The most effective digital customer experiences, no matter the product or service they offer, likely have something in common — they were created by UX/CX teams that were empowered to be bold, and to try something new. For the most resourceful among them, that confidence is bolstered by user research that has already confirmed that what they’ve built will resonate with their target audience.
It’s no longer news that customer expectations are changing more rapidly than ever. Nor is it surprising that in response, organizations are increasingly investing in user research as a powerful tool in their arsenal as they seek to understand those expectations and deliver a customer-centric digital experience. User research can inform and positively impact every stage of the development of a new digital experience — from needs assessment, to concept creation, to validation, and the continued performance of the live product through its lifecycle.
From Research for the Chosen Few …
However, until recently, insights haven’t been available to just anyone. Research was often reserved for special initiatives, for projects the business deemed high priority. The responsibility of collecting, analyzing, and dispensing valuable user feedback was either outsourced, or for companies with more resources, dispatched to a specialized team of researchers within the organization.
Why? Traditional research methods such as crafting surveys, administering A/B tests, or moderating focus groups require teams who are trained and experienced in not just gathering the raw feedback, but deriving insights. Those insights then must be translated into recommendations and specific actions that other parts of the business can use to improve the digital experience and better engage customers. Poring over individual user responses to find trends and arrive at a holistic understanding of what the data is saying takes training, and it takes time. It also requires a budget. The considerable amount of resources — human and financial — that must be devoted to each project means that organizations have had to be deliberate and selective about when and how to implement user research.
In this model, it makes sense that a business would earmark the research dollars for its biggest initiatives and forgo testing for everything else. Over time, however, these missed opportunities to optimize all of the digital touchpoints that impact the user experience can compound — the business may hit the mark with the high-profile, research-backed project, but leave the rest of its experiences to launch untested, with unknown flaws that will only be exposed by live traffic.
…To Research for the Rest of Us
Fortunately, this situation is changing as new technologies have emerged to democratize user research. By leveraging human augmented-AI to make the process of collecting and analyzing feedback fast, accurate and affordable, it becomes possible for organizations to conduct user testing at scale. For the first time, research can be available to anyone in the business who needs it, creating a test-and-learn culture that is authentically customer-centric.
What does this mean in practice? It means that product, design, and marketing teams have the freedom to be more creative and increase their output. Having the ability to quickly test new designs with pre-live feedback and recommendations allows them to make adjustments early on — eliminating iterations and coding down the road. In the validation stage, where research is often traditionally budgeted, it means collecting more statistically significant insights: Rather than relying on the anecdotal feedback of a handful of testers, teams can conduct a test that combines the qualitative with the quantitative, aggregating the experiences of hundreds of individuals in the target audience to shed light on what is working and what isn’t, and why. On live sites, it creates a new lens through which to understand performance. While site analytics can indicate where people are abandoning the page or journey, user testing can go further, pinpointing why.
What becomes of the researcher?
What happens to the researcher in this new environment, the professional who has dedicated his or her career to becoming an expert in reading the tea leaves of qualitative user data and distilling it into specific, actionable recommendations for the rest of the organization? These new, AI-powered insight tools can enhance their work. Researchers can now leverage this technology to work smarter — to let it do the heavy lifting of completing what would otherwise be weeks of ingesting and hand-coding responses — in just days. By automating this tedious part of the process, they can spend more time doing what they love — extracting insights and layering them onto their knowledge of the business strategy and roadmap to guide the organization to higher customer engagement and better outcomes.
Invest in Research and Everyone Wins
When research is democratized in this way, everyone benefits. UX/CX designers don’t have to choose between fighting for a slice of the research budget or foregoing it entirely to rely on their gut. They can access insights on their own, any time, and receive actionable feedback without the need for specialized training. Researchers become even more valuable to the organization because they have the technology to work faster, and the confidence in statistically significant insights to provide reliable recommendations that will get results. The organization as a whole develops a test-and-learn culture in which innovation and creativity can thrive, which translates to more engaging digital customer experiences.