1 Simple Shortcut for Understanding Your Customers

When I was still in college I decided that rather than study (or party) the best way for me to spend my evenings was to record episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation. Yes, I could use the timer, but then I couldn’t pause between commercial breaks. I had it in my head that I needed to archive this amazing show because surely it would never air again.

The VHS tapes are probably still in my parent’s attic.

I’ve since moved on to better things to binge watch – recordings of customers using my application using this amazing tool that’s a DVR for my website.

The tool is FullStory. It captures sessions and allows you to play them back later.

I discovered this tool a couple of years ago and it quite literally changed the way I do product development. With FullStory I can actually see what customers are doing on my website. This is truly a magical experience.

I’ve done this before in controlled environments as part of usability testing. The breakthrough here is that FullStory records every customer session! I don’t have to decide in advance to set up a customer interview and record a screencast.

FullStory is incredibly powerful and I don’t think a single review could completely cover everything it does. Rather than touch on every single feature, I’m going to show you how I use it to help me build a better product.

Simple Setup

FullStory is configured with some simple JavaScript that you paste into your website. It’s that simple.

I pass in some extra data that’s unique to my application. This allows me to segment my users in a way that is most useful to me.

Once installed, FullStory starts collecting session data.

Watching Sessions

The bread and butter of FullStory is playing back sessions. I use it to watch how my audience is interacting with Sharey. All of the sessions are laid out in an easy to navigate dashboard.

FullStory dashboard sorted by date

When I click on a session I’m taken into the playback view.

This is SO cool. FullStory allows me to control the playback of sessions very much like I can with a DVR. Pause, play, jump backward are all supported. There’s even playback speed control that will speed up and slow down the session. Handy if there are a lot of sessions to review.

FullStory session playback view

Linear playback is nice but sometimes I want to jump to a specific activity within a session. I can scroll through all of the captured events and with the click of a mouse instantly jump to a specific event in the playback window. I use this when I’m trying to see if someone has engaged with a form or element on my page.

FullStory annotation

If I see anything interesting I’ll add an annotation. When I’m done reviewing sessions, I’ll go back and just look at the parts I’ve annotated. If I find common problems I’ll change the interface, redeploy and go through the review process again.

FullStory annotate a session

This is some pretty powerful stuff. It gets even better when you incorporate segmenting.


Looking at every recorded session is doable but not always a practical use of my time. Instead, I will use the segmenting feature to drill into the specific activities I’m interested in observing.

Anytime I launch a new product feature I can build a segment around aspects of the feature to see how people interact with it. This is so much more powerful than trying to schedule one-off usability interviews. In the time it would take me to schedule, call, and record a single usability interview I could have watched dozens of my customers in a real-world scenario interacting with my new feature.

If you’ve spent any time with other analytics tools you can probably imagine the types of segmenting you can do – by page name, device, time period.

These are the obvious ones. FullStory, because they record everything, introduces “Frustration Metrics”. This is an idea that I’ve never seen anyone else do.

These metrics might require a little more explanation. Think about a time that you’ve been frustrated using an application. You’ve probably found yourself clicking things on the page just to make something happen. FullStory figured out that if customers are doing that behavior they’re probably frustrated. They expose this as a rage click.

With rage clicks, I can now see areas of my application that frustrate my customers. This is a great way to find low hanging usability problems.


Tying it together

I don’t use FullStory in a vacuum. FullStory is an amazing tool for qualitative analysis. It’s in the middle of my process. What I mean is that I start with quantitative analysis – looking at my visits in aggregate with Google Analytics. I then drill into specific areas of my application using FullStory. Finally, I might cherry pick a few interesting FullStory sessions and contact customers directly for an interview.

How much does it cost

FullStory recently went freemium. You can install FullStory and begin using it for free. The free version removes some features and caps you to 1000 sessions per month.

Even with the free version you’re going to get a ton of insights and can do everything I’ve described in this review.

When you’re ready for more features, the premium version starts at $199 a month.

Your turn…

I’ve only just scratched the surface of FullStory. Try it out and come back and let me know some of the insights you’ve discovered in the comments.