In today's competitive market, delivering an outstanding user experience (UX) is critical for product success. A well-designed UX can lead to higher user satisfaction, increased engagement, and ultimately, improved brand loyalty. But how can product designers, developers, and organizations create user experiences that truly stand out and make a lasting impression on users? In this interview series, we are talking to UX professionals, product designers, developers, and thought leaders to explore "The 5 Best Ways to Elevate Your Product's User Experience." As part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Bartlett.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks for having me. I was always interested in technology and that interest heightened when I was in college. I put computers together from extra parts for money and eventually pursued a degree in Digital Media Technologies from Columbia College Chicago. From there, I went on to get my masters in Management and Systems at NYU. My first role post-college was at Classified Ventures and on my very first day my boss brought me a big stapled packet and said: “This is for a brand new company that just came out with a product that's called DoubleClick. Go read this and figure out what to do because no one else here knows how to use it.” I did what I was told, and we were one of the first customers of DoubleClick before it went on to become a huge company that was eventually bought by Google.
It was a great learning experience as I was new to the industry, and it eventually led me to another job as Product Manager for Solbright (acquired by Operative) in New York. At the time, I didn't know what a Product Manager was as there were very few people with that title back then. I was already doing a mix between business and product design, understanding market needs and bringing them through to the tech side to figure out solutions, but this company put more structure to it, more rigor, and more of a thought process around it. I've been working in product management ever since and climbed the ladder by building a variety of platforms for Mimeo, Contently, Monetate, Troops, and now Exclaimer. I manage teams, have experience working at a ton of companies and I love what I do. I love that in product management you’re innovating around corporate growth and organizational direction, looking at what the company is trying to achieve and ultimately driving revenue growth.
In my current role as Chief Product Officer at Exclaimer, I think about issues to solve for our customers and look at the future in terms of where the company wants to go and how my team can help it get there. I oversee product managers, product owners, and product designers and focus on what areas we should invest in for our clients to ensure they are having the best user experience, which then ultimately helps the business with continued revenue growth.
Do you have any mentors or experiences that have particularly influenced your approach to product development and user experience?
There are several industry players and blogs that cover product management, innovative thinking, and design in general that I find really helpful. These include The Product Guy, Sachin Rekhi’s blog, and the Product Management Newsletter. SVPG, Product Talk, and Pendo all have some great content, and I am a big fan of Product School. Lastly I'd be remiss to not mention Pragmatic Institute, which is one of the oldest training grounds for great PMs.
The book “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman is a fantastic book that has also influenced me and my approach to product development. At the beginning of the book, the author talks about how every day he walks into a room and hits a light switch, but the light doesn’t turn off. He didn’t realize it at first, but the light wouldn’t turn off because he was hitting the switch the wrong way. One day he realized that the problem wasn’t him, it was the switch because it is supposed to be intuitive and if it’s not working then the design is wrong. That's the way you have to think about products. If people can't figure out how to use your product, you haven’t got it right. You have to make it effortless and seamless enough that anyone can get through it. You have to make sure you're really thinking the user journey through and it’s books like that, as well as following authors that dive into these intuitive topics that really lead me down this career path.
Looking at personal mentors, I always quote Matt Wise who was my boss early on. He was Head of Marketing and I reported to him in a technical role where I had to give a big presentation. I spent a lot of time preparing and when I started presenting, he stopped me five minutes in and said: “I’m working with you because you know more about the topic than I do and the moment that changes we're going to have a long conversation, but until then go out and do what you think is right. As long as you don't majorly screw up, I'm going to have your back.” Empowering people in their role is important and I've tried to take that approach ever since.
Key Compton was another good mentor—our paths often intertwined throughout our careers and his way of approaching business was very interesting, focusing on how to gauge growth and trajectory. Dan Reich, Co-Founder and CEO of Troops, was also great and someone I looked up to. He excelled at how to partner on projects, and he treated everyone with respect, which I really admired.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
At one point, I had a sales call at Condé Nast and was responsible for giving demos, the room was full of people and I arrived extremely late. Our COO told me to stay by the door and reprimanded me for showing up so late. It was an important moment for me in realizing that there are some things you're just not late for (board meetings, big customer meetings, and things like that). It doesn't matter the excuse, you just make sure you're on time. Making sure you're present and prepared has stuck with me to this day.
Another moment that stands out to me was around 15 years ago when I was working on a project where there was a problem that customers had been experiencing for a while. The issue was that they were unable to pull specific chapters from a document for training classes. I had an inspiration one night realizing that I knew what the solution was. In fact, it seemed so simple that I wondered why we hadn’t thought of it before. My team and I then developed the product and waited, but after a few months no one was using the feature, even though they’d been complaining about the feature being missing for so long. We developed a product that took documents and broke them down into only the chapters you needed for training classes, but the small detail I missed was adding the page numbers. If I had spoken with customers before implementing the solution, I would’ve figured that out. It’s extremely important to talk to your customers and understand their pain points and needs as it will help you in the end. That way, you can provide them with a product that they need and will actually use.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment? We’d love to hear the lead-up, what happened, and the impact it had on your life.
There are a few key moments that have defined my career. One company I worked for was anticipating that the transition from print to digital would hurt our business, so I did a mass amount of research, put all of the statistics together, looked at other companies that were implementing digital, and gave a two-hour, detailed presentation to the entire executive team. I suggested that they go digital and cannibalize the business. It was a lot to swallow for a big company and they said it was interesting, but were going to pass on it for now and go forward with the other work. Nine to twelve months later, they asked me to give the exact same presentation and this time they were completely onboard and asked how much money I needed to get this done. They realized the need for a digital solution months after I anticipated the demand for it and that product is still part of their business today, continuing to grow to meet demand and evolving with new technological updates. The important lesson here is to always look ahead and see where you can grow to meet customer needs and the continuous shift in technology.
I joined my last company, Troops, when they had a ton of customers (about 300), with some spending six to seven figures. They did good business, but it wasn’t growing anywhere near the pace they wanted, and they were struggling to meet their goals. The executives wanted a complete pivot to a whole different industry and to basically start over, but I convinced them to do something in-between that would allow us to continue using much of the work we already had. I recommended that we re-platform, explained to development what had to be done and we came up with a plan on how to approach it, what we needed to succeed, and how much it would cost. I presented it to the executives, they agreed, and we got the whole project complete in about 12 months. This transition opened dozens of new partnerships for the company and eventually pushed forward the company’s acquisition by Salesforce. Sometimes you have to go with your gut and what you think is right, even if others aren’t aligned, to get true results.
How do you prioritize user experience when developing a new product, and what steps do you take to ensure that the final product meets the needs and expectations of your target users?
Understanding customers' needs and pain points is key. Some pain points are only relevant for a few customers, so you have to look at a large number of customers and look at what the commonalities are. As far as UX goes, you have to keep it as simple as you can and add the complexity later. Most people want to add everything from day one and it’s not possible. Sometimes, less is more. Google is a good example here. They came out with email that had a fraction of the options other sites had because they wanted to optimize the user experience to be the best it could be without overcomplicating it. You can always add more options later, but it’s hard to get rid of options once they are out there.
Typically, in the B2C space, you want your product or offering to be cool and unique to draw users to you, but for B2B companies, usability across platforms or sites should be easy and flawless, so you want your product to resemble other products that they are already using. Your customers don’t have time to spend hours learning how to use new tech. They want to use your platform to do what they need to do efficiently and effectively so they can move on to the next thing on their to-do list. You know your product is successful if you have optimized it for users to get on and get off it quickly. Looking at Exclaimer as an example, we want our customers to leverage our email signature offerings as seamlessly as possible without spending too much time having to figure out how to use it. We make sure that we are providing customers the critical options they need, but not overwhelming them with countless ones that would only over-complicate the platform. Whereas in B2C you typically want to keep customers on a platform or the website, in B2B it's the opposite, which is why I am constantly looking at how to get people off my platform as much as possible to increase the value of our services.
Can you share any strategies you have for effectively gathering and analyzing user feedback?
It’s different at every company and depends on who your customers are, but trade shows and events are great ways to learn about customers because you get face-to-face interactions. In-person conversations and engagements are crucial and if trade shows don’t work for your organization, sit in on sales calls or attend customer visits and talk to them to understand what their needs are and what they want out of working with you. You learn a lot from these in person interactions and can build a stronger connection and a better relationship. This is especially ideal when you’re making large deals at six to seven figures, and there’s a lot on the line. Joining regular customer calls is also great to gauge their interests and what they’re looking for in a service.
Can you share an example of a time when you received user feedback that prompted you to make significant changes to a product's user experience, and how did you approach incorporating that feedback into the development process?
I previously worked with a secure document platform and the customers kept asking me for a feature because our competitors had it, but it didn’t make sense. Because the document was secure it would limit how often you could print the document on a printer. The truth is, as soon as you let someone print a document one time, all security is gone because I could print a PDF, copy it, and put it back into a digital file where it’s no longer secure.
However, the customers wanted me to put a feature in where they could print, say, three times, but the security evaporated after the first print, and they did not understand that the competitors who offered this are hoodwinking their customers because it’s not real, it’s not actually keeping the document secure. I continued to fight back, but at some point, I realized that my resistance was actually hurting sales and our business. I finally relented and built the feature in the same way our competitors did, giving into the customer’s needs. Sometimes you just have to give customers what they want even when it doesn't make sense to you.
How do you balance the need for simplicity and ease of use with more complex or advanced features in a product, and what strategies do you use to make sure that users can navigate those features without getting overwhelmed?
This is a hard problem that companies are dealing with. You have to segment your audience and figure out if everyone needs the product to be more complex or only a few users. Typically, you have a small subset of power users who want the website or platform to be complex with many offerings. Everyone else wants to keep it simple, so you want to ensure most users can simply navigate the platform and the super admins of the world can have access to get into the advanced options. Putting complexity in front of everyone slows everyone down for the needs of the few, so find a way to break the complexity off into a special area where most people won’t ever go. This could be in the form of a hidden link where users will only click on it if they know it’s there.
What are some of the strategies you’ve used to make your product ‘stickier’ and increase user retention?
This is another one of those things that can be different in every company depending on the product and customer base. With B2B, ultimately you have to remember that you’re trying to achieve business needs and at the same time, make your client look good internally. It’s important that you are able to demonstrate the value that you and your product are adding, and organizations demand proof in the form of data—they want reports that show they are actually benefiting from your product. Does the product help save time? Will it improve productivity? Will it reduce costs? What is the ROI? You have to be able to quantify this internally to prove to your customers that yours is the best product for them and that’s what makes you ‘sticky.’
Another important strategy is to make sure that you are indispensable. I worked at a company called Monetate that offered AI personalization for e-commerce, which meant that users would get a highly customized experience. Businesses that implemented this generally saw an immediate uplift in revenue because their consumers really valued a shopping experience that was relevant to them, their lives, and their interests. When a business experiences positive growth right after implementing a new technology, it becomes really hard for them to take that product out.
When looking at my current company Exclaimer, we’re seeing the same thing happen with our customers. Once our platform has been implemented, clients see the immediate benefit and recognize that it offers something important. We add control and we offer regulation and standardization for email signatures across an entire company, not to mention the opportunity to further engage with the people they are emailing with. When clients try to imagine managing their email signatures without us, they truly realize our value and that the alternative is not better or even an option. When you are recognized as being a critical requirement, you are guaranteed to see increases in customer retention.
In your experience, what are some of the most effective ways to measure the success of a product's user experience, and how can this data be used to continuously improve the product over time?
For user experience, I like to use heatmap software like Hotjar where you can record users walking through your platform and watch it back as a video to see how they navigate the website or platform. This is one of the most valuable tools ever because you can see precisely what they’re doing and can imagine what’s going through their brain and what next steps they want to take. However, if they get stuck or can’t find what they’re looking for, you can immediately see where the flaws are in the design and can make updates to make it right. For example, when I was working at Solbright we had MTV as a customer and I would watch the user test the product and play around with the buttons in an odd way to get to where they needed to be because the feature wasn’t easily accessible. By watching their experience, we knew what to add. Watching people helps you understand the platform. You can gather time people spend on site and gather data at every stage to find the flaws to make it even better. At Exclaimer, we integrate technology and AI to analyze how effective our platform is for customers, looking at sentiment and if there is anything we should be concerned about. We’re continuing to develop further analysis and testing so we can provide the absolute best experience and product for our customers.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Best Ways to Elevate Your Product’s User Experience?"
1 . Meet with your customers, preferably in person and face-to-face. In order to truly elevate your product’s user experience, you need to first understand who your customer is, and what their pain points and needs are. Interact with them, talk to them, and understand their role in the company. Have conversations about how you’re helping them, what their budget is, and build a good relationship so you can provide a product that meets their needs.
2 . Keep it as simple as possible, especially up front. Customers are looking for a service and want to be up to speed on the platform as quickly as possible so they can get what they need quickly and move on. Most people want a simple design that is extremely easy to use, with only a few people who want it complex, so start simple, and you can always add new features. It’s much harder to take features out once they’re in, so simplicity is key.
3 . Specifically looking at B2B, don’t be so unique that your product feels complex and foreign. Mirror the usability of others in the space. Customers don’t want to spend all day on a platform, so get them in and out quickly. Basically, don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to.
4 . Understand who the end target audience is. For example, you might be interacting with your customer’s customer, so you need to understand that from the start. You are representing the customer’s brand, and you’ll want to present an interface that is snazzy enough to impress the customer’s customer. There might not be real interaction between them, so really understand who will actually be using your platform or product.
5 . Watch videos of the user experience, so you can see firsthand how they experience the platform and where glitches are occurring.
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