The customer research most likely to lead to growth

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The customer research most likely to lead to growth
Key takeaways from UX researchers at Airbnb, Figma, and Github
Viable Team
Viable Team
October 20, 2021

UX research leads Cindy Alvarez (GitHub), Celeste Ridlen (Airbnb), Vanessa Van Schyndel (Figma), and Grace Vorreuter (GitHub) shared top lessons for how to do user research that leads to truly differentiated user experiences. Below are key takeaways. Watch the full panel discussion here.

What companies get wrong about being “customer driven”

Sometimes companies that tout being customer driven don’t tell their teams why they need to be customer driven. They don’t start with the end in mind. It leads to confusion among teams who end up doing customer outreach in a rushed way.

Start, instead, with a clear sense of what you’re trying to get out of being customer driven and be explicit about that internally before executing your customer outreach strategy.

Don’t value being right over being on the right trajectory

Your company’s leadership should embrace the ability to make decisions based on new intelligence. This applies to user insights too.

As your company progresses along the customer experience journey, don’t give up if it feels like talking to customers creates uncertainty. With C-suite support for continuous and high quality customer research, your company culture is more likely to be supportive of some uncertainty. It’ll give you the permission to uncover the insights that are most likely to deliver a user experience that’s a differentiator—rather than just focusing on fixing bugs.

The customer research most likely to lead to growth

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Common misconceptions about customer research

Some common misconception about customer research are that:

  • It inherently has to be slow or that it takes a really long time
  • It needs to be the most comprehensive, top shelf research every time
  • Simply asking people what they want is enough

None of these are true. Feedback from users can be obtained pretty regularly and quickly, especially if treated as directional. You don't need full longitudinal studies, for instance, for every decision.

Asking what users want will often lead you to narrow or skewed results. Observation, on the other hand, is a powerful component of user experience research. By observing and listening, you’re more likely to uncover frustrations rather than relying on users to come up with solutions for you.

When a little research is worse than none at all

A little research can often be dangerous and counterproductive if conducted with the wrong group of users or structured poorly. It can waste developer resources unnecessarily.

It can also result in a narrowing of your product that only serves a small segment. For instance, if you only talk to power users, you might end up developing a product that only meets the needs of that segment and miss out on opportunities to build for other types of users.

How to do research with budget or time constraints

If you’re on a tight research budget, you can get creative and do things like hiring an experienced researcher as a contractor.

What matters most is that your UX research methodology answers the right question, you’re recruiting the right participants, you’re asking good questions, and you're checking your biases.

If your timelines are tight, ask yourself whether everything you’re working on needs research. Sometimes you have enough past information and context to inform a decision that’s a lower risk to the business. You should have the room to make a call and try things out in these cases.

That said, product development timeframes often feel short when a researcher isn’t involved in the conversation early enough. Your best bet is to involve a researcher into the product conversations as early as possible, even if your product direction isn’t fully baked. They will help you prioritize, scope adequately, and focus on the specific questions that need to be answered or decisions that need to be made about user insights.

Use storytelling to share user research findings

Sharing UX research findings works best when using good storytelling techniques. It increases receptiveness and engagement internally. Distill what’s important about the findings, communicate it clearly, and make sure to include both the “so what” and the recommendations. Tailoring your story to your audience is key to ensuring they care about your findings.

When reporting on research, there’s:

  1. The ‘what’ – the data, the observations, the quotes, etc.
  2. The ‘so what’ – the meaning, conclusion, interpretation
  3. The 'now what’ – recommendations

The ‘what’ should never be shared by itself.

A good storyteller also finds ways to make others care deeply about user research. Not everyone can be present at a customer interview or feedback session. Videos, interactive whiteboard tools that allow for team reactions, and other sharable artifacts can be great tools for bringing to life important findings as well as users’ emotional reactions.

Quantitative and qualitative metrics work well together

Qualitative research can be paired with quantitative metrics to round out user insights. That may mean partnering with analytics, go-to-market, or customer support teams who can bring additional evidence of user trends or findings.

Numbers don’t automatically make something more correct. When you’re developing something new or large, disruptive events make large datasets less useful for predicting the future. The value of qualitative data in such cases is very high.

The role of automation in user research

Automation tools, like any other tool, can add value when used properly.

It’s common for researchers to use different tools that help automate or facilitate their work. Small research teams that support thousands of people need tools that help them scale their research.

Automation tools are a lifesaver for many. Tools like can be used effectively on specific cases like usability flow. Ribbon and can save a lot of time for incentives to participants. Airtable, Mural, FigJam, and other tools can be useful in automating many of the tasks involved in user research.

Should everyone be able to do their own research?

A lot of research is just asking why and listening. Everyone should be able to do that. However, preparation is absolutely critical. Use frameworks that help you stay away from asking leading questions. Focus instead of understanding user pain points and workflows. Asking questions like “why are you doing that?” or “can I ask what’s going to happen next?” and just listening and observing are good ways of doing user research.

How to get creative and scrappy when facing short timelines

Grace used to be on the driver team at Uber and to do user research she would order an Uber, get in the car, and talk to the drivers. You often need to get scrappy and creative to get in front of users quickly.

You can also talk with customers who already contact you with a support request. That’s a good time to follow up with questions like “I’m curious: how do you use this?” or “can you tell me who has access to this tool and how it’s being used?”

Modeling this in your day-to-day interactions with customers will help others internally pick up on it and do it too. It’ll also help product teams and other decision-makers start thinking early on in the product roadmap about what insights they might need to gather.

The most important things teams should be doing for better insights

(Cindy) Build the habit of doing internal research. There’s a 3-part trifecta to this. Whenever someone complains about something or wants something, you:

  • Acknowledge – “you're right, this process is really painstaking”
  • Put in some verbal padding – “just to be sure I’m clear”
  • Ask why – “how is this making your life harder”

Doing this with internal teams helps you build a habit that you can extend to your conversations with customers when they have product feedback or requests.

(Grace) Do more observational research. Find as natural an environment as possible to observe someone using your product. You’re going to learn something and it’ll lead to more structured questions and hypotheses.

(Vanessa) Triangulate your findings. Findings from multiple sources that point in the same direction will make each finding that much stronger. It’ll help you make your case when you're ready to make a recommendation.

(Celeste) Participate or engage in user research in some way. If you’ve got a researcher on your team, watch them. You’ll be transformed in your thinking about user insights in ways you won’t be by simply hearing the findings second hand.

Save time structuring and analyzing feedback so you can focus on better insights

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