If you're like me, you've spent countless hours wondering how current events are affecting your customer today, and what that means for your business in the future. Like you, I have no idea how this will impact us, much less the world, but I have no desire to sit idly waiting for everything to come together or to fall apart.
After 30 years in user research, we at Usability Sciences advise our clients to stay connected and engaged with customers. Doing so will ensure that as things become more transparent, you are in a position to pivot to your customers' future needs. Below are a few low-cost things you can do to focus your efforts, align stakeholders, and stay in tune with your customers.
Assess your Customer's As-Is Journey
- Review/ refresh existing persona data – Pay special attention to data that has been impacted by the pandemic like device usage, income, purchasing behavior, and mobility.
- Create Provisional Personas - Provisional Personas leverage project stakeholders' intuition and anecdotal evidence to create 360 views of the customer. From these exercises, you will notice gaps in the customers' journey that need to be defined or refined.
Example: A new product owner was brought into a tech company to re-vamp their platform. However, there were no personas or user profiles she could use to understand the customer or to create a roadmap. We suggested she start by asking her customer-facing colleagues, specifically those in sales, delivery, onboarding, and customer support, what they knew about the customers and what problems they observed in the experience. Granted, some of the feedback turned out to be more conjecture than fact, but the conversations served their purpose. We learned how much the collective did not know about their customers' experience or journey. By creating an opportunity to share their insights and voice their assumptions, the team was able to create a list of assumptions and questions that ultimately became their research plan.
- Comb social media channels to look for unhappy customers, complaints, workarounds, and recommended competitors.
- Gather stories, be it one-one exploratory interviews or usability testing, in a manner that allows you to interact with the customer in real-time. Very few people are in the mood right now to answer survey questions. They would, however, make time to talk discuss their challenges and pain points if they think you will help them.
Identify changes in customer behavior
- Ask your data & analytics teams to look for trends that negatively impact your KPIs like decreased conversion, increase usage of support channels (chat, customer service, FAQs, refund requests) or unsatisfactory page load times.
Example: A well-known retailer went into March as a brick-and-mortar store with less than 30% of their business coming from mobile devices. As of today, they are entirely online and have experienced an unexpected spike of their mobile site visitors and customer service calls. The increase in visits has overwhelmed their servers and significantly increased load times. In a nutshell, the mobile experience WAS NOT READY, which leads me to my next suggestion.
- Investigate upticks in customer service channels. As your first line of defense, your customer support channels know more about the customers' experience and operational deficiencies than anyone in the company. An open line of communication will ensure that you are the second to know when there is a problem.
Ask customers to assess your COMPETITION
"Large shifts in the market are signals to DISRUPTORS that the time is right to create," meaning this is an ideal time to research existing and potential competitors in your space." – Maddock, 2020
- Don't be the next Blockbuster, and ignore companies who can exploit your weaknesses.
- Run a comparative usability test or a Best-of-Breed assessment with target market users to compare two or three competitors' experiences.
- Identify competitor opportunities and successes and compare it to your own experience.
Innovate with a purpose
- Drawing on conclusions from the customer and competitor data, what could, or should your company do to take your experience to the next level? How will you compete in a changing market?
- Work with key stakeholders to brainstorm possible solutions to existing and future problems your customers may have.
"The starting point of any plan is to identify the company and its customers' future needs within the context of technological change in its industry – and then to scout for innovation solutions to fill those needs." – Maddock, 2020
Enlist the Experts
- Resist the urge to use proxy users instead of the actual target market users.
Example: I once worked with a big-box tech company that wanted to get into the boutique hotelier space. They interviewed a handful of subject matter experts, all from large hotel chains! Of course, none of those persons could speak to owning and managing a boutique restaurant. None of them knew how difficult it was to be both the accountant and front desk attendant, who did a little marketing on the side. But because the product teams had relationships with big-box hoteliers, they assumed their needs and journeys were the same. You and I both know, that assumption couldn't have been further from the truth.
- Find an unbiased third-party expert to help your organization plan and conduct user research – Work with consultants or organizations who specialize in research. In most instances, your research team benefits from not having intimate knowledge of the process, limitations, or politics during the research process.
Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or would like to discuss your tactical or strategic research needs. We're always happy to help.
About the Author:
Adrienne Guillory is the Director of Design Thinking for Usability Sciences. She has worked in User Experience Research for 14 years as an in-house researcher, design thinking facilitator, and consultant.