Saving your users sanity

Paul Boag

Our mission as user experience champions is to save people from death by a thousand cuts. Small, but significant irritants that add up to be something more serious.

This post is sponsored by FullStory.

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing went right? Maybe your alarm didn’t go off and so you were late to work. Then on the way to work your windscreen got cracked by a stone kicked up from the lorry you got stuck behind. Then somebody ate your lunch that you left in the company kitchen. Finally the suppliers website you were using crashed and took all your data with it. By the time you were sitting on hold waiting to speak to them you were ready to scream!

Days like that suck. They are often trivialised as first world problems. But these little issues add up to the biggest epidemic of western society – stress.

Are you adding to your users stress?

It is a stress that each and everyone of us who work on the web add to. Those little niggles on our websites or mobile apps chip away at our users calm, causing stress levels to spiral. In themselves each is trivial. A postcode field that insists that we format the postcode in a specific way or a CAPTCHA form that forces you to fill in yet again. But together with the millions of other annoyances in our fast paced life, they lead to death by a thousand cuts.

Small irritations can add up to really ruin somebody's day.
Small irritations can add up to really ruin somebody's day.

Time to do something about it.

The three areas of irritation

There are so many ways we can frustrate users. But in this post I want to focus on three broad areas:

  • User interface issues. I have written before about how poor choices building an interface can stress the calmest of people.
  • Bugs in our code. No matter how hard we try, bugs will creep into our code. If we fail to spot them they can mess up somebody’s day.
  • Customer support. When you do encounter a problem and need help, nothing is more frustrating than having to fight to get it. Telling me my call matters doesn’t mean jack if I am left on hold for 30 minutes.

So lets look at a few things we can do in each of these areas.

Smoothing the rough edges of an interaction

This is an easy one. If you want to fix the rough edges in your user interface you have to watch real users using it. It is that simple.

In fact if you have used this site before, I may have reviewed one of your user sessions. I use Fullstory to anonymously records sessions as people move about this site. I can play those sessions back and see where (if anywhere) you are struggling. I can even see when you rage click. In other words I can see when you click again and again. A good sign that something is not going well. Somehow I suspect the amount of rage clicking may leap following this post as you attempt to mess with my mind!

Seriously though. I have only been using Fullstory for a few days and already it has helped me to improve the reading experiences of posts like this one.

Being able to see when users rage click is a useful sign of problems.
Being able to see when users rage click is a useful sign of problems.

The point is I get to watch real people interacting completely naturally with my website. It doesn’t replace usability testing. But it does help you spot problem areas fast.

You may think you know the problems with your site. But I can guarantee you do not. The first time you watch users move around your site can be an eye-opening and upsetting experience. I bet you didn’t realise how annoying your site can be.

Stamping on those bugs

Then of course there are those pesky bugs that creep in.

One of the best and worst things about the web is its open nature. It makes it a hard environment to code for. There are hundreds of browsers and thousands of devices that could access your site. There are probably even millions of variables that could completely screw your code.

That is just too much to test. You do what you can and then hope for the best. You push code live sure that somebody somewhere will have a problem with it. But you will never know. Not unless they bother to tell you.

Once again a tool like Fullstory can help with that. By being able to see user sessions you can see where something goes wrong. But its better than that. It also allows you to inspect the DOM on those sessions and see any errors that your code has thrown up. This is useful if you don’t have access to the same conditions to replicate the problem.

Imagine being able to see the code exactly as it was run on a users machine. What a great way of fixing bugs.
Imagine being able to see the code exactly as it was run on a users machine. What a great way of fixing bugs.

Nowhere is this more important than when a user reports an issue.

Improving your customer support

I am shocked at how bad many organisations are at customer support. Some go out of their way to hide contact information. Others under resource their customer support teams. Then of course there are those that have nobody monitoring social media outside of business hours. After all things only ever go wrong between between 9 and 5pm.

Customers only contact you as a last resort. They are desperate and that means they are already stressed. Now is not the time to stress them further with an inadequate service.

There are so many great tools for providing better customer support. Tools like the excellent Intercom, or Help Scout and Zendesk. Tools that prevent customer service becoming as onerous as many organisations seem to fear.

Intercom provides a great experience for users seeking help from a real person.
Intercom provides a great experience for users seeking help from a real person.

Even better, if you provide approachable customer services it also helps you spot UI issues and bugs. Rather than giving up and going to your competitors they will report these problems. Also with something like Fullstory running too you can see where things have gone wrong for the user. This is because Fullstory can integrate with tools like Intercom, Help Scout or Zendesk.

Think about that for a moment. Every piece of feedback from a user comes with a link to a recording of the interaction they had on your site. Just imagine how much you could learn from that. How much better your site could be.

But management doesn’t care

If you are reading this then I know I am preaching to the converted. You already understand the value of great UX. But persuading colleagues and management isn’t easy.

So instead of persuading them, show them. All the apps I have mentioned in this post have free trials. Run them on your site for a few days and report what you find. I recommend using two approaches.

Some people are data driven individuals. For them report key metrics. Things like how many people were rage clicking or how many customer support queries you were able to deal with on your own.

Other people respond to emotion and empathy. With these people show them some of those session videos. Show users frustratingly clicking around before abandoning the site. Also, show them some of the nice things people say after receiving a great experience on live chat.

In short, if you want to get permission for this stuff, you need to show and not tell. Because when you do the benefits will speak for themselves.