Football coaches and players pour over game and practice film to learn how their plays are working. Software developers can do the same and with the magic of the interweb, you can do so without having to sit onsite with your customer.
First, identify a good customer candidate. Someone who is friendly and trusts you and who uses your software fairly religiously is a good choice. This is your “ideal user.”
In pitching this idea to your customer, let them know that you want to study how they work and that your study will likely result in changes to future user interface development. You should be willing to sign an NDA with them if required. Or even offer up a month of free service or a free upgrade later.
Next, set up a 2-4 hour block where you can set up your conference, give them controls to share their desktop and watch how they use your platform. They shouldn’t do anything differently than a normal work situation. In fact, you may wish to turn off the audio so that you can focus solely on the user activity. Ideally, you should be recording this session as well, as you may want to refer back to it as evidence for necessary changes.
Once the session is over, don’t forget to thank them for their valuable contribution to the product development cycle. Just copy and paste that last part.
Now comes the work. You and your team have to analyze the results. Take note of key areas such as:
- Did the user have to go back to another screen several times?
- Was there a lot of scrolling involved?
- Were there areas they had to redo a process?
- What steps had to be repeated?
- Are there long pauses where the user is trying to remember where something is?
- Were there situations where they had to leave your application and do something else externally and then go back to your app?
- And the mother of all usability issues: Did they miss a shortcut that you had given them?
I say this last one is the mother of all usability issues because it means that the effort you made to make something useful just got tossed and it needs to be revisited.
This small effort does a number of things for you. You develop good will with that customer, extending a dialog with them. You and your team can learn about the customer experience. You have a record to refer back to that will help you identify where you may need to restyle your interface or develop better integration with other products.