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Synthetic vs. Real-User Monitoring: How to Improve Your Customer Experience

real-user monitoring

As COVID-19 has accelerated the world’s migration online, companies are more focused than ever on their digital experience. Keeping customers happy through website speed, availability, and performance is paramount. And outages are costly: According to Gartner, companies lose an average of $5,600.00 per minute, or over $300,000.00 per hour when their sites are unavailable—and that was in 2014.

Speed matters: BBC found that for each second of increased page load time, 10% of users leave the site. And in general, monitoring, measuring, and improving your digital properties is your key to creating great digital customer experiences—a capability that has a direct impact on your business outcomes.

Many site owners rely on Real User Monitoring (RUM) and synthetic monitoring, two major components of Digital Experience Monitoring (DEM), to measure uptime and performance.

At a basic level, developers and IT Ops teams use RUM and synthetics to ensure that critical endpoints are available and deliver pleasant customer experiences. On a deeper level, RUM and synthetics helps teams:

  • Proactively improve uptime for critical service, API, and third-party dependencies
  • Drive successful deployments by finding and eliminating errors, slowness, and poor functionality before pushing to production
  • Improve customer experience by delivering content faster, improving page interactivity, and visual stability

The promise of RUM and synthetic monitoring is teams proactively ensuring great customer experience, and making informed decisions that improve digital business results.

In this post, we’ll explain three big themes for your customer experience:

  • Frontend (end user) monitoring is a critical component of your digital business strategy. It’s also absolutely essential to understand your end user experience, and the relationship between website performance, customer experience, and the result to your business.
  • Synthetic and real-user monitoring (RUM) provide deep, complimentary visibility to your end-user experience. The two are highly complementary; some teams find it useful, and even essential, to use them in tandem.
  • The best monitoring strategies provide end-to-end observability. This approach gives developers a single, holistic framework for improving the digital customer experience through every layer of the stack.

Frontend monitoring: why it’s different—and why it’s essential

Frontend monitoring, commonly referred to as “client side monitoring,” focuses on measuring what happens after the server has sent information to the web browser and your end users. As a result, there is proven value when using a frontend monitoring solution:

  • Understanding customer experience: The need to answer basic questions about customer experience is critical for a digital business: Can users access our site? Is our site fast enough? Do all the features and components of our site work? After ensuring basic availability, performance, and functionality are key themes for site owners. Ultimately, customers will find problems. However, frontend monitoring tools can help teams proactively measure performance in a staging environment, and then observe real user experience from the vast combination of customers, device types, networks, and browser types typically seen in production environments.
  • Measuring the health of endpoints, APIs, and third parties: Modern web pages rely heavily on microservices, APIs, and third parties to deliver information to web browsers and end-users. Synthetics tests and monitors ideally inform site operators if service endpoints, APIs, and third party components are up, fast, and providing valid results and information that power satisfying end-user experience.
  • Managing inter-reliant technologies and distributed systems: A modern website is complex and delivers experiences through a dynamic collection of frameworks, APIs, images, third-party services, plugins, content platforms, and more. Part of “job one” for a company is to build a site that satisfies users regardless of location, network, or device. Frontend monitoring can answer questions of performance amidst hundreds of resources, API calls, application transactions, and services being pushed from the server to the browser.
  • Empowering digital business with customer feedback: Monitoring end user experience can help inform key technology and business decisions. Beyond basic availability, teams harness end user data to help answer questions about how fast they need to be to increase key metrics like the amount of checkouts or ad clicks. Digital businesses that successfully measure end-users data are able to quantify the business impact of slow websites.


RUM vs. synthetic monitoring

There are two approaches for monitoring critical endpoints and the end-user experience. The first, referred to as real-user monitoring (RUM), collects timing and performance information from users visiting websites and applications. RUM is referred to as “field data” because it represents a varied, sometimes dizzying, combination of real users accessing your site on different networks, web browsers, geographies, device types, each with their different version.

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