Building Products Customers Love: The Importance of User Research in Product Development
Discovering what your customers want might seem straightforward, but the numbers tell a different story. Nearly half of consumers say brands don’t meet their expectations, while two-thirds could not recall when a brand exceeded expectations.
The significant gap between customer expectations and reality leaves many product development teams feeling frustrated. But it can also be a differentiator for teams that can successfully uncover what their customers want, and then go build a product that reflects those findings.
In this blog post, we’ll cover the importance of understanding your target users, top user research methods and best practices, and how your software development teams can implement user research effectively to better inform your product development process.
The importance of understanding your user
User experience (UX) is critical to any software product's success. According to Forrester, every dollar invested in UX returns $100—a 10,000% ROI. Meanwhile, 88% of customers are less likely to return after a bad UX.
In today's user-centric business environment, companies can't afford to roll out a product and "just see what happens." User research can give your teams concrete insights to accelerate the product development lifecycle by focusing on the features that matter most.
Moreover, knowing what users want before you begin development helps mitigate potential risks and reduces your chances of costly rework.
But not all user research is equal, and many of the most common methods may fail to uncover real value.
How to find out what your customers want
There are many ways to uncover what exactly your customers want in your product. Building out thorough buyer personas can help you grasp a broad understanding of your users, including demographic data and psychographic factors that will likely affect their buying decisions. Further analyzing those buying behaviors and patterns can help you gain in-depth customer insights.
You can also use empathy maps to help you visualize your customer experience. These maps can empower you to understand what your users say, do, think, and feel about their most significant challenges. Start with a buyer persona and involve a cross-functional team to understand customer preferences and behaviors from different perspectives. Then, look for patterns and trends in the empathy map to identify common themes.
But the proof is in the pudding—what do your customers really think about your product? User feedback provides real-world insights to inform, improve, and streamline your product build.
Top user research methods for development teams
There are numerous user research methods available to development teams, so it's essential to choose the right ones that meet your business requirements. Here are the top user research methods you may use to inform your product design and development process:
These simple questionnaires are ideal for understanding customer preferences and opinions, such as favorite features, usage patterns, and satisfaction levels. You can also gather demographic data to inform segmentation and help you tailor your product to more specific audiences.
Surveys are scalable and cost-effective. The structured data is easily quantifiable for statistical analysis and trend identification, and anonymity encourages honest and unbiased responses. Surveys are best when you're short on time and need to gather input from a statistically significant sample size.
However, a survey's limited depth and lack of context may not give you a complete picture of your customer's challenges and motivation. Additionally, the lack of real-time interaction prevents you from delving into respondents' perspectives or clarifying ambiguous responses. On their own, surveys can fail to illuminate what a customer really wants.
These one-on-one conversations allow you to gain deep insights into users' experiences, preferences, and behaviors through open-ended questions. Researchers can get feedback on specific features, learn about use cases, or capture users' emotional responses to better understand their needs. Interviews are best for gathering qualitative insights that are hard to share in a simple questionnaire.
The contextual insights from interviews can provide a holistic understanding of your customers. Unlike surveys, interviews provide teams with the opportunity to ask follow-up questions based on the respondent's answers to drill down into specific topics. However, the interview process can be time-consuming, and the small sample size makes it difficult to make broad generalizations that can help shape design and development decisions.
Teams can use this hands-on method to observe users as they interact with your product or prototype. You can see if the user flow is effectively helping users accomplish a task, uncover their most significant pain points, capture moments of user satisfaction or frustration, and receive feedback on interface elements. Usability testing is most helpful when you have a specific feature or interface for which you want to get feedback.
Usability testing gives you tangible insights to identify user behavior patterns and trends and gather actionable feedback. However, this type of research is resource-intensive, and the logistic constraints often mean a relatively small sample size. Plus, the controlled environment may not fully replicate the context in which customers use the product.
Focus groups provide an environment where individuals can discuss their perceptions, opinions, and preferences on a specific topic to explore diverse perspectives.
While allowing for greater context and exploration of open-ended questions, focus groups have some limitations. The results of a focus group are only as good as the participants’ abilities to imagine what the experience of using your product might be like. Additionally, group-think may influence the conversation, as some participants may answer in ways they think will garner approval from others in the room.
Field studies allow you to observe users in their natural environments where they interact with your product. This enables you to gain contextual understanding and uncover hidden behaviors. This first-hand research gives you a clear understanding of who your users are, how they think, what they need to do, and how they make decisions. From this observation of their authentic experience, you can develop user stories that explain how their lives would be better, fuller, easier, even richer, if only your product existed or improved.
But field research is both time and resource-intensive, making it a difficult task for development teams to tackle alone. As part of our concept-to-code product development services, Gorilla Logic can provide the tools, technology, and talent you need to uncover meaningful gaps in your customer experience, solidify your ideas, and create user stories that will ultimately become lines of code.
Software development user research best practices
To get the most out of user research, follow these best practices:
- Start the process early in your product development lifecycle. Set clear objectives that align with your business goals, and keep them at the forefront of your product build from start to finish.
- Develop an effective user research plan. Identify the best research method(s), and develop a sound hypothesis.
- Involve cross-functional teams, such as product management, design, engineering, and marketing, to integrate user feedback into all aspects of the development process.
- Put in place a strategy to overcome potential resistance within the organization. Involve decision-makers from various departments early in the process to design the user research and ensure all concerns are addressed.
- Recruit the right research participants. Ensure the group is diverse enough to accurately represent your target market.
- Use unbiased questions to avoid leading participants to a specific conclusion.
- Develop a process to organize the data, conduct analytics, and interpret user feedback to generate insights. Triangulate user feedback with quantitative data from other sources to enrich your findings.
- implement a process to communicate research results to stakeholders. For example, you can craft a concise story to share the research insights and use data visualization (e.g., charts, graphs, infographics) to support your decisions. Avoid jargon and technical terminologies. Provide context to help your audience understand the scope and validity of the findings.
Implementing user research in product development
Effective user research provides insights into what your customers want to help you inform product design, development, and testing. These insights can help you establish user-centric design, reduce development costs, shorten product development lifecycles, mitigate risks, enhance the user experience, and, ultimately, gain a competitive advantage.
For example, Xeropan, a language learning app, leveraged user feedback to address a customer perception problem and achieved a 5% decrease in trial cancellations on iOS platforms. The researchers conducted tests and interviews to find the root cause of the company's challenges. They had users download the app from the App Store, use it, share their thoughts during the process, and explain how they perceived the free and premium plans differently. Armed with a better understanding of their user experience, Xeropan was able to take that knowledge and use it to improve the app, with a direct business result of fewer cancellations.
Support your software development projects with effective user research
Effective user research can yield critical insights to help you develop a product your customers will love. To achieve the best outcomes, start with a clear objective, recruit the right participants, and have a process to gain stakeholder buy-in so that you can turn insights into action.
Striking a balance between design and technology solutions, Gorilla Logic can help you ask the right questions, actually understand your users, and create a vision that inspires people to take action. Our à la carte menu of product services, spanning strategic design and solutions architecture through Agile development, offers a quick, clear, and cost-effective way to engage the most useful services as a catalyst for making your products stand out.
Ready to lay a solid foundation for product development success? Contact Gorilla Logic today.