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How Research Informs Strategy and Design


At GALE, we’re continually looking to solve tomorrow’s problems by understanding our clients’ business objectives and gathering relevant data. But we also acknowledge that without seeking direct input from customers, we risk the expensive mistake of creating something they don’t want.

So whenever we kick off a new initiative, we know that we need to have a better picture of our clients’ customers by understanding who they are, what they want, and how they want to feel.

In this post, I’ll discuss why conducting research is critical in order to build a viable business solution that’s also desirable to customers. Drawing on research methods applied across multiple channels (web, in-store, mobile) for a retail client, I’ll also review how research insights can be used to enlighten, inspire, and energize our stakeholders to deliver best in class customer experiences.

It Starts with Data
We begin by looking at demographical data, patterns in lifestyles, and consumption trends over time. Combining data science and economic modeling work, we’re able to test out various hypothetical scenarios that we believe will drive incremental revenue from existing customer segments. Moreover, our ASK GALE survey platform allows us to rapidly tap into large numbers of pre-screened consumers to understand their perspectives, emotional drivers, and needs so that we can create better and more personalized offerings. As an example, we conducted a brand positioning survey to identify areas where our client had challenges and where they surpassed shoppers’ expectations when stacked up against competitor brands. We identified a particular driver that was highly valued that many retailers were struggling to offer, allowing us to realize a huge strategic opportunity for our client to differentiate in the market space.

One downside of relying solely on market data, though, is that it doesn’t allow customers to fully articulate their needs nor provide an opportunity to convey complex functional nuances. Thankfully, we have other options to rely upon that are grounded primarily on customer advocacy and empathy — qualitative discussions, field research, and remote usability testing.

Adding Color Commentary
Practicing empathy allows us to gain perspective on what our clients’ customers truly care about, especially when market data doesn’t give us a deep emotional understanding of who we’re designing for. Just the act of listening to customers with an unbiased mindset helps us to better understand their perspectives, motivations, and emotional states.

For this retail client, we invited a selection of respondents to participate in a qualitative discussion board to probe on insights gathered through previous rounds of surveys. Over the course of two days, we collected valuable insights by noting how people reacted to different personalized offerings and asking them to tell us how envisioned using certain mobile app features they considered highly desirable.

We also take an active role in performing contextual field research to observe customer behaviors first-hand in store and identify any gaps that technology could fill to address unmet needs. We even look to quantify some interesting observations to avoid going down a path that’s based only a small sample of respondents. Rather than setting our sights on dramatic overhaul opportunities to wow our customers, we take a more practical approach by making smaller, continual improvements that can be immediately addressed. For example, we noticed how there typically weren’t enough store associates to help customers find items in their size during peak hours.

Similarly, our remote testing capabilities help us gain insights into the smallest UI details very rapidly. Getting our recruited participants to talk aloud as they perform tasks in a recorded session serves two purposes: it helps us to — 1) discover usability issues within existing online channels and 2) evaluate and iterate upon design options till we get them right. When evaluating designs, the idea is that we can quickly identify usability issues and address them in subsequent design iterations so that they can be validated with a new set of participants in each round of testing. For example, noticing how customers navigated to specific content as a first source of inspiration helped us prioritize serving this content up front in the online experience. Similarly, noticing how many customers had difficulty initiating the checkout flow on the mobile commerce site uncovered a need to redesign this interaction.

Once we’ve had a chance to internalize and synthesize our research findings, we have the ability to zoom out and get a bird’s eye view of a customer’s journey across channels. While insights are still fresh in mind, we try to extract goals, behaviors, pain-points, and needs we’ve encountered and plot them out on various stages of their journey. We then involve designers, strategists, market researchers, clients, and staff through co-creation workshops. These sessions create a collaborative medium for communicating valuable customer insights across disciplines and allow us to collaboratively uncover opportunities to address unmet needs at every step of a customer’s journey. It’s even better when we hear a great solution from someone outside of our primary client and customers, like a back-office person or a store manager. For example, we realized an opportunity to really improve a customer’s post-shopping experience by focusing on ways to engage with customers even after completing a purchase.

Bringing it All Together
Delivering successful products requires a balance between understanding what’s viable for our client’s business, what’s desirable to customers from a design and creative standpoint, and what’s capable of being delivered with existing technologies.

Whether we’re facilitating a customer journey mapping exercise, presenting our findings of a competitive analysis, or providing rationale for a proposed mobile app feature set using data — our goal is focus our design and development efforts around where the current experience is really failing to meet customer needs.

Research methods aside, what we’re ultimately about here at GALE is designing and building better, relevant experiences for our clients and their customers. Whether we’re trying to uncover moments that create joy or frustration in the physical world or an online experience, we learn a tremendous amount and design with greater confidence when we begin with a mindset of seeking what’s true.

By ensuring that various stakeholders have had the opportunity to engage with customers in the field to uncover stories, internalize them, and bring those insights back to the table, we’re able to do just that.

Mishal Mohiuddin