Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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8/22/2009
08:08 PM
Allen Stern
Allen Stern
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DIY Usability For Startups

Earlier this week I attended a meetup about customer development for startups. A presentation was provided about upgrading customer usability without breaking the bank. I'd like to provide a recap and share my thoughts on the event

Earlier this week I attended a meetup about customer development for startups. A presentation was provided about upgrading customer usability without breaking the bank. I'd like to provide a recap and share my thoughts on the eventUsability consultant Whitney Hess provided nearly 90 minutes of discussion looking at how to give your customers an upgrade which can lead to both increased usage of your service and, more importantly, increased revenue.

I've posted the full video of her presentation below and split it into two pieces for easy viewing. I've also embedded her presentation if you want to follow along with the slides although the conversation in the video is more important than the slides. In her presentation, Whitney uses examples from a time tracking startup named Harvest.

There are four segments of the presentation: design research, web analytics, usability testing and experimentation/iteration.

Design research looks at what your customers actually need. Whitney describes how Harvest collects feedback from their customers via forms and surveys. Over the past 15 years, this has been one of the most popular topics of discussions I've participated in. Should you allow your current customers to dictate what you build? Do your customers actually know what they want? If you don't listen and build as they want, will they go elsewhere? Whitney also discusses understanding the "problem" which I too believe is critical for a company to understand. Spend time with your customers learning how they use the system and how they aren't using it. The more you involve your customers in your product or service, the more they will feel like they are a part of it and will be willing to both provide feedback and share the service with others.

Web analytics is next and is my overall favorite part of working with products and services. From my early days as one of the first beta testers for Webtrends to today's lineup of slick, robust and real-time tools, if you aren't tracking everything, you will always be missing something. Whitney highlights CrazyEgg for on-page optimzation and Google Website Optimizer for A/B testing. Other tools I like include Clicky for real-time Web analytics and ClickTale for on-page optimization. A case study is presented from House.gov showing that taking some time to investigate how users are actually using a service can make the difference between pleasure and pain for a customer or user.

The concept of usability testing looks at how well a service actually works. Whitney provides a list of ways to find people who will test your service for free or nearly free.

Lastly the presentation looks at iteration and experimentation to help climb to a stronger experience for the customer. The key here is to test, test, test. And once the new feature is in production, make sure you follow the three steps above to continuously improve the product or service. This is the part that makes the Web great - it never ends (of course that's why we are connected 24x7!). You can change something today and tweak it tomorrow.

I think Whitney did a good job with the presentation. The only part I would look at modifying is that there are (at least) two types of customers. Whitney seems to switch between pre-sales window shoppers and post-sale paying customers. The plan of attack is significantly different for each group as you want to get one to buy and one to stay, extend usage and share.

Lastly there is a difference between a customer using a free trial of a service and a customer who has moved into a paid plan and remained with the service for a longer period. It's "easy" to get users on a free trial - it's much harder to convert them to paying users and to keep them around. Both groups of customers are important to speak to - just make sure you are speaking to them differently for best results.

Video Part I - Design Research

Video Part II - Web Analytics, Usability Testing and Experimentation/iteration

The Slides

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