Product Experience

The Product Experience Master Guide

The user’s product experience has a very significant impact on user productivity, software usage, and ultimately a product’s profitability.

In this article, we will explore the product experience inside and out, including:

  • What the product experience is
  • How users’ experiences with a product affects usage, user productivity, user churn, and other key user metrics
  • The ingredients of a great product experience
  • How to create usable, user-friendly products

Among many other topics.

We will start with the fundamentals – what the product experience is and why it matters.

FAQ

Here are some commonly asked questions about the product experience, starting with its definition.

What does the product experience mean?

As with many modern-day business terms, there are different definitions depending on who you ask.

The best way, therefore, to understand what this term means is to take a look at some of those definitions and look for shared traits.

Here are a few readily available definitions:

  • The product experience is “the awareness of the psychological effects elicited by the interaction with a product, including the degree to which our senses are stimulated, the meanings and values we attach to the product, and the feelings and emotions that are elicited” –IGI Global, citing Dr. Paul Hekkert
  • Or it is also “the entire set of effects that is elicited by the interaction between a user and a product, including: (1) the degree to which all our senses are gratified (aesthetic experience); (2) the meanings we attach to the product (experience of meaning); (3) the feelings and emotions that are elicited (emotional experience)” –IGI Global, citing Dr. Paul Hekkert’s framework of product expereince
  • “Your product is actually the complete experience and relationship you and your customers share.” –Brian de Haaff

De Haaff is the founder of multiple technology companies and author of Lovability, a book on products and product design.

In that book, he says that there are 7 main components of the product experience.

These include:

  • Marketing – How customers initially become aware of a product
  • Sales – How customers learn more about products, through trials or from sales representatives, for instance
  • Technology – The core feature set of a product
  • Supporting systems – Internal support systems such as billing, provisioning, and analytics
  • Third-party integrations – How a product fits in with the existing ecosystem of other products
  • Support – Training, customer support, and other activities that help customers achieve something meaningful with the product
  • Policies – Rules that govern how a company operates and does business

De Haaff calls this “the Complete Product Experience” and explains that these correspond roughly with the order of the adoption process.

Because people are unpredictable they tend to adopt things “according to their own tastes and priorities.”

Organizations should be flexible enough to handle multiple adoption pathways while still delivering great, “lovable” experiences.

From these definitions, it is clear that the product experience refers to the journeys that users have with products.

It should also be clear that businesses should be immediately concerned with the product experience, since it affects their customers, clients, and end users.

Product experience vs. user experience: what’s the difference and why does it matter?

User experience (UX) is a well-known field of design within the software industry.

Like product experience, it is of immediate concern to businesses, because it involves end users and customers.

And, like product experience, definitions and models differ depending on who you ask:

  • “User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function.” –The Interaction Design Foundation
  • UX “is a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service.” –Wikipedia
  • “UX best practices promote improving the quality of the user’s interaction with and perceptions of your product and any related services.” –Usability.gov

Usability.gov is a US government website dedicated to providing information on various UX-related disciplines, among other things.

They cite Peter Morville, who claims that user experiences should be:

  • Useful
  • Usable
  • Desirable
  • Valuable
  • Findable
  • Accessible
  • Credible

Although we can see a clear relationship between UX and the product experience, they are slightly different.

In fact, product experience is just one of several design areas that affect the end user’s experience.

Others include:

  • The customer experience
  • Usability
  • Interaction design
  • Product design

As we will see, all of these areas impact user design and 

Why should I care about product experience?

The short answer: because product experiences affects ROI.

A longer, more detailed, useful answer:

  • The product experience affects how users interact with products
  • Products that are useful, usable, and lovable deliver better experiences
  • Better product experiences and user experiences translate into better bottom-line ROI for a business

However, product experiences aren’t just the concern of software developers and other product developers.

Any business that adopts a new product internally, such as a new software platform, should be concerned with the product experience.

In this case, the employees’ experience with that product will affect:

  • How they feel about and interact with that new tool or product
  • How long it takes them to learn to use the new platform
  • Their overall proficiency and productivity with the product
  • How fully and effectively that software platform gets used

Among other things.

In today’s workplace, digital software adoption has become the norm. 

Because employees and customers are both continually learning and adopting new products, their experiences impact how well, how often, and even whether they use tools or not.

The User’s Product Experience Is a Strategic Differentiator

Today’s economy is driven by customers.

In an era where people have more choice than ever, the user experience itself has become a strategic differentiator.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Customers are more fickle than ever. In fact, a single bad experience can drive a customer away. 
  • All else being equal, experience is the only difference between products. If two products deliver the same functionality, then the product experience becomes the major differentiator between the two.
  • The value is in the experience. Businesses should think beyond functionality, and begin redefining a product’s value to include the end user’s experience.

In short, businesses should pay close attention to customers, their needs, and their experiences.

After all, the experience itself is part of the product.

The Costs of Neglecting the User Experience

Poor product experiences and user experiences can have dramatic impacts in a number of ways.

For instance, for a software development company, bad experiences can mean:

  • Higher user acquisition costs. Poor onboarding, for example, can increase new user frustration to the point where they give up entirely and abandon a product.
  • Slower learning curves for new users. Inefficient training or product design can increase learning timelines, cognitive load, and user frustration. This, in turn, can cause user proficiency levels to plateau early on.
  • Greater user churn (abandonment). As mentioned, poor product experiences – regardless of the underlying cause – can drive users away from a product.
  • Slower business growth. Ultimately, poor product experiences can harm that product and the business as a whole. These can result in increased customer acquisition costs, slower customer adoption rates, and even product failure.

Or, in the case of a business that adopts new software for its employees, bad experiences can result in:

  • Higher training costs. Poor employee training solutions or bad product design can result in higher training costs and technical support costs.
  • Slower time-to-competency and time-to-productivity. Another consequence of poor product experiences is extended time-to-competency … that is, it will take employees longer to become skilled and productive with a platform.
  • Lower overall proficiency and productivity. Bad experiences can also cause employee skill levels to hit ceilings early on, decreasing their lifetime contributions and productivity.
  • More employee frustration, friction, and resistance. Users who have bad experiences will have lower levels of motivation, engagement, and satisfaction.

All of which have a negative impact on the software’s ROI and utilization in the workplace.

The Benefits of Good Product Experiences: A Deeper Dive

Effective adoption and experiences, however, offer a number of benefits, including:

  • Greater user engagement. More engaged users – whether they are customers or employees – will be more productive and valuable.
  • Decreased frustration and friction. As mentioned, poor experiences can increase frustration and friction. Positive experiences, however, have the opposite effect: more motivation, less frustration, and less friction.
  • Lower abandonment and burnout. Ultimately, better product experiences increase user retention, loyalty, and satisfaction. Users will stay with a product longer, add more value to an organization, and be more loyal.
  • Better bottom-line growth potential. The product experience directly affects the performance of that product – how many users use it, how engaged and productive they are, and the bottom-line returns of the product.

Clearly there are reasons to improve the end user’s experience with a product, but what is the best way to do that?

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How to Create Great Products and Product Experiences

Here are 10 tips that can help you improve your users’ experiences with products … regardless of whether you are creating those products or adopting them.

1. Take a strategic, systematic approach to design and adoption.

Every business project, from product development to product adoption, should be executed strategically and systematically.

To put it simply – the better the planning, the better the outcomes.

A study by Google, for instance, found that sophisticated, well-structured change management approaches generated the best outcomes.

For example, when initiating a new change management project, change managers would:

  • Perform assessments. These can include assessments of the organizational culture, change readiness, digital maturity, and more.
  • Design a solution to the problem. Solutions vary based on the nature of the problem, and can range from organizational culture changes to digital software adoption.
  • Design a plan for implementing change. Managers must then develop a stage-based roadmap for rolling out the planned change, replete with goals, roles, and responsibilities.
  • Create a communications strategy to engage employees and reduce resistance. A communications strategy in change management would have specific aims, such as explaining the reasons for a change, mobilizing support, and reducing resistance.
  • Manage the change project. Then managers will actually execute and manage the project.
  • Make adjustments as necessary. No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, and the same is true for change management plans. Today, change managers stay agile, adaptable, and flexible.
  • Reinforce the change after completion. Reinforcement and institution of changes prevents workers from reverting to old habits or workflows.

Though organizations must remain agile and flexible, having a plan provides direction and guidance, even if that plan must change from time to time.

2. Onboard and train effectively.

First impressions matter, both with people and with products.

Onboarding – when users are first introduced to a new product – is an essential stage in the adoption life cycle.

Ideal onboarding experiences:

  • Are frictionless and seamless
  • Are positive
  • Introduce users to a product quickly and efficiently
  • Keep users engaged 

Following on the heels of onboarding, training should be just as effective.

Good user training should:

  • Be engaging 
  • Be fast and efficient
  • Minimize learning curves
  • Maximize competency and productivity

Both onboarding and training are crucial parts of the adoption life cycle, because they directly impact many of the user metrics covered above.

3. Focus on usability and utility.

According to the UX research and consulting firm, the Nielson Norman Group:

“Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word ‘usability’ also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.”

They go on to state that there are 5 quality components that define usability:

  • Learnability – How easily new users can accomplish basic tasks 
  • Efficiency – How quickly users can accomplish their intended tasks
  • Memorability – How well users can retain proficiency after not using a design for a period of time
  • Errors – How many errors users make and how severe those errors are
  • Satisfaction – How pleasant a design is

Another important quality attritbute is utility – whether a product’s features meet its users’ needs or not.

Both are important, whether a business is adopting a new product or developing one.

If a business is creating a product, then usability and utility affect:

  • How easily and efficiently users can learn and utilize that product
  • How well a product meets the end users’ needs
  • User satisfaction, productivity, and performance

All of which affect how – or even if – users adopt and engage with a product.

Those factors, in turn, directly impact how a software application performs in the marketplace.

4. The more engaged users are, the better they will perform.

Product engagement and user engagement measure the degree of product usage and interaction.

It refers to:

  • How often people use a product or service
  • How frequently they use that product or service
  • The extent and activity of their use

And similar attributes.

Engagement reflects how people feel about a product, its usability, its utility, and so forth.

During product adoption, engagement rates correlate with many of the other user metrics covered so far, such as:

  • User satisfaction
  • User productivity
  • Proficiency
  • User growth rates

Analytics can be used to help businesses understand why their users are engaged or disengaged … then make improvements as needed.

5. Anticipate, plan for, and prevent obstacles.

Product adoption is a journey that comes with its own roadblocks, obstacles, and risks.

For instance:

  • People must be convinced to purchase and use one product rather than competitors’ products
  • Users must learn to use that product efficiently
  • Frustration can transform into resistance, burnout, or abandonment

Typically, most of the obstacles associated with product adoption revolve around people.

When an enterprise adopts new a new software platform, for example:

  • Users must unlearn old workflows and learn new ones
  • Employees must become competent and productive as quickly as possible
  • They must be trained and guided throughout the adoption process

Common obstacles to plan for include:

  • User frustration, friction, and resistance. As mentioned, bad design and experiences can quickly cause users to rebel and resist.
  • Productivity lags. When adopting a new product, productivity lags are inevitable. Effective design, onboarding, and training can reduce these lags.
  • Training costs and technical support costs. Training and technical support costs are inevitable with digital adoption, but these costs can be mitigated with the right approach.

Many of these risks can be mitigated by designing product experiences that are usable, user-friendly, and user-centric … which leads us to the next recommendation:

6. Design around users – not features, functions, or processes.

User-centrism is a principle, not only in design disciplines, but also in modern business practices.

Many of today’s most successful businesses recognize that user-centered business models are more profitable than those that aren’t.

When it comes to products, being user-centered means a few things:

  • Creating products that are fueled by user needs, not features
  • Designing product adoption processes that are designed around user experiences
  • Developing organizational changes that cater to employees’ needs, mindsets, skill levels, and so forth

Experiences that are centered around users will generate better results across the board.

Users will be more engaged, more proficient, and more productive. 

The end result for a business – regardless of its specific aim or product – will be more efficient, profitable products.

7. Simplify and streamline.

Complexity can quickly overwhelm users, customers, or employees.

It can cause a number of problems, such as those already covered:

  • Frustration
  • Resistance
  • Burnout, abandonment, or user churn

Or, overly complex products can cause users to “block out” portions of the product that they don’t understand.

This can limit their productivity and performance, capping the return on a software’s potential utilization.

The ideal user experience is one that is simple and streamlined.

Usability, covered above, is a key principle that can help organizations simplify user experiences.

Simplified, streamlined experiences, for example:

  • Help users learn how to accomplish their intended tasks quickly and easily
  • Make it easy for users to find what they are looking for
  • Reduce errors
  • Are memorable

As the Nielsen Norman Group pointed out about ecommerce websites, if users can’t find it, they can’t buy it.

The same holds true for software platforms – if users can’t find or understand a function, they won’t use it.

8. Be agile and adaptable.

Managed projects, such as digital adoption projects, produce better outcomes than unmanaged projects.

To effectively manage user-driven products and adoption experiences, agility is a must.

Agile business processes focus on a few fundamental principles, such as:

  • Collaboration and communication 
  • Working solutions 
  • Responsiveness

As De Haaff mentioned earlier, user adoption can be unpredictable. 

To effectively onboard and adopt new users, therefore, businesses must stay flexible, agile, and adaptable.

A good place to start is by adopting an agile mindset and agile business practices, such as agile software development or agile change management.

9. Measure.

Progress cannot be made without a way to gauge progress.

After developing a product adoption strategy, roadmap, and goals, it is necessary to create metrics and KPIs.

App developers, for instance, use a variety of metrics to gauge user adoption, the user experience, and the product experience.

These can include:

  • Engagement metrics, such as monthly active users (MAUs), weekly active users (WAUs), and daily active users (DAUs)
  • Adoption metrics, such as the number of downloads, installs, uninstalls, as well as timelines
  • Performance metrics, such as software utilization rates and productivity levels

The metrics used will naturally depend on the aim of the project.

A business that adopts software for internal use would use entirely different metrics, such as:

  • Employee proficiency levels
  • Time-to-competency
  • User productivity
  • Software utilization

In short, a business should choose metrics that offer insight into its project, measure the adoption project’s progress, and understand what areas need work.

10. Analyze, learn, and adapt.

Measurement alone is not enough.

To truly make use of their data, businesses must use that information to:

  • Gain insight into the product experience and the user experience
  • Understand what factors are driving that experience
  • Learn from and act upon those insights

Design that is driven by data and users will require agility, as mentioned above. This, in turn, requires the ability to measure user input, learn from that information, and make changes quickly.

One business approach that focuses on these areas is lean, discussed below.

Lean Product Development and User-Centered Design

Lean thinking is a business approach that, like agile, focuses on user-driven design, speed, and adaptability.

Here are a few concepts that can help introduce the lean mindset:

The Minimum Viable Product

Product developers should focus on developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), rather than a product that is fully developed.

The idea is to reduce waste – after all, why release a product full of features that users don’t want?

An MVP is a product experiment designed to provide users with a minimum level of functionality. Its purpose is to gain feedback and input from users and to test a hypothesis.

If the MVP generates positive results and user feedback, then the product developers can make adjustments and continue development.

The Lean Production Cycle

The lean method views product development as an incremental process, rather than an all-at-once “waterfall” approach.

This iterative development style is designed to deliver products that are more relevant and useful to users.

The lean development cycle consists of three stages:

  • Build. The first stage of the lean development cycle is to actually build a product iteration.
  • Measure. Once this iteration is released, businesses can measure its performance.
  • Learn. That information is then used to gain insights and inform future product iterations.

This style of product development is designed to continually improve products and the product experience.

Beyond Minimal Viability to “Lovability”

Other product development experts have taken the concept of the MVP to the next level.

As we saw above, an MVP focuses on delivering the minimum level of functionality.

However, some suggest creating products based not on functionality, but on how much they delight users.

That is, they suggest creating a minimum “lovable” product, which focuses on generating the maximum amount of “love” with the minimum amount of effort.

After all, as we have seen, experience plays a central role in product adoption – not to mention the product’s overall performance in the marketplace.

What to Do When MVPs Become Fully Mature Products

Once a product has fully matured and developed a full range of features, a certain degree of complexity is inevitable.

When products are full-grown, the product developer’s emphasis changes.

Rather than adapting products based on early adopters’ input, the focus shifts toward streamlined product adoption.

At this point, new strategies and tactics are needed to improve the end user’s product experience.

How Digital Adoption Platforms Simplify Experiences … Even for Complex Software

Unlike an MVP, a fully mature product must find ways to introduce its product quickly and efficiently.

And the more complex a product is, the more difficult the task becomes.

B2B enterprise-grade platforms, for instance, offer an impressive array of functionality – complemented by an equally impressive degree of complexity.

For such complex platforms (or even platforms that aren’t as complex), effective onboarding, training, and adoption are essential.

Above, we have already covered the benefits of effective adoption – such as increased user engagement and productivity.

But how does an organization improve the user experience for products that are full-featured, complex, and sophisticated?

Digital Adoption Platforms are one solution.

What Digital Adoption Platforms Do

Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs) are solutions specifically designed to streamline adoption, onboarding, and training.

These software solutions are UX layers that operate separately from their target platform.

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The WalkMe Digital Adoption Platform, for instance, is used to onboard and train users on a variety of other software, including:

  • CRM platforms, such as Salesforce
  • ERP platforms, such as NetSuite
  • HCM platforms, such as Workday

To name just a few.

The WalkMe DAP dramatically improves product experiences, for both customers and employees.

Its core features include:

  • In-app contextualized guidance. Automated guidance is offered at the moment of need, directly inside the target application. Users who needs assistance inside Salesforce, for instance, can learn what they need to know directly from the DAP, rather than calling on technical support.
  • Step-by-step walkthroughs. Tutorials and instructions help users learn how to complete tasks quickly and easily. Even brand-new users can learn multi-step, complicated processes, without human intervention.
  • Software usage analytics. Data and software analytics help managers understand errors, training needs, and user behavior. This information, in turn, helps further improve onboarding, training, and the user experience.

Together, these features help users of any skill level learn a new platform quickly and easily, generating a number of benefits for organizations.

DAPs and the Product Experience

There are a number of ways that DAPs can improve the product experience.

DAPs help businesses grow their customer base by:

  • Attracting and retaining more customers
  • Expanding their customer base more quickly and efficiently
  • Streamlining onboarding and training
  • Identifying and fixing user frustration points
  • Decreasing technical support costs
  • Automating repetitive tasks

In today’s ever-changing marketplace, where the user experience matters more than ever, DAPs are becoming vital tools for improving the product experience, streamlining adoption, and driving user behavior.

Conclusion: Positive Product Experiences Fuel Business Growth

From the information we have reviewed so far, it is clear that the product experience plays a major role in business growth, revenue, and performance.

To recap some of the points covered so far:

  • The user experience is inextricably intertwined with the value of a product
  • Product experiences impact key metrics for customers, such as retention, abandonment, and engagement
  • Product experiences are also relevant to enterprises and employees, affecting onboarding, training efficiency, proficiency levels, productivity, and other key metrics
  • There are many ways to improve the product experience – from the initial product design to the digital adoption strategy

During each stage of the adoption life cycle, organizations should manage the product experience closely.

After all, the product experience plays an immediate role in how that product performs in the marketplace.

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