Category Archives: Insights

The oldest trick in the customer experience book

Every Tuesday NZ business strategist Lance Wiggs issues ‘Three ways to improve your business’, Last week at number two is ‘Meet your customers’.
This simple advice represents the grass roots of a customer-centric approach to building a great experience for your customers, and competitive advantage for your business.

So, if this approach is simple yet crucial to design and business, why do we have to be reminded?

In the world of retail, gaining customer insight is; there for the taking, known best practice and as old as shops themselves.

In traditional retail, understanding customer behaviour is a matter of key staff keeping eyes and ears open. At base level, switched-on store managers can track and respond to demand and popularity of products simply by watching them fly off the shelf (or not). Front of house employees with their ears ‘on’ can gauge reaction to new product lines and track customer requests to inform potential new products or services.

Online, without face to face contact with your customer, you’re blinded to these insights and opportunities.
…of course web analytics can paint some of the picture, and tracking keywords in your site search can take you closer to the mind-set of your customer…

…but ultimately these aren’t stats or keywords, they are people and  it’s about meeting them, understanding the attitudes that drive behaviours in and around the context of your product or service, and their wider goals relating to what you offer.

This means qualitative research at an individual level. By building empathy with your customers, you can gain valuable insights into their motivations, monitor changing attitudes and expectations to inform vital changes to your proposition. …just like shopkeepers have been doing for thousands of years.

Lance’s timing is good however, as too many online businesses have failed to keep eyes and ears on their customers.  It’s an old and proven approach, and it ain’t going anywhere soon.

UX Research participants. Harder to pick than a broken nose?

Recruiting the right participants is a numbers game, so I was unsure sure what to expect returning to New Zealand from London.

All the insights, opportunities and reality-check moments which emerge from customer research or usability studies can be thrown down the pan if you’re not talking to the right people.

If your target sample is iPhone users who’ve downloaded from the appstore, that’s a pretty clear ‘consumer’ type brief. You probably won’t struggle to find a few of these and can’t go too far wrong.

…But what about when your client’s product is business to business and still at concept stage? You know the demographic, market segment, and perhaps the industry the potential customer base work in, but you need to know they are ‘warm’ to your product.

This is when a good recruiter is worth gold to the credibility of your User Experience project.
The ‘face to face’ research component is sometimes only a slice of a User Experience or User Centred Design project but the insights gained and direction provided can have a powerful effect on the end product. Being certain that these insights come from the right place and are based on truths is essential.

Finding a sample truly representative of your potential audience, achieving a realistic spread of demographic and many other factors across a small sample of people is a professional art form. Rather than asking yes/no screener questions, they’ll use subtle but revealing attitudinal questions to weed out the less useful participants.

I’ve recently worked with a company in Christchurch who had this level of attention to detail and came up with the goods on a tight brief.

If you are looking to find a solid and accurate sample, I can recommend you get in touch with Karen at Opinions

Do you know of any good recruiters for User research or Usability in New Zealand? or viewing facilities around the country ?   … or perhaps you know of some to avoid…
I’d be interested to hear.

Kiwi teacher’s User Centered Design approach wins over students (and Microsoft)

A geography teacher from an Auckland school is hailed as the ‘most innovative teacher in the world’. Delivering lessons via students mobile phones.

Nathan’s approach:

  • Understanding his audience
  • Observing their behavior
  • Building empathy with their needs
  • Harnessing their input

…and ultimately innovating learner experiences in an education system stymied by tradition.

Here are some cues from the article as to how a User Centered Design approach helped him reach this great outcome:

“No matter how much technology advances, high-quality teaching will always be linked to having a good relationship with students”

‘learning through information technology and student involvement. Students helped – by telling him what they felt was most appropriate or interesting’

There’s a video on MSN charged with Nathans enthusiasm for the way he’s been able to respond to the needs and behaviours of the students, by the power of observation.

He says the students who inspired the new method have embraced the technology and experience.
Pass rates have risen from 50-60% up to 80-90%.  Hard to argue with that sort of result.

Those who adapt, survive.

When it comes to adapting, we Kiwis are experts.

Our ‘Number 8 wire’ attitude sees us modify, improve and invent products out of necessity, or just to ‘make do’. This Wellington cyclist shows Kiwis are not afraid of some prototyping to find a solution, and stay safe on the road.

Businesses wanting to survive in times of change can learn from how people behave and adapt to and interact with their environment.

  • Which coping strategies do people employ when a product is not up to the job intended?
  • How could the product be improved to provide a more rewarding experience for the user?
  • Do customer’s habits reveal a latent need for a new product to serve emerging behaviours?

Observing customer behaviour in the context of use, getting out there amongst your customers, building empathy with their needs and watching for these habits is an insightful way to answer these questions   …and a core user research technique.

…but if you are  a bicycle accessories company, this may find you hanging out behind the bike shed after dark. …hmm.

Is User Experience ‘The New Black’ in NZ ?

I’m visiting the main cities in NZ to find out ‘who’s doing what?’ in the area of User Experience and User Centred Design …I’ve met couple of dozen people so far…

So, what lies below the surface of the words User Experience? And is it more than just a buzzword?

  • Agencies practising User Centred Design methodologies have been evangelistic, raising its profile in NZ
  • NZ design agencies have a strong belief in the philosophy behind User Centred Design and research
  • User Experience as a brand differentiator is gaining traction amongst clients
  • Larger organisations as well as product and service providers are starting to build internal UX teams or hire dedicated UX staff
  • Usability Testing methodologies are merging with User Centred Design to shape the overall experience of online in particular
  • Insights gained from UCD methodologies are informing and shaping products and services prior to as well as during development

These are all positive things, but almost everyone I spoke to felt they still had to ‘fight their corner’ within their team, and in particular with their clients.

Keep fighting …your clients will thank you, and ‘the new black’ will endure.

Grass roots customer research. The visitors book

Ok, it’s an occupational hazzard, but from a curious browse through the guestbook at a Bed and Breakfast there were some pretty clear patterns emerging.

From years worth of entries a clear picture emerged of the type, nationality and values of the guests , plus some insight into what they think are the most (and in some cases least) memorable attributes of the experience. (a complimentary bottle of wine on arrival is a big hit)

This was a pro-active B&B owner who understood and served his guests well, but customer facing staff in larger organisations are confronted by valuable user feedback on an hourly basis and are seldomly in a position to analyse and convert this feedback into improvements in customer experience, let alone to measure changing attitudes and expectations over time.

In this case, it’s a humble visitors book, and more than likely the quality of feedback is biased towards the positive but this is a great example of how some basic research at the front lines of a business or service can help shape a proposition to best meet customer needs. …or perhaps exceed them by leaving a chocolate on the pillow.