What are some of the biggest risks your company is facing?
Many people would probably say they worry about a competitor or industry disruptor who may throw a wrench in their plans.
Some might point to legal or compliance risks if they’re in a highly regulated field like healthcare or finance.
Others might note the difficulties of finding and retaining talent.
All of these are valid concerns, but there’s one big risk that many brands overlook entirely: Failing to collect and apply user feedback.
It’s difficult — if not impossible — to create successful user experiences without input from real users. Here’s why, along with the best ways to gather and implement user feedback so you can design memorable, meaningful products.
The Most Common Methods for Doing Customer Research
Whenever you begin a new design initiative or start planning product improvements, it’s tempting to just dive right in. After all, who has the time and money to do research, right?
Everyone – that’s who.
A better question is: Can you afford not to do research? And the resounding answer is NO.
Gathering user feedback does require time and resources. However, the results (both financial and otherwise) are worth it, and the risks of skipping this crucial step are just too great. As design leader Erika Hall explains, “Research is necessary for a successful design project because it gives you a shared basis for decision-making, grounded in evidence rather than in sheer authority or tenacity. And this saves time and money.”
Customer research comes in all shapes and sizes too, so it doesn’t have to break the bank or take thousands of hours to glean insights that could transform your product. There are several ways to collect feedback, each with their own pros and cons. Here are the most common ones you may have considered.
“Research is necessary for a successful design project because it gives you a shared basis for decision-making, grounded in evidence rather than in sheer authority or tenacity. And this saves time and money.” – Erica Hall
Surveys allow companies to ask their users a series of questions about their needs, wants, and/or experiences using a product or service. Some organizations have formal, scientific surveys created and distributed through a professional research firm, while others self-manage the process.
- Good for getting basic feedback about user’ emotions toward your brand or product when you’ve already identified your primary user types.
- An easy way to gather input from lots of people without requiring extensive time and resources.
- Surveys collect a large quantity of responses about users’ preferences, but this data alone is rarely in-depth or relevant enough to be useful and actionable, especially for UX. (Usability testing and tools like UX Rings can help solve this problem.)
- The questions and participants can be unintentionally skewed, leading to biased responses which could steer you in the wrong direction.
- There is a gap between what users say they want and do, versus their true desires, needs, and actions.
Focus groups involve interviewing a group of target customers together to get feedback before a product launch OR a group of current users to get feedback about their experience using the product.
- Allow you to ask follow-up questions and gauge user emotion through their facial expressions and/or voice.
- Helpful for confirming ideas and validating existing concepts.
- Participants influence each other, leading to “groupthink,” several people dominating the conversation, and other dynamics that skew the results.
- Not as effective for uncovering new ideas.
Stories from the Front Lines
People on the front lines who interact with users every day are gold mines of information. Customer-facing teams like Sales and Support can share anecdotes plus trends they’re seeing in real time with executives and others who benefit from hearing that feedback, such as the UX team.
- Real feedback brings reality to strategic planning and design, rather than operating purely based off assumptions.
- Anecdotes offer a level of depth and context that’s missing in written data and surveys.
- These filtered stories flow through a game of “Telephone” from one person or team to another, causing the interpretation to evolve over time.
- The person who originally hears the story interprets it within the vacuum of their own experiences and organization, so they don’t necessarily see additional opportunities or perspectives that exist outside of their bubble in the user’s world.
Software like website trackers, heat maps, and other analytics tools collect data behind the scenes to show user behavior while they’re using a product.
- Track what users are actually doing, not what they say they would do.
- An easy way to gather data from lots of people without requiring extensive time and resources.
- The data tells you what users are doing but not why, making the information more difficult to interpret and act on.
- The data is often incorrect or skewed due to technical issues.
- If the software wasn’t set up strategically with your goals and desired actions in mind, it may not track the right activities or provide much usable, actionable information.
The Best Methods that Most People Don’t Use
Any data is better than no data at all, so if you’re already using one of the tactics above, you’ve already taken a huge step in designing successful experiences.
However, there are two often-overlooked customer research methods that offer major value to UX and product design.
During a field study, your team goes out “into the field” to immerse themselves in a typical day in the life of your user. It’s the best way to observe how they actually use products in their natural environment, what external forces affect their decisions and actions, and what they actually do (as opposed to what they say they do). In fact, UX veteran Jared Spool describes field studies as “the fastest path to great UX” and explains that you can reap the benefits in as little as two hours every six weeks.
Usability testing is all about testing your product with real users to see if it works as you intended. It’s mostly commonly done after a product is built, but the best results come from testing before, during, and after development. (Take a look at this article for tons of practical tips on conducting usability testing.)
Field studies are the best way to observe how people actually use products in their natural environment, what external forces affect their decisions and actions, and what they actually do (as opposed to what they say they do).
Putting Feedback to Good Use with Jobs to be Done
If you’ve already invested in research tools and tactics to gather user feedback, kudos! You’re a step ahead. The next question is: How are you applying that feedback to improve your user experience?
We hear the same story over and over:
“We had this research done, but…”
“The research firm gave us a report, but to be honest, we never really did anything with it.”
“The marketing team has all the survey responses, but we never really get to see them.”
Data is only the first step. What you do with that data is the key to success.
Whether your customer research isn’t being put to good use or is trapped inside one department, it’s essential to bridge the gap and integrate that information into a larger plan that spans silos. Some teams find they can integrate using a grassroots approach (bottom-up), while others find that it takes an executive champion or third-party consultant (top-down) to help surface the best insights and disseminate them across the company.
Data is only the first step. What you do with that data is the key to success.
Even once you overcome the barriers to sharing research, there is often too much data to sift through, and people don’t know what to do with it. That’s where Jobs to be Done (JTBD) comes into play. This one framework can transform the way your organization views research and uses it to make decisions.
JTBD helps you see the role your products play in your users’ lives, why they use the product, and how it changes their life for the better. Features and benefits describe the results a user experience when using your product after purchase, while JTBD illustrates the one “job” the user “hired” your product to do in the first place — a key difference that provides much more value for design and marketing.
Think of the Job to be Done as:
- The main way your product makes your users’ lives better
- The new capability they gain when they use your product as opposed to using alternatives or continuing with their current way of life
- The progress they make every time they use your product and beyond the moment of use
- The underlying desire that will continue to motivate them over time, even as new solutions come and go
Once the job is uncovered through your field studies, usability testing, and other customer research, you can use it to write a Job Story that summarizes all of the insights you gained into one big idea. This Job Story then serves as a “North Star” that not only guides your UX team, but also aligns your entire organization around the user’s needs.
Jobs to be Done helps you see the role your products play in your users’ lives, why they use the product, and how it changes their life for the better.
JTBD in Action
In his classes at Harvard Business School, Professor Clay Christensen tells the story of a popular fast food chain who experienced the power of JTBD.
Christensen explains that the restaurant was looking for ways to boost sales of their milkshakes. They tried everything: studying the problem, giving customers samples and asking for feedback, and more. Then, they implemented changes to address customer suggestions, yet they would see no effect on sales. The restaurant couldn’t figure out how to crack the code.
Christensen and his colleagues decided to take a new approach: They completed a field study (where they went to the restaurants and observed customer behavior), then used that data to uncover the milkshake’s primary Job to be Done.
Christensen’s team was surprised to find that over half of milkshakes were ordered to-go before 8 a.m., so they dug deeper and did one-on-one customer interviews to learn why. They found out many people had a long, boring commute and needed something they could hold with one hand, drink throughout their drive, and fill them up for hours.
What “product” could they “hire” to do the job?
- A banana? No, it only lasts a minute or two, and then you’re done.
- A bagel? No, you need two hands to spread cream cheese and eat it.
- A donut? No, it leaves crumbs all over the place, and then you have to sit in traffic for hours with a mess all around you.
What about a milkshake? Yes! A perfect fit for the job at hand. It’s filling, slurp-able for hours, and only requires one hand.
With the Customer Job identified, the fast food chain suddenly had endless ideas on ways they could design a better product, market it better, serve it better, and more.
What Job Do Users Hire Your Product to Do?
JTBD is one of the fastest and most effective methods for putting user research to good use. If your team has been struggling to identify ways to improve your product and align your organization around the user experience, JTBD might be your ticket to success.