What is the expected response time to deliver good user experience?

A while ago I wrote about measuring user experience or customer experience by applying the User Experience Index as the metric to monitor in today’s digital performance world. To obtain the right insight we must consider four key ingredients:

  1. Errors
  2. Response Times
  3. User behavior
  4. User environment

The causes of response time errors are usually straightforward. People have different expectations of response times, and where many initially feel two seconds for a page load is good, anything beyond eight seconds creates frustration for the user. But if we examine how new web applications are built, and how things have changed with the digital transformation, this is no longer true. Let’s take a look at the following two scenarios.

Scenario A: The “Generate Report” Button

Which response time will satisfy someone who clicks on a button that generates a report containing a list of 10,000 customers with their monthly revenue from the past two years? It’s unlikely this person is expecting a response time of two seconds or ten seconds. Perhaps they are satisfied waiting as long as 30 seconds?

30sec response and still satistfied
30 sec Response Time can be ok! – What’s going on in the users mind defines the threshold

Scenario B: The Search Suggestions

When typing a word or term into a search field, after the first few letters people stop and wait for the search suggestion/auto-complete box to appear. What do they consider to be an acceptable wait time? How long do people wait before they continue typing? Two seconds? In this instance, people expect a response time of 100 ms or less, and become very frustrated if the suggestions only appear after two seconds or more.

2sec response time and frustrated user experience
2 sec Response Time can be far too slow if you expect instant reaction

In general we can define four performance categories:

  1. Instant (0.1-0.2 sec)
  2. Immediate (0.5-1sec)
  3. User Flow (2-5 sec)
  4. Attention Span (5-10 sec)

Now let’s focus on the how this impacts our performance monitoring. For those of you who wish to take a deeper dive on perceived performance I recommend this article series by Denys Mishunov.

User Experience Index upgraded for better Customer Experience Management!

Knowing this, do we run into the issue of needing to define a different threshold for each user action /page load/navigation? In environments with thousands of different user interactions this is not practical. Within Dynatrace User Experience Management we address this by using User Action Groups as well as Key Action Monitoring.

What are User Action Groups?

User action groups are basically “buckets” for similar User Actions/Web pages. In this case “similar” refers to the response time a user expects. This allows us to say for the “Generate Report” case that we expect a response time of 30 seconds and consider this to be a good experience. For the “Search Suggestion” case, we can define a threshold as low as 100 ms and, for the product detail pages, we maintain the two second threshold. These defined thresholds create the basis for the calculation of the user experience of each visitor, and allow greater accuracy in determining whether someone has a satisfying or frustrating digital experience.

How else can we leverage User Action Groups?

We use Dynatrace UEM to monitor our Word Press Instance that hosts this blog. I came up with a Best Practice to define a User Actions Group per publishing year of blog post this segmentation allows me to easily determine how much traffic is driven by current blog posts vs blog posts from previous years.

Blog publishing year segmentation via user action groups
APM-Blog traffic analytics by segmenting traffic per publishing year and author

An eCommerce platform could separate their monitoring by product category, and observe if people have different experiences depending on the categories, or determine which product categories are requested more often. Overall, it offers new options for focused observation and reporting.

If you fancy reading more about the basics of the User Experience Index take a look at my previous blog or start using it right away with our Dynatrace User Experience Management solution.

Klaus is a Senior Technology Strategist in the Center of Excellence at Dynatrace. Klaus influences the strategic direction and development of application performance management solutions. He has deep experience gleaned from years of developing and running large scale web and mobile applications for online businesses.