In today's web-based world, virtually all businesses face a common problem: Understanding why customers or users behave the way they do. Even with the increasing amount of information and insight analytics provides, the fact remains that uncovering why is far more complex than simply understanding what your customers or users are doing. Historically, this has been a difficult and expensive problem to address, and most companies still need to conduct in-house surveys or bring on outside help to understand the human motivations behind those actions.

Unfortunately, those traditional methods of collecting qualitative insight are often too slow or expensive to use with frequency and at scale. As a result, enterprises lose billions of dollars every year because of bad user experiences. According to Econsultancy, 88 percent of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad user experience.

Decoding "Why" with Real Feedback from Real Users

Thankfully, new products and platforms have emerged in recent years that make qualitative user experience research fast, easy, and inexpensive. These tools crowdsource participants, provide a platform for recording feedback, and deliver insights that make it easy for any enterprise to design a better customer experience. Ultimately, this allows businesses to go beyond basic activity research and instead capture a clear understanding of why customers make decisions or take specific actions.

One of the most powerful aspects of a platform like UserTesting, for example (disclosure: OpenView is a recent investor), is that it extends well beyond website and application testing to cover virtually any user experience, anywhere it happens. This means that businesses are able to not only test user experiences on mobile applications, but also "in-the-wild" at brick-and-mortar stores, live events, and in other real-world locations.

This makes it easy for an enterprise to test an omnichannel customer journey that includes the web, mobile devices, and in-store experiences--and to do it at scale.

Removing Friction to Conduct UX Testing at Scale

Arguably the biggest issue with more traditional ways of understanding user experience is that those methods create a lot of friction. To acquire customer feedback, you had to disrupt users' lives, put them in the environment you wanted to test, and then observe. This requires significant time, money, and resources, and it certainly isn't a scalable process, particularly for smaller businesses.

Today's new generation of user testing platforms remove this friction, allowing businesses to consistently and iteratively incorporate qualitative insights the same way they currently use analytics to tell them what actions those users are taking. This transforms the way organizations can design experiences for their end users, whether on a website, mobile app, or even with a physical product.

There have been entire businesses built on the back of removing friction from a transaction process and making it dead simple to use a product or convert. For instance, Hotel Tonight's initial pitch was that it only took "3 taps and a swipe" to book a hotel room on a smartphone--and the company has since worked to make it faster. Uber, meanwhile, initially removed the friction of ordering a cab or black car by making the process mobile, location-based, and on-demand.

If we truly value user opinion and feedback, shouldn't we make providing it as easy as possible, too?

Several new tools and platforms are now available that strive to bring that level of frictionless ease to the task of providing meaningful user feedback. Here are a few examples:

  • Survey tools: SurveyMonkey and Instant.ly, platforms that helps marketers connect to target audiences and generate real-time insight (disclosure: OpenView is an investor in Instant.ly creator uSamp)
  • On-site/In-app messages and forms: Qualaroo, UserVoice, and Intercom, which make it easy to personally communicate with users through behavior-driven email and in-app messages
  • Usability tests: UserTesting, which captures video and audio of customers actually using a product, website, prototypes, or apps, and enables businesses to instantly generate insight

Ultimately, these platforms allow companies to incorporate rich UX insight into their design processes at scale, while reducing the time and effort required to acquire it--giving those businesses a competitive advantage over companies who haven't yet tapped into that insight.

In 2013, Econsultancy reported that just 55 percent of companies were conducting online user experience testing. With the arrival of these solutions and given the impact that insight can have on a company's relationship with its customers, I expect that number to rise dramatically in the near future.