a collaboration between different departments, but there wasn't a person or team who was overseeing the entire self-install journey and determining the strategy for self-install. As a result, the instructions had become an amalgamation of the requirements for each team (mobile app, web, and zero-touch activation), instead of a singular, cohesive experience for the customer to follow.

which path is "best"?

The three paths represented in the existing instructions each had their strengths and weaknesses.

But to add some objective measures, I asked for data around each path, particularly activation success rate and call-in rate.

While the organization did not have clear data, especially for call-in rate by activation method, through proxies we were able to come up with decent estimates for activation success rate.

Zero-touch activation (AKA "plug and play") had the highest success rate at 78%. However, only 40% of customers qualified for zero-touch activation, and customers have no way to know if they're qualified or not. Also, if the self-install doesn't work or they still have to accept the Terms and Conditions, the customer will have to visit the web self-install app or mobile app.

The web app had a higher success rate, but the site was essentially a dead end. It was a legacy property and there were no plans to update the site to improve the user experience.

The mobile app had the lowest success rate, but it also had the most potential. There were more resources being invested in the app, and it's a tool the customer can continue using in later phases of the customer journey, like managing their services and getting support. The app could also mask some of the backend processes from the customer. For example, if the customer still needed to accept the Terms and Conditions, the self-install flow in the app could simply present that screen as if it were a part of the flow.

Setting the strategy
refocusing on the app as the primary path

Based on what I’d learned from previous user research and conversations with our stakeholders, driving people to the mobile app seemed like the best strategy for matching customer expectations to download an app to complete a self-install flow and masking behind-the-curtain process issues like accepting the Terms and Conditions.

The app also would provide a consistent customer experience regardless of their individual situation:

  • If the customer is eligible for zero-touch activation, the app would simply provide confirmation that activation was complete. Then the customer would have the app to manage their account and WiFi moving forward.
  • If the customer has to accept the Terms and Conditions, that step would be baked into the self-install flow.
  • If the customer needs step-by-step guidance on how to connect their equipment, they would find that in the app’s self-install flow. 
  • By having the app at the outset, the customer will be to meet their other immediate and future needs, such as customizing their WiFi name and password.

This reframed the goal of the one-page instructions from presenting the customer with three potential paths to simply prompting the customer to download the app.

the short-term solution
iterating on the one-page design

Before I joined the project, two of my colleagues were testing another version of the one-page instructions. This one-sided version led with driving customers to download mobile app to do self-install, but also had brief instructions for connecting the modem to the computer.

An intermediary redesign of the self-install instructions that prompts the customer to first download the CenturyLink app. It also has an option at the bottom to connect the modem to your computer if you can't download the app.
An iteration two colleagues had created based on early research findings.

This version had also undergone some testing, with these results:

  • Most customers downloaded the app, even if they’d already used the instructions at the bottom of the sheet to connect their equipment. This was in line with the other research that suggested people expect to download an app to complete their self-install.
  • Once in the app, they verified they’d connected everything correctly.
  • For customers, “instructions” meant step-by-step connection instructions.

Based on this info and previous research, I decided to drop the section with directions on connecting the modem to a computer and focus on the app instructions, which could become even more simplified.

The redesigned version of the one-page instructions, which prompt the customer to download the CenturyLink app and start self-install from the app screen. There are also a couple of links to get support via chat, phone or self-help videos.
The new version of the one-page, one-sided self-install instructions.

After sign off from our stakeholders, I delivered this new version to our supply chain manager and printer.

Knowing that customers had downloaded the wrong app in previous testing, I added a larger image of the app icon to reinforce the correct app to download.

Given the increase in QR code usage during the pandemic, I also added a QR code as a way to download the app. In the two-week pilot program for this one-pager, 80% of customers downloaded the app by scanning the QR code.

This version was a big improvement: it didn't ask customers to remember if they'd accepted the Terms and Conditions, and it was one-sided to prevent the customer from getting lost.

Not knowing where to go for support was a common complaint in previous testing, so I wanted to provide several ways to get help and troubleshoot.

Explorations for the future
how might we support different learning styles and tendencies?

Two things stuck out to me from the previous research:

  • 33% of customers tend to connect their equipment without looking at the instructions.
  • 80% of people didn't believe they had instructions in their self-install kit. In other words, the one-pager in the box didn't count as "instructions."

These points suggested that there was an opportunity to keep iterating on the instructions to support different learning styles and tendencies, as well as better fit the customer mental model for instructions.

how do other companies with a wide customer base instruct?

I researched other companies in the home technology space, as well as other big brands with diverse customer bases, including Google Home, Ring Doorbell and Kraft. I also looked at Lego and IKEA as examples of universal design—companies that communicate to a broad audience of different ages, abilities and languages with one artifact.

Sample of Ring Doorbell instructions that show large copy and illustrations.Sample of Lego instructions, which show large numerals for the step, number and type of parts needed, and insets for added detail.Sample of IKEA instructions, which show an illustration and quantity of everything that's in the box.Sample of Kraft Mac & Cheese instructions: 3 simple steps to cheesy goodness, with accompanying illustrations.

There were several commonalities among these instructions:

  • Use large type.
  • Show a single path with clearly numbered steps so customers can identify where they are in the flow and what they need to do.
  • Show what comes in the box. Help the customer identify the needed items and indicate what may not be used.
  • Use large visuals/diagrams instead of long blocks of copy.

With these takeaways in mind, I began exploring a concept for a short instructional booklet.

designing an illustration-based booklet

Knowing that people equated "instructions" with the connection steps, I broke down the connection steps into separate panels with large numerals to indicate the step, as well as brief descriptions of what to do.

An early exploration of what an illustration-based self-install booklet could look like. This version had accompanying written instructions for each step.
My first exploration of a self-install instruction booklet.

Then I wondered if I could reduce the copy even more and use only illustrations to communicate. In theory, this would be even more universal since they could be understood regardless of primary language spoken. An illustration-based approach also could better support people's tendency to skim or not even read the instructions.

Another early version of the illustration-based self-install booklet. This version didn't have any copy, just illustrations for each step.
A version with no instructional copy—just illustrations to communicate.

The sequence of the steps was intentional: after steps 1 and 2, while the modem booted up and connected to the network (which takes one to a few minutes), the customer would be downloading the app. Thus we could minimize their perceived waiting time.

Also, as more customers qualified for zero-touch activation and could essentially "plug and play," leading with the two connection steps would help future-proof these instructions. Like the one-page version of the instructions, downloading the app would be to simply confirm the activation was successful or allow for troubleshooting, while introducing the customer to the app as a tool to manage their services and account.

But would the illustrations be interpreted as intended? At this point, I chatted with Linda, my UX research colleague, about testing the booklet with real customers. She had been testing self-installs with customers on a semi-regular basis, so after getting our next tester's mailing address, I headed to FedEx to have a copies of the prototype booklet printed and shipped to our next two customer testers.

I liked how Ring balanced large copy for the main step, with more detailed copy and an accompanying illustration.

The insets in Lego's and IKEA's instructions are also helpful for showing details.

user testing
can people self-install without written instructions?

testing the booklet prototype with real customers

We were able to test the booklet prototype with two customers who were self-installing new modems.

Both quickly took inventory of what's in the box, and both were able to easily complete the two connection steps. However, the third step of downloading the My CenturyLink app caused some confusion.

“Do I go to the CenturyLink app that I [previously] downloaded? I would say that I would have to open the app.”
"Now I'm not sure where to go from here... looks like maybe setting up an app on my phone."

Although the second customer wasn't able to complete their activation due to a faulty DSL jack, both customers gave high ratings to the instructions (10/10 from the first and 8/10 from the second).

They also had some feedback on what could be improved.

  • The first customer wasn't sure to do with the old modem they had replaced.
  • They felt some copy would provide needed clarification in a few places, specifically the step about downloading the app and a few of the dos and don'ts.
"When you get to page 3 where the app store is, you have questions there. Would probably be better to say 'download this app.'"
"Just tell customer to download app and set it up. I can assume but not always good to assume."
"Not sure about bottom left [illustration]. Don't know if that's an arrow or what. Those cause some questions."

These tests also validated the strategy of driving to the mobile app. Neither customer was bothered by having to download the app—a stakeholder concern—but rather they expected to do so. 

Stakeholders were also concerned about older demographics, in particular, struggling with the app. Yet one of the testers, who is in their 80s, had downloaded the app without issue in advance of the self-install session. While some customers theoretically could struggle with this step, it seemed age was not as strong of a predictor as some stakeholders thought.

testing and iterating on the dos and don'ts panel

While testing the booklet with real customers was the best way to assess its overall effectiveness, our pipeline of real customers was running dry, unfortunately. 

But because my main questions were around the illustrations on the dos and don'ts panel and we could test for comprehension of those illustrations outside of an actual self-install context, we decided to continue testing only that panel on UserTesting.

📋 Round 1
Version 1 of the do's and don'ts panel in the instruction booklet.
Version 2 of the dos and don'ts panel.
Before (left) and After Round 1 of dos and don'ts testing.

My colleague ran an unmoderated test that asked testers to explain, in their own words, the meaning of each image. Then, when the intended meaning was revealed, testers rated how well the image communicated the intended message.

Images A, B and E all tested well, but Images C, D and F stood to be improved. The key takeaways included:

  • People tended to compare adjacent images and use both to understand the meaning. I could improve both C and D by establishing a contrasting relationship between the two images.
"[Image A] looks like a basic illustration of putting the modem in your home; makes sense in context of illustration B."
  • Image C needed other objects to create context for the arrows, which would convey leaving space around the modem.
  • On the other hand, surrounding the modem with books in Image D and adding a “heat” symbol could indicate that crowding leads to overheating.
"I get it but it's a little confusing. Instead of all of the arrows that indicate airflow, maybe put the modem between two books so it's obviously that it's too close and maybe a fire symbol to indicate heat and put an X on it."
"I didn't get the overheat part of it, I took it as a signal perspective. Without image D to compare it to, I wouldn't have gotten it."
  • Simple images were better understood than vignettes with multiple messages. There were too many "don'ts" in Images D and F, so I broke them up and replaced them with the smaller images that focused on only one “don’t” per image.
"I didn't get that at all. I thought it meant don't put it around clutter or objects. I thought it was a weird combination of items."

Other tester feedback I addressed:

  • Made the checkmarks and Xes larger
  • Made the modem in A look the same as the modem in other images.
  • Added WiFi symbol to A to reinforce the message.
  • Made sure the modem was shown placed on furniture in all of the “dos.”
  • Attempted to the communicate the “why” in the don’ts by adding the heat symbol or arrows bouncing off of the offending objects to symbolize blocked signal (I left B alone since the “why” was pretty unanimously understood).
📋 Round 2
Version 2 of the dos and don'ts panel.
Version 3 of the dos and don'ts panel.
Before (left) and After Round 2 of dos and don'ts testing.

We then ran the test again with Version 2.

This time, Image A was rated less effective than before, but Images C and D were rated better. Interestingly, Image B was rated worse even though no changes were made to that image.

The main takeaways from this round:

  • Testers still weren't interpreting Image A to mean “put modem in the center of the home.” Based on a few testers’ suggestions, I decided to redesign the illustration as a floor plan of a home, with the modem in the center.
  • While most customers understood Image D to mean “don’t crowd the modem,” not everyone understood that it was because it’d make the modem too hot. I added a full thermometer to better communicate that message.
  • Even though most testers understood the main messages of E, F and G, the bent arrows caused some confusion so I removed them.
📋 Round 3
Version 3 of the dos and don'ts panel.

We then ran the test for the third time, this time testing only Images A, D, E, F and G (B and C were unchanged from the previous round and not tested).

Images A and D both received a 9.3/10 average rating, but there were some lingering issues with Images E, F and G.

  • Some people didn't understand that WiFi signals may be blocked by monitors or windows.
  • People understood to not put modem next to a refrigerator but didn’t extrapolate it to also not put it near metal or other appliances.

Although E, F and G didn’t produce perfect comprehension, we agreed the overall results indicated these illustrations were in a good enough place for us to move forward. In these cases perhaps a line of copy could help raise comprehension, but according to the verbatims, people got the gist.

Both customers also mentioned needing "get their glasses" to complete some steps where they had to reference small copy on the modem itself. Using large copy and text benefits everyone!

what happened next?

I learned from a stakeholder that all new customers would be receiving CenturyLink’s signature Greenwave modem within the next month, so I drew the Greenwave modem and swapped it in for the generic box modem illustration.

To flip through the prototype, select the page, or view it online.

I also did some design explorations for the front and back covers of the booklet and critiqued them with our design team.

Explorations for the art on the cover of the instruction booklet. The first shows a living with similar midcentury modern furniture used in the instructions. The second was a more whimsical design that anthropomorphized the power and Ethernet cables.
I explored a mid-mod style that matched the other illustrations in the instructions, as well as a more whimsical take on self-install.

promising results for the one-page instructions

Around this time, I was tapped to take on a new project and this was project was tabled.

After a two-week pilot program, our sponsors decided to continue with the one-page instructions. While it was difficult to connect the new instructions' direct impact on activation success rates and call-in rate, app users grew by 15% month over month, which could be attributed to increased self-installs in the app.

hypothetical next steps for the booklet

There were a few things I wanted to do next had I stayed on the project:

  • Test the full booklet prototype with at least three more customers to get statistically significant usability results.
  • Test the meaning of the “download app” panel and the “leftover items” panel and iterate as needed.
  • Add short copy to clarify the "download app" step and illustrations that were reported to be unclear in previous testing.
  • Iterate on booklet cover design based on colleague feedback.