Blog post

Customer Understanding: How User Research Will Save The World!

By Simon Yates | November 17, 2017 | 2 Comments

Marketingcustomer experience

ICYMI: We are entering a new era in customer-centricity — one that goes beyond soundbites and taglines to one that embeds customer understanding in every strand of your company’s DNA. The shift will:

  • Restructure companies from top to bottom. The latest findings from the 2017 Marketing Organizational Design survey tell us that marketing leaders are moving away from traditional product/functional structures to ones aligned around customers — customer experience, customer need and customer segments. The ripple effects of that change will be significant and span all departments.
  • Demand new skills that are harder to find. In the same survey, market and customer insight capabilities top the list as most important to marketing leaders, showing the ability to conduct customer research and design and develop products connected to market needs as foundational to developing effective customer experiences. The survey also revealed the largest gap between importance and capability with customer insight.
  • Hold Marketing accountable for customer outcomes. Our recent our recent Customer Experience in Marketing 2017 survey revealed that the marketing department leads every aspect of CX programs, including activities such as managing voice of the customer (VoC) programs or developing personas. Across a range of CX activities, two-thirds or more report that the marketing department leads these efforts solely or with support of others.

But it will be nothing more than lipstick on a pig if you don’t develop and sustain a deep understanding of your customer’s behavior, their preferences and their voice. It’s a prerequisite for customer-first marketing and it doesn’t happen by osmosis or chance. And there is no silver bullet that will get you there faster than everyone else.

In her recent research note, Jane Anne Mennella explains that whether you are building personas or journey maps or designing a new or improved product or service experience, high-quality user research is critical. To uncover what matters to your customers, build and deliver the experiences they want, and avoid market failure and wasted effort, you must have the insight that user research delivers. User research enables you to understand not just what your customers do, but also why and how.

As my colleague, Anna Maria Virzi pointed out in her blog post, marketers skimp on user research because they  think its too expensive, time-consuming or just not data-centric enough. If I were a betting man (which I’m not, BTW), I would argue that the real reason that user research gets such a bad rap is because marketers choose the wrong methodology for the task or lean too heavily on one approach that doesn’t provide a broad and deep enough view into customer needs and expectations. Here’s a quick intro to the user research methodologies that we recommend you consider:

  • A/B and Multivariate Testing compares two versions of a customer experience to see which performs better. Multivariate testing examines multiple changes at the same time. Find out which version will perform better/drive more conversion, drive greater user response and/or increase business value.
  • Card Sorting is a method used to determine or assess the information architecture of a site. Use it to understand what your content structure should be.
  • Contextual Inquiry is an interview technique that relies on a subject sharing self-reported data and occurs in the user’s environment to obtain data about context of use.
  • Ethnographic Study is an observational technique that uses objective behavioral data to observe users in their environment and obtain data about context of use.
  • Focus Group is a group of people assembled to participate in a moderated discussion about a concept or topic to help you understand what customers/prospects think or feel about your product
  • Heat Mapping is a visual representation of user activity on a page that depicts which areas received the most focus, typically by monitoring mouse movements or eye movements.
  • Heuristic Evaluation is an expert review of a product’s user interface to assess usability issues.
  • Low/Hi-Fidelity Testing is a paper/computer-based interactive product prototypes or representations that are used to uncover usability issues.
  • Task-Based Testing is a technique where users try to complete real tasks on a website, app, device or software.
  • Tree Test is a method of determining the findability of topics in a website and will help understand if the structure of our website logical.

Which of these tools and techniques do you use? Have you had particular success or dramatic failure using them? We’d love to hear from you!

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • Dan Krason says:

    I don’t think many market researchers will argue against the value of conducting customer-centric research. I think you’ll find a lot of agreement with these techniques, too… To me, the bigger challenge is that these researchers are facing smaller budgets and tighter timelines. To meet these challenges (while keeping a handle on renegade stakeholders using DIY tools), the market research function is ripe for fundamental change so it can focus less on low-value tasks and more on generating discoveries and making prescriptive recommendations… More of the same won’t cut it.