Editor's note: Lisa Kumpula is UX research director at AnswerLab, a San Francisco usability research firm. Erin Uyttewaal is senior manager, interactive marketing at Genentech, a San Francisco biotechnology firm.

Analyst firm Forrester predicts that nearly one in five (18 percent) tablet purchases will be made by businesses by 2017. Tablets will increasingly be found in the workplace, especially when work requires being away from the office. Researchers at AnswerLab have already seen evidence of this trend in the financial services industry, where we have observed financial advisors relying on tablets as a portable library of market information and tool for real-time status updates when visiting with investors. Forrester predicts increasing reliance on tablets in particular verticals and points to health care as a prime example.

Leading biotechnology company Genentech seized the opportunity to take advantage of the tablet’s portability, ease of use and high-resolution for information sharing in the field. The company’s field representatives, called clinical specialists, regularly travel to the offices of health care professionals to share information about treatment options across a variety of therapeutic areas. Genentech first piloted iPad detailing in 2010 to facilitate communication and increase engagement with health care professionals.

Genentech’s iPad app, called iDetail, was specifically developed to make the clinical specialists’ jobs easier and to make their communication with health care professionals more effective. Genentech found that iPad-detailing early adoption rates were lower than expected across the sales organization, measured by overall Omniture utilization metrics. Based on the hypothesis that iPad detailing yielded more time with customers and improved customer engagement, Genentech’s interactive marketing team wanted to understand barriers to adoption and how to make the tool more effective and intuitive. Genentech wanted to evaluate the clinical specialists’ experience with the iDetail app to: uncover opportunities to make the iDetail app more usable across Genentech; identify best practices for the next generation of iDetail; and determine the best ways to promote user confidence with the app.

Genentech’s iDetail team enlisted AnswerLab for a program of research that included ethnographic research, in-depth interviews in a lab setting and survey research to learn how the app could enhance customer interactions. This article details the methodological approach, the rationale for each stage of research and what the team learned to improve app usability and adoption across the sales organization.

Embrace the new technology

Bringing new iPad technology to a seasoned sales force was an exercise in effective change management. Genentech wanted to inspire field users to embrace the new technology to support customer interactions across the United States.

The team collaborated with AnswerLab’s user experience research team to evaluate iPad-detailing strengths and opportunities to improve. The partners recognized that a single methodological approach wouldn’t resolve the adoption and usability questions. Given that Genentech operates across multiple therapeutic areas, different brands had unique approaches to app design for specific brands. So the user experience for the app could be quite different depending on which medication information the clinical specialist was accessing. To address this challenge, the teams pursued following research plan:

An ethnographic study consisting of field visits to observe clinical specialists’ interactions with health care professionals.

Rationale: The team sought to get real-world user insights, capture the full-range of health care practitioner interactions and identify training opportunities for clinical specialists. During the interviews, the researchers would look for how and when the clinical specialists were using the app content. Because of the variability in the length of the interactions with the health care providers – which could be as little as two minutes or as many as 30 minutes – and the variability of the information provided in the app, the ethnographic approach was recommended.

Approach: AnswerLab’s user experience researchers went on field rides with 12 clinical specialists throughout a day of visits with more than 50 health care providers.

Key findings: The observational research revealed that most of the clinical specialists were using the iDetail app in similar ways and in similar situations, across different brands and despite differing levels of comfort with technology. The researchers found the app was most effective for longer, sit-down meetings that spanned a broad range of topics regarding the medication – its efficacy, dosage information, side effects, etc. For shorter meetings, the app was perceived as a complementary resource that was useful for opening a conversation or for addressing a specific question or need that might come up. The study identified key problem areas (e.g., the learning curve; comfort level with technology; navigation and technology issues) that directly impacted how frequently and heavily many clinical specialists engaged with the app. The research also revealed that a few clinical specialists were worried that relying too heavily on the app could hinder development of their relationships with health care professionals or make the interaction feel unnatural and contrived (especially if there were comfortable relationships with health care professionals already in place).

• User-testing sessions with clinical specialists and health care professionals in a lab setting.

Rationale: Because of the variability in interactions that occurred in the field between clinical specialists and health care professionals, the teams needed a controlled lab environment to observe the natural flow of a drug detail interaction between the two parties and allowed for specific questions to be asked that may not have come in the field. The lab setting also let the Genentech iDetail stakeholders observe interactions, which couldn’t be done in the ethnographic research.

Approach: The AnswerLab research team brought nine health care professionals and three clinical specialists into their labs for 90-minute sessions. The clinical specialists interacted with the providers as they would during a field visit. The researcher observed the interactions and then interviewed each participant with a set of follow-up questions.

Key findings: The user sessions confirmed that the plethora of content and visual aids within the iDetail app were very helpful and allowed deeper discussion to unfold during the drug detail. The study unveiled that clinical specialists required additional training for how to navigate through and utilize the iDetail app as a complementary sales tool. Key usability concerns were revealed as well, things such as areas where the volume of content was difficult to navigate, the touch targets were small or where content was too “busy” to be shown within the app.

• Benchmark quantitative research among clinical specialists.

Rationale: The team wanted to use larger sample survey research to validate findings from the qualitative phases of the research, identify best practices for the next generation of the iDetail app and determine the best ways to promote interactivity and functionality of the tablet and the app. Following up with robust quantitative research also determined which qualitative issues (if any) were more prominent amongst the clinical specialists, specifically if there were sample bias issues related to concerns of relying too heavily on the app during meetings, learning curve and technology comfort levels.

Approach: The research team launched a 15-minute online survey that yielded over 300 completions with clinical specialists.

Key findings: Most clinical specialists reported feeling very comfortable using the tablet for work-related purposes and the iDetail app was living up to its goal in certain areas. It was capturing attention with compelling visuals, facilitating meaningful conversations with health care professionals, reducing reliance on paper materials and keeping health care providers engaged with opportunities for greater interactivity. However, certain challenges were preventing greater adoption of the app. The barriers identified were technical issues such as: the app crashing during meetings; effective use of the app required time and preparation which clinical specialists didn’t always have between meetings; use of the app wasn’t appropriate with some professionals who were resistant to technology or with whom the clinical specialists had developed a close working relationship; the text was sometimes too small; and distributing content from the app was difficult.

Round two quantitative research was conducted among clinical specialists a year after the initial survey. The goal of this round was benchmark metrics (Net Promoter Scores or NPS) across the organization and to track progress over time. The research was also designed to validate key improvements the team had made with their training program and to the iDetail application itself and to further identify the best ways to promote interactivity and functionality of the tablet and the app.

Rationale: The iDetail team sought to confirm they were moving in the right direction with their implemented changes, track progress over time, as well as dig in deeper to the medicine brands to determine areas of opportunity for specific enhancements at the brand level.

Approach: The research team developed key user experience metrics and started collecting performance by brand through NPS for tracking purposes. They fielded a 10-to-15-minute online survey among more than 400 clinical specialists.

Key findings: The by-brand research approach allowed the iDetail team to rank brands by NPS and focus on learning key problems or frustrations that arose among the lowest performers. While the research revealed that the app maintained its strengths from the first round of survey research and that readability had improved, it also highlighted that technical issues and the challenges of sharing content persisted. Moreover, new challenges were identified with navigation and customizing content.

Empowered the team

Research with AnswerLab empowered the team to apply insights to prioritize app upgrades. The overall goal of this work was to identify opportunities to evaluate intuitive navigation, app utility and overall user comfort with using the iPad to share new therapeutic information with customers.

The combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods throughout this research program gave the Genentech team the confidence to know they were focusing on the core areas to improve app usability that persisted across all brands, as well as the detailed reasons why and how to address intuitive app navigation.

Genentech used the findings from this research to inform the creation of an approach to application development and refinement during which it will measure three key components over time: intuitive navigation, user confidence and NPS.

Intuitive navigation: The results revealed the need for design guidelines such as font size and location of prescribing information and safety information to promote consistency across brands in the app. The iDetail team also decided to evaluate Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines to guide app design best practices.

User confidence: The research highlighted the need to incorporate additional training with the clinical specialists on the content provided within the iDetail application, the functionality of the tablet itself as well as how to most effectively use iDetail to engage with health care professionals. Specifically, new training efforts focused on using technology to build user fluency and confidence with tablet detailing.

Net Promoter Score: How likely is a clinical specialist to recommend iPad detailing to a colleague? Based on results of this metric, Genentech can assess the sentiment of promoters vs. detractors of the new technology. The goal is to continue to improve the NPS across field users over time so that the interactive marketing team can develop iPad detailing tools to meet field user and customer needs.

The findings from the program of research and the changes they drove had a direct impact on the objectives of the iDetail app. The iDetail team was able to: increase engagement during field visits with health care professionals; increase clinical specialists’ adoption of the iDetail app; increase frequency of use; and decrease sales reliance on print materials.

A broader impact

Beyond improving metrics for the app, the research findings had a broader impact on the organization. They provided case study examples for using an interactive teaching tool and helped illuminate how teams use technology. They shed light on what type of information and what kinds of interactions are better suited for iPad-based detailing versus paper informational materials. Importantly for a company like Genentech, where R&D is critical, the research created an environment for innovation and established a baseline by which to measure adoption of new technology and the piloting of new features and content.