User research is non-negotiable

October 6, 2022
                                                                                                                                                                                                     

We have all heard it a thousand times and a thousand different ways. Understand your audience… get to know your users… do your research… Every CEO, product owner, sales person and marketer extols the virtues of getting to know your audience better and there have probably been thousands of insight pieces written on the subject. So why are we writing another? Because despite what they say, our experience has shown that audience and user research is often the first thing to get the axe. 

When considering their digital projects, clients often see user research as an optional add-on, instead of seeing it for what it is - an invaluable and essential part of the process. Time and time again, organisations will come to us looking to fix a problem that could have been easily avoided with just a little bit of user research early on in the process. Its outputs can have a profound impact, not just on product decisions but also on wider business decisions. So though you may have heard it before, why not refresh your memory on the benefits of understanding your audience and trust us when we say that it is a must-have, not a nice-to-have. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       An empathy mapping exercise using research insights                                

Improved understanding creates long term rewards

I am guessing that most people wouldn’t spend loads of money and time creating a gift for someone without having any idea if they will like it. Yet organisations do this all of the time. They create products and features without any idea if it is something their customers actually want. Although occasionally this may work out and a product team might make an assumption that pays off, more often than not you will spend months of work and thousands or even millions of pounds on something that was never needed in the first place.

The nice thing is that reducing that risk is fairly simple, just ensure you are conducting user research at key points of the project. It doesn’t have to be a massive research study with thousands of participants, even speaking to a few users is better than none at all. Conduct user interviews at the outset of discovery, show early concepts or wires to a representative sample of your audience, put a clickable prototype online to test particular flows, these are all easy ways to validate your assumptions, minimise risk, and ensure future success.

A chef pointing at an ipad
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       A participant from an in-person research session for our Trail app project                                

Avoid the common pitfall and major expense of having to retrofit features for your user requirements after they have already been built. Just do a smidge of research upfront to better define those requirements at the outset.

Improved understanding helps all areas of business

 The knowledge gained from conducting user research is not just useful to product teams, it can also be useful across the wider business. Everyone from sales, to marketing, to customer service will benefit from an increased knowledge of your customers. It will lead to better strategic decisions when deciding how to sell to them, market to them, and solve their problems.

That is why we often recommend that organisations make their user research available to the wider organisation. A shared research repository can be a great way to put this into practice. Using a tool such as Dovetail or similar, an organisation can capture all of their user research in a single place with a defined tagging system that allows stakeholders to easily browse and search for insights. Over time the repository can evolve and grow, developing an ever more complete picture of your audience.

Screenshot from a Dovetail research repository
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Dovetail can be a useful tool for gathering and disseminating research                                

Improved understanding increases trust

 Conducting user research is also a great way to build up a rapport and increase trust with your users or clients. It gives them a channel to voice their opinions and allows them to feel like they are influencing the direction of a product. Surprise, surprise - people just want to feel valued, and asking what their needs are in regards to your product is an easy way to do that. 

The benefits of customers feeling valued are hard to understate. It can mean better retention, better advocacy and increased acquisition. Happy customers are one of the most effective marketing tools out there, whether it's through positive reviews online or word of mouth. As an agency who often gets new work through referrals, we understand the value of recommendations. Embedding that culture of research in the team and allowing open lines of communication with customers can have positive knock-on effects long after specific projects are done. 

It may seem like a no-brainer for businesses to have a good understanding of who they’re trying to sell to, but the benefits of setting aside a little budget and resource to conduct proper user research goes further than a lot of organisations realise. When you take the time to increase your understanding of your audience, you are investing in a better product and a stronger business. At Furthermore we have helped countless organisations gain a better understanding of their users and upskilled teams on the methodology necessary to continue doing it themselves. Get in touch if you want to learn more about how we can help.

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