Youth Pushing Bail of HayImproving the customer experience is generally accepted as a must-have practice these days; however, many businesses still do not conduct qualitative user research! At least not in a structured, methodical way that is tied to reporting to show a return on design investment. If leadership is pushing back on spending budget for UX research, read on for ideas on how to push back.

Familiar Scenario?

Client: We’re not getting enough traction for our [Product or Service]. We’d like to bring in some usability expertise and potentially overhaul the UI. Can you help?

Us: Sure. We can get started right away. Do you mind sending over your user personas?

Client: Oh. Personas. Yeah. We’ve heard of those, but we’ve never done them.

Us: Oh. Why is that?

Client: Well, we’ve thought about it, but it’s kind of a waste of time because we already understand our customers.

Us: Sure. That makes sense. You’ve been working in this space for 20 years, but let me ask, does _everyone_ in your organization understand who your customer is? What about all those new sales people who are onboarding right now?

Client: True. But it seems really expensive and time consuming. We just need a new front page on the Web site. Just a fresher look. Maybe we could use FLAT design.

Us: Flat is the new black, isn’t it? But if we don’t understand our end-users, how will we know what’s important to them?

Client: I don’t want them to dictate our designs. After all, customers don’t know what they want until they see it.

Us: All valid points. But there are techniques, and not even all that costly, with which we can get a good, quick understanding of your customers so we, and your organization, can better empathize with them and better meet their needs.

Client: Sounds great, but…

and so it goes.

Clients can come up with many reasons not to implement processes for conducting qualitative user research. Read on for our push-backs to the top 5 most common push-backs we get:

1. “We Already Know Our Customers”-

It’s true. Your company likely wouldn’t exist if someone didn’t know something about your customers, but more often than not, leadership is hard-pressed to have real empathy for their beloved customers. And by definition, empathy is more than “knowing” the customer by demographics, it’s the capacity to be able to say, “I’ve walked in your shoes.” Some executives can truthfully say they’ve been there, but they may be in positions where they cannot relate to customers’ goals, motivations, expectations, and emotional needs anymore.

Industry veterans within an organization will often understand their Customers and we don’t want to come across devaluing this important knowledge. So, leverage it, include it your discovery work, but also ask the bigger questions: does the rest of the organization know the end customer? Do the new business development folks? How are we going to get the rest of the organization to align on who our customers are?

2. “Qualitative User Research is Really Expensive”

While it’s true that things like site visits, transcription services, and incentives all cost money, making assumptions can turn out to be far more costly when those assumptions are wrong.

The idea that user research has to be expensive is also simply not true anymore. There are lots of ways to do user research on the cheap. Start by analyzing user-generated data the client already has to identify user groups and behavior patterns. Once you’ve established some groups, you really only need to interview 5-10 individuals to get a pretty good idea of their characteristics. Recruit from your client’s current user base instead of contracting expensive recruiting services. You can hack together your own usability testing laboratory without spending a lot of money.

We recommend developing a matrix of user research activities that displays the cost and the value associated with each method.  This way, the client empowered to choose how they spend their budget.

Cost-Value Matrix of User Research Activities

3. “Takes Too Long – We’ll Do It Later”

Just like you don’t have to spend a bunch of money to do great user research, you don’t have to spend a lot of time either. There are plenty of quick-and-dirty approaches you can utilize. Again, a matrix displaying the time cost versus value of various activities is a great tool to communicate the trade-offs with your client.

Also, “later” often means “never.”

4. “Customers Don’t Know What They Want Until They See It” and “We Don’t Want Them To Dictate Our Design Thinking.”

This is only true when decision-makers can legitimately lay claim to Genius Design; that is, they can just create, their ideas always work, and the world-over adopts their products and services. There are many who think they can, but very few actually do.

The real tragedy here is that when we don’t get out of the office and socialize our ideas to garner feedback, we miss opportunities to find inspiration for additional innovation. Humans are pretty creative and discovering how they find workarounds in their own environments leads us to find real problems. Real problems lead to real solutions.

5. “Our Product/ Service Is Brand New – We Don’t Have Users Yet”

Start-ups folly in this area frequently; however, this is probably the best time for implementing user research, as getting it right the first time makes all the difference. If you haven’t set up processes to observe and understand how your customers respond to your product, how do you know if you’re meeting a real need; that is, you’re solving a real problem.

Additionally, if you haven’t put an emphasis on improving the customer experience from the outset, you risk damaging your fledgling brand. Look at it this way: if your product is not received well in the market as long as you’re trying to improve it by seeking customer feedback, unless you’re creating something toxic to the environment or people, users will likely give you some grace. And if you’re attempting to solve a real problem, they’ll surely want to see you succeed.

If All Else Fails, Get Subversive

Sometimes, no matter what, decision-makers are just not going to invest in empathy building exercises. So, just do it and call it something different, “Having a meeting with customer service” “Showing {insert non-team member name} this idea” “Calling customer Jane Doe to answer questions about the product.” And then just ask some pointed questions to get good feedback.

Having empathy for your customers is foundational to killer UX. The way this is developed is by getting in the field and experiencing it – hearing it, seeing it, feeling it, for yourself. When you can bring this information into the boardroom, it moves leadership to deeper understanding. Sometimes just getting a sampling of this is all they need. So, go out (without breach of course) and see how you can bring the voice of the customer in the design process.

Bottom line, don’t be dismayed. Change is tough and doing things that are seemingly new sends signals of the risk, but squelching fear is simply a matter of building understanding.

What are some of the most common push-backs you’ve received to user research? How did you respond? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

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With over 17 years of strategic, creative, and analytical User Experience-related practice, Chris Pallé has served in numerous institutions such as world-class ad agencies, e-commerce enterprises, and education groups ranging from small boutique shops to Fortune 100 companies – he gets the Bootstrappers and The Powers the Be.

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