7 ways to get other departments into user research

Guest Blogger

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Anna Lee Anda is a user experience researcher at Zendesk based in Singapore. A huge advocate for user resarch, Anna will be joining our awesome lineup of speakers at UX New Zealand 2017 and giving a talk on how to learn from your users.

The best way to ensure there is effective knowledge sharing and understanding across an organization is to have other teams participate in research. Having clarity or better knowledge about what you are solving or who you are solving for, regardless of the role you hold in the company. It really helps unify what everyone is doing, and ensures the purpose of your work is front and center. Getting a diverse group of colleagues involves leads to dispersed knowledge and a shared understanding of goals and the purpose of your work. Conversely, not taking the time to help with understanding your customers and the pain points you’re aiming to help solve can lead to a mismatch in product-market fit, a waste of time and resources and potentially broad business impact.

Getting people from other departments involved in research can be tricky, however, as you’ll need to borrow other people's time and efforts. The following suggestions have varying time commitments. Apart from a potential travel cost or incentive to spend time with customers, the other ideas have minimal cost involved. Generally, the more routine it is, the easier it is for people to opt in. It builds a nice cadence into business processes and replenishes customer knowledge. For example, if everybody at your organization knows there are regular monthly customer visits, people can opt in when it suits their schedules. If they can’t attend one month, they’ll know another is happening the next month.

How to get other departments into user research

This list is not prescriptive, nor exhaustive — it really depends on the company set up and how flexible your colleagues can be around time.

  1. Having colleagues do customer support: this has two benefits, firstly colleagues need to understand the product inside out or end up learning it very quickly, and the second part is giving your support team extra help and learning what parts of the product are causing customers grief. If your company is too small right now to have a support team, it’s an interim solution as the company grows.
  2. Research newsletter/updates/short videos: this method is the most passive way to share and get colleagues involved with research. However, it puts the onus on someone to compile this, make it engaging and compose it regularly. It does ensure that information is disseminated more broadly, but it is the least interactive and potentially the least memorable.
  3. Splitting the workload of going through various surveys: if your company sends out surveys to collect NPS, CSAT or any kind of pulse survey with feedback, ask some colleagues to help you go through the results. It’s  time efficient and also an easy way to ensure everyone has at least some insights into what customers are saying in that moment. Different people can put together interesting insights in a working document like Google Docs or Dropbox Paper and then a conference call or meeting could be held to discuss the most interesting insights. Other than surveys, you could split analysis of different sources of customer feedback, for example Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Amazon reviews.
  4. Customer visits: if you can identify your customers, spend some time visiting them in the environment in which they use your product. This maybe in their home, office or on the go. It can be beneficial to both sides — your customer feels listened to, and can air their frustrations or feedback, get answers to their questions and insights into what is on the roadmap or how things are done in your company. If your business is more consumer facing, you may have to front an incentive to have your customers spend time with you. Also, if your customers are not local, you’ll need to factor in travel costs or interviewing them  remotely.
  5. Sales calls or visits (in other words, tagging along with your sales staff): This is similar to the customer visits except this type of visit or call is more rigid in its purpose and agenda. Again, it adds benefit to the call — if the sale has not been made yet, the customer will understand your development process and it’s a chance to build a rapport with multiple people in the company. By attending these sessions you’ll learn about customer needs, demands, their concerns about your product and maybe other products they are considering. The other advantage is that you can understand how your customers are doing things before they start using your product. Similar activities are attending trade shows or other industry events where potential customers would be. The only thing to caution against for this method is being dragged into all sales calls in the future or having the customer contacting you frequently or directly for customer support.
  6. Sharing insights/findings at scrum/demo days or other times where the company gets together e.g., town halls. Similar to a research newsletter, preparation needs to be done by the people who had conducted the research. It may have more efficacy than an email or a video as there is effectively a captive audience. Visuals are far more effective when composing these, so if you are visiting a customer, give them a head’s up that you’d like to take short videos or photos and see if it is OK. If you go with this method it is important to consider keeping it short, punchy and visual. Ask yourself, “what can the audience take away from this and apply to their own job?” or “what would someone never have thought of or known before?”.
  7. Having employees ‘dog food’ your product if possible to gain empathy for the product/user. If you can somehow get the product as part of people’s day to day work or lives, much like the customer support they get to understand the product inside out. This is also a great idea for any new employees who haven’t yet got a good grip on the product. They can question everything about the product with fresh eyes.

Try to implement these one at a time. If you approach these like experimentations you can test various methods and see what the reactions are like in your company. For example, has there been much output or impact after three months of a newsletter? If not, maybe make changes — change the tone, the focus or move to another medium.

It definitely helps if you include a few people at the start who are super enthusiastic and can be evangelists in different departments such as engineering or product management. The best evangelists are those who have interacted with a customer and have seen the value or impact on their own work. These could be heads of departments or managers, or someone not that senior in the organization who could take a grassroots approach if the organizational environment permitted. They could evangalize it by nominating others to be involved when there is a call for participants, or have sharing sessions amongst their team. Mention it to a few people and see what reactions you get.

Most of these have no cost, except for time, but the value in getting distributed knowledge and company wide empathy is priceless. If you've got any of your own tips for getting other departments involved in user research, add them in the comments below!

Want to hear more? Come to UX New Zealand!

If you'd like to hear what Anna has to say about user research, plus a bunch of other cool UX-related talks, head along to UX New Zealand 2017 hosted by Optimal Workshop. The conference runs from 11-13 October including a day of fantastic workshops, and you can get your tickets here. Got a burning question you'd like to ask Anna before the conference? You can Tweet her here: @annaleeanda

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