7 Practical Tips for Gathering Better Customer Research

By Lisa Helminiak

October 9, 2016

Getting Beyond Voice of Customer to Understanding Customer Behavior

A pharmacist once told one of our visiting design teams that a piece of healthcare software that we were hired to re-design, worked well and helped her do her job better. Then she began to boot up three separate laptops.

“Why three laptops?” we asked. To which she responded that the software ran so slowly she had to use three computers at once to get all her queries run.

The system wasn’t working well for her. She was just coping with it.

Next, she pulled out a clipboard with a matrix of symbols she’d fashioned into a checklist for each patient. She was trying to reconcile different medication records for her patients along with critical information that wasn’t currently included in the software. It was another barrier to her work, and another fairly simple fix for us.

What You See is What You Get

From a design standpoint, there’s often a big difference between what people say and what they actually do or experience. That’s why observation is so important to customer research.

According to Forrester Research, 97% of companies with Voice of Customer programs use surveys to gather intelligence on customer wants and needs. Other tools with the highest use include ratings, social media feedback, comment cards and other direct response mechanisms like email or voicemail.

The problem with all of these research tools is they only measure what people say. If we had only used tools like these with the pharmacist, we would have missed a lot of important information.

To uncover what customers really do, we have to get out of our comfy offices and go to where they are. We have to hang out with them, in their homes, their cars, or at the supermarket—wherever it matters.

Tips for Observational Customer Research

Spending time watching and observing customers in the field is invaluable. But either from a lack of time, money or understanding, not many companies and organizations do it.

Getting started with observational research isn’t hard, but it takes experience to get it right. Here are some tips and tricks we’ve learned from studying lots of customer behavior in the field.

1. Look for Sticky Notes

Azul Seven does a lot of design for improving digital user experience. We’ve learned that sticky notes are often the tell-tale signs of user workarounds.

Users create workarounds when there’s friction in the system, or something doesn’t function as effectively as it could. The same is true for observing customer service representatives to analyze service experiences.

When you see a sticky note, ask about it. People often become so accustomed to their workarounds that they don’t think to tell you what could be improved.

2. Ask Open-Ended Questions

You’ll gain much deeper insight into customer’s experiences and actions by asking open-ended questions.

“Tell me about your last successful shopping trip,” empowers a customer to say what’s important to them. Whereas, yes-or-no questions and multiple choice options restrict interviewees to ambiguous and less informative responses.

Open-ended questions allow the subject to lead the discussion and share experiences that resonated with him or her.

3. Don’t Be Afraid of the Pause

Pauses in conversation make people uncomfortable…

As humans, we intuitively want to fill pauses to keep the conversation flowing. But when doing research, a pause can signal that someone is going to tell you something emotional, meaningful or important.

Don’t be afraid to keep quiet, watch and listen. You might discover something significant.

4. Observe Context

Observing people in the environment where they typically use your product or service is instructive.

Is the lighting bright or dark? Is the situation noisy? Is the user calm, stressed or distracted? Are they with others or on their own?

Context can have a big impact on how well customers use and enjoy products or services. If you observe customers in atypical situations, you’re like to get atypical (a.k.a. unreliable) research data.

5. Observe What People Do

IDEO’s Tim Brown once said, “A good designer observes, a great designer observes the ordinary.”

To observe the ordinary, focus first on what people are doing. This along with the context can give you a fuller picture of what their needs are.

Observing that our pharmacist had created her own matrix was insight that our software was not fully meeting her needs.

6. Notice How They Do It

Next, observe how people do what they do. Is it easy or laborious? Are they wasting time or resources? Or are they missing something that could help?

Observing that our pharmacist opened three laptops to get through all her queries was clear and direct feedback that our software was not performing to the standards required in the clinical setting.

7. Ask Why—More Than Once

Last, ask and observe why. Asking “why” more than once helps customer experience researchers unpack the real reasons customers act in certain ways or think what they do.

Consider the following example.

Q: “Why do you drive your mother to her doctor’s appointments?”

A: “Because I want to understand what the doctor has prescribed so I can help her follow the treatment plan. So she stays well.”

Q: “Why do you need to be there to know what the doctor has prescribed?”

A: “I want to hear the treatment options first hand because I’m not sure my mother can give me all the details after the visit.”

Q: “Why is she not able to give you the correct details after the visit?”

A: “Well, her memory is not always great. Neither the doctors nor the other care providers give us anything in writing after the visit so we can double check. Even the prescriptions are sent right to the pharmacy, so I can’t even reference that information before we pick up the medication”.

Q: “Why don’t the care providers provide you something in writing?”

A: “They do apparently publish the follow-up care notes to a patient portal, but my mother doesn’t use a computer for anything other than email. So we don’t know how to get access to this portal. She probably wouldn’t use it anyway.”

Q: “Why wouldn’t she use the patient portal?”

A: “She’s uncomfortable with the computer, so I don’t think she would want to try to figure it out. I would use it though if I could access it”.

See how continuing to ask “why” leads to deeper and deeper empathy gathering and customer information? That’s the trick.

Just Get Out There

These are just a few ideas that can help uncover customer behavioral insights.

As with most new processes, the important thing is just to get started. Get out and visit some customers right away. Start watching and listening, and you’re guaranteed to learn valuable lessons for your organization.

Learn more about Azul Seven and how we work.

Want to learn more about design for innovation or biomimicry?

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