How to Build a User Research Culture

《How to Build a User Research Culture》

In many organizations, user research creates” friction>. It directly challenges the intuition of others, often at the highest levels. It slows product development. It costs money. It has no clear ROI.

But it’s also essential—89″ percent of customers> stop doing business with a company after a bad experience. User research delivers the quantitative and qualitative” insights> to improve those experiences.

The key is to connect user research to an improved user experience and, in turn, an increase in customer retention, leads, or any other metric for which C-suite members are accountable.

You won’t, however, build a culture of user research by touting slide decks of best practices at all-hands meetings or highlighting case studies from other companies.

So what should you do? Here’s how to start from scratch.

Why user research matters

Amazon owes its success, in part, to user research. Its mission%E2%80%94%E2%80%9Cto” be earth most customer-centric company on understanding and resolving online shoppers pain points whether through web design tweaks or free-and-fast delivery. wei a former amazon employee identified the latter as asymptote>, or key limiter of growth.)

At Samsung, user research led” the company to redesign> its televisions in 2005, doubling their market share in just two years. (Samsung found that television owners saw their sets as furniture and, therefore, valued sleek design.) Febreze realized that consumers” craved a reward>” for cleaning—even though its fragrance-free versions successfully removed unwanted odors.

Yet the justification for user research extends beyond anecdotal evidence from industry leaders. A study” by the nielsen norman group> showed that commercial enterprises—as well as non-profits and government agencies—consistently generate a strong” roi> from investments in usability.

According to that same NNG research:

  • Ecommerce sites can expect to double their sales.
  • Lead generation sites can expect to double their conversion rates.

User research is the foundation for those gains.

Which questions user research can—and cannot—answer

When should you conduct” user research>?

  1. When you want to assess the intuitiveness and functionality of your design (be it an app or an automobile).
  2. When you want to fine-tune your design by testing prior decisions.

For web-based products, user research can deliver quantitative measurement of on-site user behavior and qualitative insights from open-ended surveys and user recordings.

For conversion optimization, user research is pivotal. It forms several components of our ResearchXL” framework>:

  • Analyzing web analytics data to understand how users currently move through a site.
  • Conducting mouse tracking analysis to understand which components earn the most attention, how far users scroll, and where users click.
  • Conducting qualitative surveys to understand why visitors came to a website and whether they achieved their goals, and to ask current customers about their experiences.
  • Reviewing real-time user tests to understand users’ thought processes as they try to complete a task on a website.
《How to Build a User Research Culture》
The ResearchXL framework uses quantitative and qualitative user research to inform CRO strategies.

In contrast, user research is not” a good idea> if:

Making sure that you’re conducting user research for the right reasons can remove one potential roadblock when it comes to winning over skeptical executives.

Why executive buy-in is so hard to get

Expecting executives to lead advocacy of user research is about as likely as designers championing quarterly earnings targets. User research affects earnings, and earnings validate user research, but accountability differs.

So how do you get executives to value user research? It’s not about trying to “change the culture,” according to Krista Godfrey, who led efforts to revamp the user experience at Memorial University Library:

Rather than transforming a culture drastically, it is better to aim for new goals over time that will influence existing culture. As these goals are adopted and achieved, they can influence the broader culture of the organization, effectively transforming the culture.

The limits of persuasion in the C-suite

Nor, even for experts, is cajoling executives into culture change possible: “I’ve been pitching our services for 23 years and I’ve never once successfully convinced an executive of anything,” writes” ux and design expert jared spool.>

Spool continues:

You can find out what your executives are already convinced of. If they are any good at what they do, they likely have something they want to improve. It’s likely to be related to improving revenues, reducing costs, increasing the number of new customers, increasing the sales from existing customers, or increasing shareholder value.

Good UX can help with each of those things.

Once you start talking about what the executives are already convinced of, it becomes easier to get them to make investments. You’re no longer trying to get them to change their focus. You’re playing directly into their main field.

A generic presentation about how Apple or some other company has a great user experience program (or worse, a presentation showing all the bad user experiences in the world), won’t convince anyone of doing anything different.

You’ll need to do something custom. Something specific to their current focus.

These are the steps to build that custom strategy—and to ensure it resonates with the executive team.

5 steps to create a user research culture from the ground up

You could try to effect change independently. But your silo—whether product design or marketing or web development—isn’t the only one that needs or benefits from a user research culture.

Only a company-wide user research culture enables iterative testing throughout” the product design process>. Otherwise, the impact of user research is limited by the stage at which it occurs. For a SaaS product, it may be impossible (or, at least, prohibitively expensive) to redo the user interface (UI) if user research doesn’t enter the equation until the final stages of development.

Fostering widespread interest in user research begins with the identification of internal allies.

Step 1: Build a team of internal allies.

People inside your company—and outside your department—feel your pain, even if they don’t define that pain as a lack of “user research culture.”

  • Marketing staff relies on user” persona research> to target the right prospects.
  • Sales representatives know that a happy customer is a potential referral that can generate a quick and lucrative commission.
  • Customer success personnel know that satisfied customers don’t complain about the same issue over and over again.
  • The finance team understands that content customers are less likely to churn and destabilize revenue flows.

Change begins by building relationships with other internal advocates. Working with multiple departments quickly shifts the conversation from a design- or UX-centric language to the broader goals of user research—customer” satisfaction> and brand advocacy.

《How to Build a User Research Culture》
The vast scope of research that may take place within an organization. (Image” source>)

Real-world user research teams

Google. When Google embarked on a massive” and unprecedented redesign of its core products>, designers found that collaboration with engineers forced them to choose a shared vocabulary.

Rather than focusing on specific design elements, they articulated changes in the shared language of user success: “This is going to solve user problems. It’ll take less steps, or people will find that perfect place for a romantic dinner.” (They also validated design choices quantitatively with “voluminous” user” testing>.)

Yahoo. At Yahoo, they created” a centralized ux research and accessibility team> that included “researchers from existing design research, mobile UX research, ads and data research, [and] accessibility.” (Yahoo enjoyed top-down support for their effort, but the lessons still apply.)

The diversity within the Yahoo team all but guaranteed that user research would counter beliefs of those involved, something Yahoo viewed as positive: “When teams learn information that they were not expecting, they see the value in user research.”

Despite that benefit, the range of professional backgrounds mandated investment in internal team building, too: “Time spent understanding the team and the product is just as valuable as time spent understanding the user, and one needs to spend time doing both to be successful.”

Memorial University. Memorial University Library took a similar approach to their user research, establishing a “permanent” team devoted to usability. The permanent component was a subtle argument for the centrality of user research:

As a permanent group, it highlights both the importance of user feedback and evidence-based decisions within the organization. A standing team devoted to usability testing also implies administrative support for the practice and values the skills the group will develop among its members. As skills grow and spread from this team, usability becomes an organizational value and inherent aspect of the library culture.

A “braided” approach to UX and design

In all cases, the resultant teams adhered to what” mckinsey labels a approach> to product development, which weaves design, strategy, and technology efforts—and employees—into a single strand:

《How to Build a User Research Culture》
McKinsey’s “braided” design model ensures participation from multiple groups throughout product development. (Image” source>)

To find allies, ask:




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