Talking to users

Resolution: Talk to Users in 2018

It’s the end of the year and you’re thinking:

“I did a pretty good job this year. I launched several new high-profile initiatives. Thousands more customers are using the application. I didn’t break anything (that couldn’t be fixed). Man, this year was so busy! Who’s got time to talk to users?”

You do. Make time.

In 2018, make it a goal to interact with as many users of your application as possible. Even better, start a formal practice of testing your application with users once a quarter.

User testing is the practice of observing how actual users are using your application and having a dialogue with them about it. At its most basic, it’s sitting next to a user while they’re using your application and asking them questions like:

  • What do you think this application does?

  • What do you expect to be able to do on an application like this?

  • What’s your typical path on this application?

  • Why are you taking that action? Or, why are you not taking that action?

  • What would you like to see more of? Less of?

  • How does this application meet or not meet your needs?

Honestly, isn’t that information you want to know? Wouldn’t it be amazing to know what users are doing on your application and why?

“I have analytics data on my application so I already know what users are doing. Why do I need to actually interact with users?”

Both quantitative analytics data and qualitative user feedback are necessary to assess how your application is doing. Analytics data will show you how many users you have and what they’re doing or not doing on your application, but it won’t provide any insight why. You’re left to come up with your own hypotheses.

But why wonder? Just ask! Talking to users is like having a decoder ring for your data. Perhaps users aren’t using that feature you thought they’d love. User testing is a way to figure out why: if they’re simply not seeing it, or if they don’t need it, or if there’s a way to improve it so they’ll use it more often.

“It sounds hard. And I’ve already allocated my 2018 budget.”

Listen, user testing is neither costly nor hard. Talking to users can be very easy:

  1. Develop the discussion guide
    Come up with your goals and your plan. You could observe how the user typically uses the application, or ask them to cover a specific area of your application, or even assign the user specific tasks to complete. Write up your outline and a list of questions that you want to ask. Here is a good guide for coming up with the discussion guide.

  2. Recruit users
    Identify actual users of your application or people that represent your target users. This is the most labor-intensive part but it’s worth it. Some companies will use professional recruiters but don’t be afraid to go down and dirty. There’s nothing wrong with using Craigslist or Reddit as long as you have a good way to screen and incentivize participants. Here are some helpful recruiting tips.

  3. Conduct the interviews
    Your user testing sessions should be a maximum of one hour each. It’s helpful to have them all scheduled consecutively because it’s easier to identify patterns when you’re doing them one after the other, plus you can get into a groove with your questions. Talking to 5 users can be sufficient to get some terrific insights.

  4. Summarize your findings
    What did you learn? Come up with a list of quick wins and longer term opportunities. Perhaps there’s a step in the purchase path that users tripped over -- fixing that is a quick win. But listen closely to what the users are telling you and you’ll find valuable insights that will help guide your longer-term roadmap.

"I see! Can you sum it up for me?"

At the end of the day, you're building a software application for users and your goal is to make it easier for users to __________ (fill in the blank). User testing helps you figure out if you're actually fulfilling your purpose, along with providing insights on how to optimize the application, identify new features, and prioritize future work.

So make a resolution to integrate regular user testing into your 2018 plans. The rewards will be profound, I promise.

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