“I want extra sprinkles”
Imagine you run a coffee shop. A customer comes in, and before they’ve said anything, you hand them a flat white, because you think you know what your customers want. But what they actually wanted was a white chocolate and strawberry mocha - with extra sprinkles. You have to pour the coffee away and make a new one at your own cost, and the customer leaves confused, frustrated and not a little bit annoyed about their experience. Your business has lost a potentially loyal customer.
How do you know what the customer wants without asking them? How can you delight them? How can you grow your business if they are not delighted?
It’s immediately obvious, and yet often overlooked when designing a digital product. Your customers are people. People are unpredictable, diverse, emotionally driven. Understanding them is vital to your business, whether it’s a small start-up or mature company. Using research to assess and inform your offering has no negative impact on your business besides a relatively small cost, but can completely transform its performance.
Intensive users of customer analytics are 23 times more likely to clearly outperform their competitors in terms of new- customer acquisition than non-intensive users, and nine times more likely to surpass them in customer loyalty.
(McKinsey & Company, 2014)
So when is it best to start engaging customers (existing or potential) and getting their feedback? And how do you do it to ensure you get real actionable insights. Read on to find out.
Gain insights before you start designing
Conversations with customers can lead to surprising outcomes. As an expert in a subject, whether that’s coffee, aircraft interiors or website design, it’s easy to make wrong assumptions about what is the best experience for the user. Test a range of options with users, and don’t be afraid of seeing them fail. It’s a natural part of the design process.
Conduct marketplace and user research
e.g. who are your users? What are their habits? What are their pain points? Who are your competitors, and what services do they provide?
Interview 5-10 people
Gather together a range of people with varying profiles. Potential customers, current customers and those that feel they wouldn’t be interested in your business as an example.
Test your ideas
Get those interviewees involved as early as possible. What features do we need? It’s likely these early talks with the people that matter will help you uncover whole new avenues to pursue. Identifying problems, validating theories or finding new features early can save a lot of time (and money) later on. Make basic prototypes or sketches. Test theories, make mistakes, and then test again!
Invite customers into the design process
When inventing the lightbulb, Thomas Edison and his team tested more than 3,000 designs in 2-3 years. While that is an extreme example, great design comes from iteration. User research during this iteration can help uncover mistakes that are inevitably missed, improve usability, and pleasantly surprise you by challenging your assumptions. All of which lead to a better “final” product.
Help with iteration
As things start to take shape, it’s still good practice to keep a cyclical approach, listening to feedback and making changes to iron out potential problems. Speed up your delivery and reduce painful changes and unnecessary cost by properly exploring possibilities during the initial concept stage - by listening to your customers from the get go.
Help with testing features
As your product gets built the focus of your interviews will naturally shift from being about testing concepts and iterations to testing built features e.g. the checkout flow, the sign up process etc.
Keep listening after your product is live
Discovery never stops. In reality there is no project phase in which all of your learning is done. It’s important to not rest on your laurels once you’ve released your product. Live products are full of rich potential for learning about your customers in a different way.
You now have the opportunity to gather quantitative data about how they are using your product, and will be able to interpret analytics to steer you towards improvements as well as valuable new features. This will help you to remain competitive and will make your customers feel taken care of as they regularly receive benefit.
Use analytics tools to learn more about user behaviour
Do people behave differently depending on where they arrive from? e.g. where are my customers dropping off? - combined with qualitative feedback, why are they dropping off? How can this be improved?
Run controlled experiments in your live product
Change one isolated thing and see how this performs versus the original or an alternative. Constant hypothesizing and testing will ensure you keep up with your customers needs, expectations, and changing behaviours.
Use your findings to shape your project roadmap
You might learn that your customers are dropping off, but that a subscription model would keep them coming back and buying. Use evidence to guide and drive your decisions.
Talking to customers at any point in the design process only serves to benefit your product or business. You will reduce risk and cost because you’re always focusing on the right features for the right people; you're solving problems for real people. The more you listen to them, the more you know what they want and how they want to get it, the more you will delight them, and grow your business.