8 minute read · Published February 29, 2024

Your secret weapon for a better SaaS happy path

Latest Update May 10, 2024

Everyone wants to be happy. After survival, it’s the most important and desired state of existence. And when we are not happy, we are … unhappy, frustrated, unfulfilled, angry, sad, and everything in between.

This isn’t a philosophy lesson, but rather a fundamental reality that impacts product development and design. When we build, we must build towards a happy path, the path in which users achieve things as smoothly and cleanly as possible, provoking happiness and satisfaction!

This happy path appears to be a somewhat straightforward concept that can be solved with some user knowledge and a few flow charts.

But the reality is that things go a lot deeper than that. Much deeper, in fact.

To truly succeed in building happy paths, you can’t do one-size-fits-all testing and design and call it a day.

Yes, your happy path testing will be binary (there is technically one happy path for a specific flow, and the rest are all not that happy path.) But the reality is that even within a properly segmented cohort of users, there are MANY desire lines, e.g. small variations of the happy path flow that produce a happy path, yet are not identical.

Why does this matter?

Because to truly provide happy paths to all of your users, you have to rely on a great baseline happy path backed up through testing and data AND you have to fill the gaps with helpful and intuitive user assistance tactics like nudges + constantly refresh your happy paths with intent data from search, AI copilot, and more.

How can we do that? Let's dive in!

What is a happy path?

A happy path is a flow where a user interacts with a feature in your product using the most straightforward and error-free sequence of actions to achieve their desired objectives. It's when everything goes right on the first try, without any issues or complaints.

While the idea of the happy path originates from software testing, its relevance in UX design is strong. It’s a foundational part of product design and early testing.

It’s important to point out that when we say happy path, we don't necessarily mean maximizing “happiness” in a traditional sense. What do I mean by this?

Let’s imagine you are attempting to model the happy path for your onboarding flow.

Well, imagine that after a user clicks register, you promise your users $1,000 after they click through three actions. They do this, and they receive $1,000. Ignore the fact that they didn’t set up their new account: if you polled them on their happiness it would probably be 100 out of 100!

Your users after getting that $1000

On the other hand, if they click through three actions to set up their new account, and everything is very smooth on an objective scale, their happiness might be a 60 out of 100 (unless they get really, really excited by great UX 😂. )

This is an extreme example, but you can understand where I'm coming from. Essentially, you can use happiness as a proxy for ease of use, satisfaction, and the lowest time to value.

What you're really optimizing for with your happy path testing is the most error-free and smooth experience for the core task at hand.

Happy path testing and design

Designing happy paths is not as simple as just doing a couple of hours of user research and then prescriptively putting your own sense of the ideal flow on paper. Rather, it's an involved effort that requires a deep understanding of your different user personas, careful analysis of your user behavior, and high-quality data collection, analysis, and optimization.

Truly understanding your user personas

To begin, you have to start not with the happy path itself but with your user personas. Before you can do any testing or analysis, you must dive deep into the different needs, wants, and desires of all of your user personas.

Perhaps you're a small SaaS product with just one or two primary user personas.

Or, maybe you have dozens of different user personas.

Either way, you need to ensure that you really understand exactly what folks are attempting to achieve when they enter a specific flow within your product. By accurately segmenting out these user personas and then spending time building these personas and journeys, you're off to a great start.

Mapping core user flows

From here, you can begin to map your core user flows. You can think of this as visualizing the steps towards each objective. It's like a user story map or an experience map, except in this context, you're trying to find the optimal happy path.

Once you've mapped all of these, you can begin to identify the happy path. Ask yourself which of all these paths is the most positive, cleanest, easiest, and most likely to invoke satisfaction and happiness.

Once you put this on paper and build out the flowchart, you'll be better able to understand how your users flow through your product.

It can be helpful here to interview users and get qualitative feedback, not just to rely on your own hunches.

An example of a simple happy path for log-in
An example of a simple happy path for log-in

Analyzing and optimizing the happy path with usability testing and data

Building your happy path initially is not the end of your journey.

It's essential that you conduct usability testing that comprehensively captures whether or not your happy path is in fact the most error-free flow. But even that initial slate of testing is not enough to give you confidence forever

In fact, your happy path should be periodically re-defined. That's because as your product expands, new features get released, and user personas emerge and fade, the exact happy path will vary. That's just the reality of the software business.

To that end, it's absolutely essential that you not only collect as much quantitative data as you can in the form of conversion rates, fall-offs, click-through rates, and more, but that you also have a plan in place to collect direct qualitative feedback to feed into your happy path optimization efforts.

This could be as involved as in-depth user interviews or as light as an occasional survey. Either way, high-quality UX analytics are essential for crafting a continually optimized happy path.

Happy path optimization tactics

We've talked about some of the strategies that you can use to build and optimize your happy path initially. But let's talk about the most helpful tactics for optimizing your happy path:

Funnel analysis

Ongoing improvement and refinement of your happy path is key, and one of the primary levers you can use is funnel analysis.

If you can picture your user flowing through the flow chart you've built, even on a happy path there's always a chance that they fall out of that funnel. That's why understanding the conversion and stage-to-stage flow rates within your funnel is key.

This funnel analysis will allow you to see the pain points within your happy, sad, and all of your in-between paths. Understanding the pain points and dead ends within your business is also simply good practice.

A/B testing

If you're a larger SaaS product, investing in an A/B testing tool might be worthwhile to experiment with different messaging and positioning to improve your happy path success rate. Obviously, you need a lot of data / n to make this statistically significant, but if you have it then it's a no-brainer.

Your happy path secret weapon

Let’s be real: most happy paths account for only the average case user. For every happy path, there are many desire lines (those lines in fields that show where users want to walk.) Even with a lot of prototyping, testing, and user feedback, even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned flow will sometimes fail.

What's a product designer to do?

Your superpower here is having extremely helpful and targeted user assistance tactics in place.

What does this mean?

We all know that clunky pop-ups and intrusive UI don't work. We also feel confident that our happy path is well-designed. But when some users inevitably fall off (which they will), it's essential that you have a suite of user assistance tactics to get them back on the path and re-center their happy flow.

How can you do this?

Well, across our customer base, we see several core experiences that deliver this.

With in-app messaging like nudges, product tours, and tooltips, you can subtly and intuitively remind users of the easiest way to achieve their tasks.

It can also be helpful to have AI-powered tooling that can dynamically answer and guide your user in response to natural language. We see folks using Copilot as a catch-all to re-route users back to the happy path, deflect CX tickets, and provide highly personalized help.

You can go a step beyond this when you analyze your user's intent data more carefully. For example, let's say you review this week's Copilot queries and find that there's a huge number of repeated questions around a new feature’s sign-up flow. Apparently, folks are having trouble determining the accurate process to get into the Beta. You can go ahead and use that to coordinate product improvements with your team and get a fix out ASAP + add messaging to the annoyed users.

On the other side, we see customers looking at insights on our platform around frustrated user behavior, like rage-clicking and other negative indicators, to identify big blockers and headaches in the product.

Together, these efforts can help you continually redefine your happy paths for optimal ease.

Happy Path FAQs

  1. What is the Happy Path in SaaS?
    • The Happy Path refers to the most straightforward, error-free journey a user can take to achieve their desired outcome within a SaaS application, typically involving the simplest steps to complete a task or reach a goal.
  2. Why is the Happy Path important for SaaS companies?
    • It ensures an intuitive and efficient user experience, reducing frustration and increasing the likelihood of conversions, user retention, and overall satisfaction.
  3. How can SaaS companies identify their Happy Path?
    • By analyzing user behavior, conducting usability tests, and leveraging analytics to determine the most common and efficient paths users take to achieve their objectives.
  4. What's the difference between a Happy Path, a Sad Path, and a Golden Path?
    • Life isn’t always a straight line, nor is your product (as much as you might try!) While the happy path represents the ideal user journey, there are evidently many other paths your users can and WILL take, like your sad path or golden path.
    • The sad path involves scenarios where things go wrong—errors, user mistakes, or unexpected system failures. These paths require careful design consideration to ensure users can recover and find their way back to their desired outcome, often with the help of clear error messages and intuitive guidance.
    • The golden path is a step beyond the happy path, highlighting the most rewarding and engaging user journey. Often, it is used to reference the overall optimal product path, whereas the happy path references the flow for a specific part of the product. Essentially, the golden path is smooth from A to Z, while the happy path might capture B → C only.
  5. How can SaaS companies improve the Happy Path for their users?
    • By simplifying processes, removing unnecessary steps, optimizing user interface and interactions, and regularly updating the path based on user feedback and behavior analysis.
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