Data-driven User Guidance & Guidance-driven User Analysis

In their seminal study of computer users, researchers at the University of Texas El Paso discovered that about 5% of software usability problems are successfully resolved by consulting online or offline product documentation.1 Or to put it more simply, “users don’t read the manual.” This is not a new problem, but in the world of software as a service (SaaS) and recurring revenue where today’s software providers compete, it is a much more acute one. Successful products today are ones that deliver value to users quickly and keep them engaged over time. Customers that struggle with usability issues, or can’t become proficient with application functions, certainly don’t realize value quickly and are likely to churn.

One of the ways to address the challenge is to make as much of the user guidance part of the user experience as possible. Users are much more likely to consume content that is directly part of the application rather than moving outside to consult documentation or search the Web for an answer. Help delivered in the form of a tooltip or an in-application walkthrough can have a 30x higher engagement rate. The remedy, then to users who don’t read the manual, is to embed the manual directly within the user experience, and a number of development libraries and tools have emerged to help product teams facilitate this.

The problem is that while in-app messages are a valuable way to train and provide users help they are not perfect. They are, by design, intrusive, and can negatively impact the customer experience – especially if the help is not particularly timely or relevant. When presented with a walkthrough, 70% of users will dismiss the experience before advancing a single step.2 A worst- case scenario is to make a significant investment in moving help content in the application, only to frustrate users and negatively impact the customer experience.

A better approach is to make application help truly “in-context” not just “in-application.” In this approach, the complete context of the user – especially the goals they are trying to achieve – is used to tailor the help that is delivered. Highly targeted content is much more relevant to the user, and helps to address usability problems without over cluttering the user experience. At the same time, the total user context can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of guidance, not just in terms of engagement with help content, but in terms of the actual behavior of users in the application. This is the approach that Pendo takes with in-application guidance. By pairing in-application guidance with robust product analytics, Pendo enables users to deliver highly- targeted content to users, and then measure in detail how that guidance affects their behavior.

1 Why don’t people read the manual? University of Texas at El Paso DigitalCommons, 2006
2 Average abandonment rate from all user walkthroughs deployed in Pendo, 2016

The power of user context

What is user context? Simply, it’s everything that we know about a user in a software product at a specific moment in time. Context is tremendously valuable as it tells us a great deal about who the user is, and, what it is they are trying to achieve at that specific point in time. The more context that we have, the more we can do to improve user experience and outcomes in the application. We can think of context across four dimensions: user demographics, historical behavior, current task, and sentiment or satisfaction.

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