Rich Ellis

author
Rich Ellis

date published
5.12.16

The value of Customer Research in Digital Engineering – Listening to learn!

Agile projects have long since placed the product owner at the heart of initiatives. The person with the vision, who understands the drivers for a project initiative, is able to work as a part of the project team to influence and shape output. Critically, this person understands the business and its customers, and represents their interests to ensure their needs are met.

But do they really understand the customer need?

Without listening to and understanding their issues, behaviours and needs, how can any product or service delight its customers?

A product could be based on the latest and greatest design trends & principles, but lack of relevancy risks failure in engaging with and converting customers.

Are we suggesting there is no longer a role for the product owner? Absolutely not. It remains a critical element of the delivery process. Simply, there is a need to ensure the focus of ‘what the customer wants’ extends beyond an organisational view of their customers. And there’s no better way to do that than by engaging with them.

We’re not a dedicated research agency - we’re digital engineers. We simply recognise the value in customer research. Why? It helps to increase confidence in delivery, reduce uncertainty and mitigate the risks in making assumptions. With this in mind, research is a pivotal element of our TIDE process.

Our research objectives within TIDE:

  • Understand the core customer groups.
  • Ensure UX designs are focussed on the need of the perceived target audience.
  • Prioritise the needs identified to focus the proposition around a hierarchy of features.
  • Mitigate the commercial risk of rework further down the line.

So, how do we do it?

There are two key questions we look to answer; what do customers do? And why do customers do what they do?

Understanding the 'what?' is known as Quantitative Research. We look to gather reliable statistical data supporting customer behaviours and habits.

Targeting 100+ relevant customers enables us to gather numerical data and confidently identify key trends. Tools such as Google Analytics offer invaluable statistical insight into user journeys and interactions with a system. Are there noticeable trends? Do users drop out of a flow at a specific point? Trend analysis informs the questions we ask in understanding 'why?' they do something.

Understanding the 'why?' is known as Qualitative Research. Direct interaction with a targeted audience enables more granular understanding of user behaviour, typically through one on one interviewing, or through observing users interactions when in their natural environment (Ethnographic Studies).

This process moves the conversation away from one of a technical nature – ‘Can a feature be developed?’ to one of a more behavioural / value proposition nature – ‘Should this feature be developed?’

Qualitative studies are typically conducted with much smaller groups because of the time to taken to evaluate feedback. The focus is less statistical, and more behavioural.

A recent engagement has seen a targeted user group interviewed in order to gain a better understanding of the behavioural and emotional interactions customers have with complex financial products. The research identified a prevalent aversion to risk, implicitly informing the UX designs. More simple and transparent product information in the application process was validated by customers as a driver for engagement. The designs had to reflect this need.

Research exercises are not constrained to projects where an existing system is being replaced – they can be utilised to test new business propositions. Most notably an initiative delivering customer interaction in payments management had started down the route of delivering a mobile app. It was assumed the customers would prefer the security capabilities an app could deliver, over text message interaction. They didn’t. They wanted the simplicity of messaging combined with apathy towards having ‘yet another app’. Had this insight not been gained, customer conversion would clearly have been at risk of impact. For us, this a true ‘pivot’ moment.

At the conclusion of Research activity, we’re in a position whereby we have confidence in our understanding of the user’s key issues, behaviours, needs and motivations, and how this should influence the design process. We consider this insight critical to accomplishing User Centred Design.

Equally, we’re confident in the proposition, and that through delivering to the customer need, we can deliver successful business outcomes for our clients.

The next blog in the TIDE series will focus on Design Validation, and how to prove concepts before a line of code has been cut.

Prior to that, we welcome feedback and discussion!