Don’t Skip Customer Site Visits!

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In the last year, we’ve seen user experience and product development teams’ budgets and timelines slashed. Among the first things that get dropped are site visits to observe and document how customers (mostly business users) do their jobs today. The pressures to skip this step are great. Travel budgets have been slashed. Account execs don’t want their customers and prospects disturbed by naïve people asking stupid questions. The engineers, product managers, and subject matter experts usually come from the field or from customer companies, so they feel that they “know” the end-users’ requirements and context pretty well. So they rely on phone interviews to validate requirements and on user acceptance testing to fine tune their product designs.

Not visiting, observing, and interviewing workers in situ is one of the worst and costliest decisions you can make. Any good designer will tell you that context is everything. Unless you can actually observe how people do their jobs and what tools they currently use and understand deeply the varying contexts in which they make critical decisions, you can’t begin to design solutions that will work well for people in context. Imagine designing instruments for an airplane cockpit without logging hours in the cockpit, watching pilots at work? Why would it be any different designing tools for people who work in buildings or offices?

To make the most of site visits, you need to have expert observers/ethnographers. They don’t necessarily need to be subject matter experts in the field (although it’s really useful and respectful to the customers to also include SMEs on the observation team). The observers do need to be expert in knowing how to observe and interview customers in context and how to quickly document their findings and insights so that these findings go beyond the blindingly obvious to capture the subtleties and the opportunities for improvement in ways that the customers being observed will be able to validate and appreciate.

Over the years, we’ve learned that site visits early in the life of a design project are the most efficient way to create customer personas for each important role, to identify the critical scenarios confronting people in each role, and to identify both the information required and the (often implicit) decision-making criteria they use. Ronni Marshak offers some tips to bear in mind as you embark on your next project.

Here’s a sample of Ronni’s article:

Getting the Most Out of Customer Visits
How to Observe and Capture How Key Business Personas Make Decisions
By Ronni T. Marshak, Executive VP and Senior Consultant, February 16, 2012

~ Patty

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patricia Seybold
With 30 years of experience consulting to customer-centric executives in technology-aggressive businesses across many industries, Patricia Seybold is a visionary thought leader with the unique ability to spot the impact that technology enablement and customer behavior will have on business trends very early. Seybold provides customer-centric executives within Fortune 1 companies with strategic insights, technology guidance, and best practices.

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