User Research, Personas & Experience Map
I was brought on by “Company C” to help them asses issues in their online interface and customer shopping experience to help direct a platform redesign they were planning.
Side note… why call them “Company C”? I like to honor my NDAs as much as possible and respect the privacy of my clients.
Company C felt that they had a disconnect between their main customer online interface and their purchasing platforms, since they were delivered from two different systems. So there was a jump between a customer creating an account and then paying for their subscription services. They hired me to investigate this further and come up with a solution.
The first step in my process is to meet with key members of a business and walk through the details of what their business does, their business goals, the competition, the pains they are experiencing now, and how they prioritize solutions. This gives me an idea of the landscape that business is working within, what direction it should go in the future, and any limitations baked into their particular business.
It’s important at this stage to gather information, but not let it influence the outcome or testing plan too much. User research and testing needs to objectively test a hypothesis, so the outcome should not be assumed at the start.
Then I put together a plan of how best to approach user research for this project. What tests and tools will work best for their company and budget? What results and deliverables do they need.
In talking with Company C, I saw an opportunity for deeper user research that could help inform their entire organization. They were a new company on an emerging platform, but weren’t sure of who their customers were, what motivated them, and how much education they needed to give potential clients on this new kind of product. So in addition to looking into their shopping cart flow, I proposed researching their users in order to form user personas and also create a customer journey map to help guide their team as a whole from touch point to touch point as customers interacted with their company.
My User Research Philosophy
Gather many data points to get a full picture. I start with broad, generalized information and move closer to more qualified users and specific data.
Digging into the Data
Yes, I love Google Analytics… I dive in an look at demographic patterns, which types of customers come most often, which are more loyal, can I pick up on any potential drop off points. I slice and dice to see what patterns I can pick up on, keeping in mind that these are generalized site visitors that have come to the site, not necessarily customers and defined by the business goals. Some of this data will help fill in details of the personas and start helping to group users into main groups to formulate a picture of user personas
While this project was an e-commerce site and could’ve divided the user personas into a new customer vs returning customer vs loyal advocate, I felt with the research that I did that the personas were best broken down into profiles of their 3 main customer groups. Site demographics data was able to help me start formulating these groupings.
After scanning data to get a lay of the land, I like to then start moving closer to people and their impressions of the business and its website. This is when I conduct some initial user testing to get quick impressions. These are general users and not a qualified user test group, but they are good for gathering that first impression.
I also like to make an evaluation of the website and web presence at this time, to look at how the home page is laid out, the navigation, SEO factors, performance, and social media listings. At this stage technical issue can come to light that play into a user’s experience.
This is when I get to talk to customers and potential customers. I formulate groups of questions to address issues discovered earlier in the process, business goals, and to fill in holes of understanding about the customers’ experience. It’s time to learn from the users and start testing our hypothesis of what the issues are for the website. I can also verify shopping preferences, pain points, and interests directly from users instead of pulling those from stats alone.
I then make sure that the questions are open ended and not leading so that answers will not be influenced by them. I arrange the flow of conversation with the users to make it more natural as well.
To gather participants for this project, I wanted to make sure to gather potential customers as well as current ones to get information from those who didn’t purchase as well. I arranged various methods to gather interviewees both from the site and social media platforms. Interviews were performed over the phone with their answers broken down into a spreadsheet so that I could then generate reports and look for patterns.
After all of this data gathering and research, it was time to put results into usable deliverables that Company C could use in their operational decisions, to guide the e-commerce redesign, and even in pitches to potential investors.
The personals help paint a picture of the typical customer groups that Company C works with. The information is meant to humanize them as well as show the different motivations and pain points they experience. Marketing plans can be better tailored based on the personals to speak more directly and effectively to each group. The platform and account maintenance can be optimized considering the needs of each persona. Plus it helps departments that do not typically interact with customers gain a better understanding of who the company is working for.
These personas are more on the detailed end with demographics and technology preferences playing a key role into the redesign project.
The experience map is an opportunity to look at the entire experience a user has with a company from marketing and social media, to the website, then customer support and receiving the product, and finally to continuing on as a valued customer. This is an opportunity to look at the entire process from the customer’s perspective and see if there are holes that need to be filled. It also showed some stellar work that some departments were doing and that customers were very pleased with.
A customer experience map should be a living document, that once created is updated and tweaked as processes and the business change.
First of all, with the user research that I performed and materials presented to the client, I was able to introduce a user-centered philosophy into their company and how they deal with customers. They adopted many of these user-centered approaches which helped their business.
A key point of project was to investigate the jump between their account and payment interfaces, which was a driver behind a proposed $10K redevelopment project. My research found that this was not an issue with customers, but that there was an opportunity to improve the experience with their account interface to improve clarity and create opportunity for customers to return, refer friends, and become evangelists to help further the sales and the brand.
The materials I developed for them, especially the user personas, were put to work within the company moving forward as well as presented in funding rounds to show that they were a well-prepared startup. This helped them gain funding.