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In the universe of user experience, benchmarking measures and tracks your project over time. You can track the progress of your site or app, measure how features or improvements are impacting the experience, and even compare your site or app with that of your competition. Whenever I hear the word ‘benchmark’ I immediately think of a complicated graph or spreadsheet. Lots of numbers, lots of statistics. Lots of data. And that makes sense. Because benchmarking is, after all, a way to measure. But is that all it’s good for? Keep reading to learn about four surprising ways benchmarking can help your team—and your organization.
We all measure success in different ways, but no matter what metrics you rely on, they won’t mean much if you aren’t keeping score. I’ll give you an example. Several years ago I had a friend who worked for a small startup. She had regular chats with her boss about performance but was never given any clear goals or metrics to measure her progress. Each time they talked, she was given a general, “You’re doing great!” and that was about it. Then, at the end of the year, her boss whipped out a detailed spreadsheet that showed all sorts of goals she wasn’t living up to. Naturally, she was pretty upset. How could she be expected to improve if she didn’t know how she was doing in the first place? Sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s pretty much what you’re doing if you’re not benchmarking your user experience. You might have a great year in sales and get tons of traffic to your site. But how do you know whether your improvements contributed to that success? And how can you make sure you’re continually improving what needs to be fixed and letting the stuff that’s working do its job? Benchmarking enables you to track every enhancement or change you make to your user experience so you can see what’s working for your target audience, and what isn’t.
While I realize that metrics are necessary to track progress and measure success, I’ve always felt that they lack soul. But after talking with Maggie, I realized there’s another benefit to benchmarking I hadn’t considered: getting your internal teams excited about their progress. This really hit home for me as I considered a website redesign I worked on at a previous company. Our content team labored over edit after edit until we were happy with the results. We shipped the content off to the project leads for approval, and… crickets. Other than the occasional edit and wordsmithing, our team was pretty much out of the loop once we completed our assigned work. It wasn’t until the site went live (several months later) that we got any feedback on the content. The experience wasn’t exactly motivating. Now imagine if my company had been benchmarking and testing the prototypes of our site throughout the development process. Our team would’ve had real-time feedback on the content and we could’ve seen how each iteration impacted the user experience. It’s been said many times before, but there’s nothing more motivating than watching a user struggle through (or enjoy) something you created. That direct feedback would’ve given us the direction we needed and I’m willing to bet the site would not only have turned out better, but it would’ve been completed in half the time as a result.
Not everyone lives in a world where the user is the center of the universe. As a result, it can be difficult to win over stakeholders from other lines of business, not to mention the executive suite. But when everyone involved in your project sees the qualitative and quantitative results over time, it’s hard to deny that a customer-centered focus is the right approach.
Benchmarking isn’t just about dollars and decimal points. It’s about your design, too. A design that tested well with users will eventually need some tweaks. But how do you know the changes you’re making are any improvement over the previous design? Measuring and evaluating each iteration will help guide your design decisions and ultimately lead to a product that users will use and enjoy. The insights you gain from continuous testing and research need to be a living, breathing part of your customer research strategy. Test early, test often and keep score. Your team and your users will benefit from benchmarking your research.
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