Marijuana legalization may be trending in the United States. Or not. The charts are confusing. Regardless, weed has almost nothing to do with this article.

This article is about charts and what happens when you look at them. Or, rather, what doesn’t happen when you look at them.

As customer experience is increasingly recognized as paramount, charty analytics may not be the best place to center your attention. You want users (sometimes called “people”) to have a great experience. When people interact with your website, each person will have a unique experience. They’ll be happy, neutral, or upset about it, which can cause them to publicly gush, ignore, or bash you, respectively. By the time that sort of thing shows up in charty analytics, you’re already way behind in the “great customer experience” department.

Lest I be accused of being a data-hater, I’ll start by praising charts. Charts can reveal broad patterns in otherwise overwhelming data. Charts can succinctly inform us as to whether we sucked more or less than last quarter, on all sorts of metrics. Beyond that, though, the mileage varies. In companies past, I’ve gone on more than a few cartoonishly ill-conceived missions by misinterpreting or overinterpreting charts:

Oh noes! Usage on Tuesday mornings before lunch is down by 4.3% week-over-week for the last 2 weeks. We need to change something … ANYTHING!

While the above happens from time to time, mostly what I do with charts is inadvertently ignore them.

I call it chart blindness.

Chart blindness.

It sneaks up on you. In a fit of getting my act together, I create a series of excellent dashboards — in Google Analytics, say — and fill them with charts I’m certain I’ll look at every day. A day passes, and I do look at the dashboard again. I return faithfully the next day, too. But on each subsequent day, the charts look almost identical to the day before, so I pay slightly less attention. After a week, the dashboard may as well not exist: I have acquired chart blindness.

Chart blindness is actually worse than not having charts. At least when you’re chartless, you know that you’re flying blind. Chart blindness makes you forget (because you did create some charts, after all) that you still have crucial unanswered questions:

  • Is my product well-designed?
  • Where are users getting most frustrated?
  • How are users liking that new feature?

Those really are answerable questions — and they’re more directly relevant to customer experience than the insights that charty analytics typically provide.

Okay, so what then?

That’s where tools like FullStory, Inspectlet, Crazy Egg (sort of), and others come in. They help give you real insight into what your customers are actually experiencing as individuals, not just en masse. When you can see what your users see, then you can know when something needs to change. You don’t have to read tea leaves.

Suppose, for example, you can easily see that dozens of users frustratedly click on an eye-catching image because they mistake it for a clickable button; you’ll know exactly what to do. It’s a true story, by the way. Early on, we included the following static image on our website:

Visitors to our website would click on those pseudo-buttons like crazy. And they’d get irritated when the buttons did nothing, which was obvious in FullStory session replay because we could see people proceed to pointlessly click repeatedly in rapid-fire succession. (We started calling those rage clicks.) And of course we changed our site.

That’s just one insight among countless others that charty analytics will never show you. Great charts are great. But when it comes to crafting a great customer experience, they aren’t the full story.