Ask just about anyone building a web product for advice and they will likely say something along the lines of "listen to your users." It's great advice, fodder for an inspired TED talk, but easier said than done.
To be able to listen to your users, you need to have access to them. Some really dedicated users might email you, but that is a small sampling. Some users might interact with that robot chat bubble plugin that you added to your homepage, but probably not. You could run an in-person usability study, but that is expensive and you have to know what you're doing. Maybe you'll just set up an error monitoring tool like Rollbar and try to keep error rates low.
Understanding how our users are experiencing our product and getting honest, unfiltered feedback--not just the compliments or the obviously broken things, but also the subtle usability issues that users end up blaming themselves for--are essential to building a successful web-based business. The best way I know for small- and medium-sized businesses to get these kinds of insights is with a tool called Fullstory.
Fullstory has been an invaluable, albeit expensive, part of the workflow for several products that I've worked on. You embed it in your app and it opens you up to a whole suite of tools for gaining user experience insights. One of my favorite features are the replayable user sessions. Fullstory tracks mouse movement, clicks, scrolling, and a variety of other interactions within your site. You can then watch a reproduced replay of a user's session based on the actions they captured. It's not a recording, but it sure feels like one.
We've put this feature to great use on my current team with regularly scheduled fullstory study halls.
As an engineering team, we take 30 to 45 minutes to watch user sessions. Using the built-in note-taking tool we record bugs, rough UX issues, confusing copy, and sometimes even successes. Some sessions are very focussed -- we've heard a certain page is hard to use or we released a new feature, so we want to see what we can learn about those specific areas. Fullstory has some powerful logic-building filters that you can use to narrow down to just the user sessions you care to watch. Othertimes, we call it a free-for-all and everyone goes off to study some corner of the app that interests them.
We spend this time watching as many sessions as we can, soaking up any insights that we can. There are some truly painful-to-watch user sessions. It's sometimes like watching a mouse trying to find its way through a maze to the cheese, except it's your user trying to find the "Place Order" button and no matter how much you will them to get there, it's fixed in the past.
Once we are done with our allotted study time, we gather back together as a team to review. Each person gets a chance to highlight a couple sessions that stood out to them, usually be jumping straight to the comments they left. We take notes as we go looking for patterns and recurring usability issues. This gives us real data for prioritizing different pieces of UX work.
This process often helps confirm what we already know. It gives us a chance to see where we can get small wins (low-effort, high-impact improvements). More importantly, it opens our eyes to things that a user never would have reported. When certain interactions are confusing, and even when something is actually broken, our users can blame themselves. Before Fullstory, we didn't hear about a lot of opportunities for improvement because "a lot of people assumed it was their own fault for not just 'getting' it."
If you're looking for a surefire way to understand how users are experiencing your app so that you can make big and small usability improvements, you've got to try out Fullstory and then start hosting Fullstory Study Halls.
- Tiny Wins, Joel Califa