Applications can get familiar and outdated. What worked for your first set of customers may not work for your current, less experienced ones. Or, perhaps your users are getting better at using your system and want some new ways to get the same work done with fewer clicks.
Auditing your application is an important step to take at regular intervals. I suggest conducting an audit every 3-6 months. This provides enough elapsed time for you to have learned something about your customers since the last audit, but prevents too much time from elapsing and your application from getting stale.
To conduct a customer experience audit:
- Prepare a testing environment – this may require setting up a second copy of the system or using a staging system to prevent your auditing procedures from disrupting a production system. Some applications may not have this issue and may be able to use the production environment
- Use a different workstation or browser – from experience, I’ve noticed that I often take the same paths through a system because I let my browser remember my last form entries. This saves me lots of time during development testing, but it also causes me to take the same paths and make the same assumptions. Use a different browser on your machine or switch to a different machine. Using virtualization technologies, such as VMWare or Xen Server, allows you to setup a fresh sandbox for testing your app if spare hardware isn’t available
- Start by putting yourself in the place of a new customer and ask yourself some simple but effective questions:
- What kind of problem am I experiencing that makes me want to look for this solution?
- What kind of keywords, questions, or websites might I visit to find a solution?
- What is compelling about your website to make them signup?
- Walk through each screen in your application, asking yourself if the first-time user of your system will understand what is happening and what they need to do next
- Capture each improvement as a separate ticket in your bug tracking system – be as detailed as possible about the problem and include one or more possible solutions for future consideration
- (Bonus) Take a look at some new web apps to see if they have come up with innovative ways to deal with the same kind of workflow/data entry problems
Make time to audit your application on a regular basis. It will reset your understanding for what a new customer sees and how you can make your product even better.