User Interviews is on a mission to make the discipline, rigor, and value of research more accessible to companies of all sizes. Every product manager, marketer, engineer can save time and conserve costs by maintaining a continuous feedback loop with customers and target users.
But only a handful of us have experience in research design and practice. And those of us who received training in school may have forgotten what we learned, as time passed. Agencies, consultants, and freelancers can be strong partners, but costs can add up.
As information moves faster, everywhere in the world, the importance of doing research has never been more important. There are too many market risks that organizations face. Companies need to be cautious about how they allocate their resources. But what role should research have? How can we balance methodological best practices with the needs for businesses to save time and conserve resources?
Wanting to identify the most effective techniques that companies are using, User Interviews commissioned me to conduct ongoing qualitative interviews with research practitioners. Our interviewees hold roles in product management, UX, customer success, design, engineering, and content. They have a range of educational background with some formal training in research methods. Their expertise has spanned multiple organizational ranks at companies like Chegg, Google, AppFolio, ProsperWorks, Slack, and Intuit—all companies with track records for building engaging, effective customer experiences. Here are some techniques that they recommend for building impactful research practices.
When asked about how UX research contributes to business impact, all interviewees spoke to the importance of having a “researcher at the table,” early on in a product development, marketing, or sales cycle. The benefit that this brings?
This individual, regardless of the job title that he or she holds, should be a spokesperson for the business questions that need the most attention. That role involves collecting feedback from other departments. A good starting point is asking, “what questions keep coming up in your job?”
Megan Kierstead is one of the researchers who I interviewed for the User Interviews field guide. Her background is in engineering, and she has held a variety of roles within different organizations ranging from EMC to Salesforce. Over time, she gravitated towards roles in research. She started her own consultancy and is now the principal UX researcher at Trifacta.
She wrote a blog post that helps researchers communicate with stakeholders in a more strategic way: “Tell me about the last time you…”
“This is my desert island research question,” she explains. “It’s what I turn to when a conversation gets awkward or lackluster. It’s tried and true.”
The question inspires answers that are easy to remember, doesn’t require interviewees to synthesize information, and tells cross-functional team members the same anecdotes. In team meetings, it makes the value and purpose of research clear. Everyone can connect to a story.
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Business research is built on questions, ideas, and cross-functional feedback. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of nonstop ideation, causing execution to suffer as a result. That’s why research teams need to work directly with executive teams—CEO, CIO, CFO, etc., to determine a prioritization system for experiments and studies to run. This synchronicity ensures that
We hear feedback, but don’t listen
It’s the research ambassador’s role to understand the needs of these business functions and ensure that all research solves users’ pain points. Several of our interviewees create quantitative scoring models, based on internally-defined criteria (which is itself a research exercise). These are proprietary and unique to each organization. They are designed to measure the efficacy of a research program.
Jana Eggers, current CEO at Nara Logix and former executive at companies like Intuit, Spreadshirt, Blackbaud, and Fannie Mae has been on both sides of the table of this challenge—she is an executive who champions the use of research within organizations.
So how do you create alignment with executives? Practice the act of listening as a strategic discipline, explains Eggers who teaches techniques for being a better listener.
“We hear feedback, but don’t listen,” she explained at a talk for Startupfest 2014. “We miss opportunities to make our product and company better and sometimes we miss the opportunity to succeed. Your ability to listen to information you are hearing is critical to building a company (or project or product) to last. That said, it is hard. Hard to hear things as they are, not as we are.”
Do research on your organization. That will enable you to build a scoring system and prioritize your research ideas.
Researchers often perceive their roles as observers and discoverers. They’re also listeners. How do you synthesize this information into actionable material to guide the direction of your business? How do you turn your research milestones from scattered information to a linear narrative?
At regular increments, write a report. Create stories about customers for your team to share. Your reporting template should include the following components:
Every team member should speak the same language, pursue the same goals, and align around overall business impact. Research enables a culture of learning, reflection, and data-driven guidance.
Looking to refresh your user research skills or pick up new ones from fellow practitioners? Check out the UX Research Field Guide.
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