For Product Managers, one resource that is always in short supply is time.

Shortage of time and a mile-long to-do list means that you sometimes have to cut corners. Unfortunately, the one aspect of the process that often gets sacrificed is UX Research with customers. Maybe you end up doing very little UX Research with customers, or worse yet, none at all. Not surprisingly you feel frustrated when the product launch arrives and you release into the wild, knowing that if you’d had just a little more time you could have developed a product with much more value to your customers.

So how can you avoid the frustration of this all too common reality? Here are some do’s and don’ts that will help you to more easily conduct UX Research with customers.

Do build relationships with customers

Establishing relationships with customers helps a lot when it’s time to get quick feedback on mockups, wireframes, or anything else that informs your UX research and greater UX process. By taking the time to establish the relationship before a need arises, you’ll save yourself the stress of trying to find testers or survey participants at the last minute for your latest project.

When it comes to building relationships with customers, you can do it in a few ways:

  1. Visit a customer
  2. Ask Account Managers or Sales Reps for introductions
  3. Start a conversation on social media

Visit a customer: If you’ve visited a customer then building a relationship is easier and should be a priority for you. Send a follow-up email thanking them for their time. Keep the conversation going. Not all customers are chatty, but you will inevitably find a handful that will continue the conversation.

Ask Account Managers and Sales Reps for introductions: Account Managers and Sales Reps have a strong understanding of the business verticals and individual clients that they oversee. It’s worth talking to them and asking them if they have any customers that are particularly engaged and who would be interested in providing UX feedback.

Start a conversation on social media: Every now and then you get some very positive, and negative, feedback from users on social media. Why not check-in with your social media manager to get an overview of the conversations that are happening on networks like Twitter and LinkedIn? Any customer willing to take time out of their schedule to provide feedback on a social network is definitely engaged (regardless of the type of feedback). You can work with your social media manager on continuing the discussion “offline” with the customer. You may be surprised to see that you establish a relationship with this customer.

Do define an objective for customer interactions

Your time and your customer’s time is precious. However you’ve managed to secure their time (conference call, online survey, in-person), be clear about why you want to talk to them. Do you want to discuss a particular functional area? Is there a new product idea you’re toying with that you’d like to validate with them? Is it simply an exploratory meeting where you can get a general understanding of the customer and how they use your product? Define your objective beforehand so that you make good use of the time.

If your goal is to get a general understanding of your customer, here are questions you should ask:

  • Which business need(s) does our product help you address?
  • How does our product fit into your team’s or your company’s work process?
  • Have you used this type of product before? If yes, how does our product compare with the others? What did you like about the other products? What do you like about our product?
  • What type of issues or roadblocks are you facing with our product?
  • Did you need additional assistance in order to use our platform or were you able to get up and running on your own? If you needed assistance, where did you seek it (help library, account manager, user forum, etc.)? How helpful was it?
  • How would you describe the user experience of our product?
  • Which apps or websites are indispensable in your life? Why?
  • On which device do you perform most of your work?

More questions will come up during your conversation with a customer, but by using the above as your template you’ll have a clearer picture of that customer and the type of user experience that they expect.

Don’t forget to create personas

Personas are a worthwhile investment. And there’s no excuse for not having personas as one of your UX secret weapons after you begin forming relationships and start collecting customer feedback.

Once you’ve collected customer data you can start to build your persona. If your data is coming strictly from the market, then your main goal will be to build a “composite” persona. This persona won’t represent one particular customer, but rather, will represent a particular type of customer. How you define the type can be based on demographics, job function, or type of actions they perform on your product.

With your catalog of personas in hand, your subsequent UX research work will be much more efficient and you’ll waste less time. As you get more information you can progressively enrich each persona and make them stronger.

Do create user journey maps

Take your personas a step further and create customer journey maps for each of them. Because they require an initial investment of time and effort, companies often overlook journey maps. However, once they’ve been built these maps can go a long way toward saving you time during your development cycle.

The power of journey maps lies in their ability to not only show you the various interactions that a customer has with your product, but to also show you the emotions (both positive and negative) that customers experience throughout their journey with your product.

Based on this, journey maps are excellent for UX research because they allow you to identify pain points, “wow” moments, and opportunities for improvement in your product. All of this knowledge will ultimately allow you to transform interactions that are associated with negative emotions into interactions that will produce positive emotions.

Don’t rely solely on executive, sales or marketing feedback

When you’re short on time, there’s a risk that you rely exclusively on feedback from sales or marketing. After all, they’ve got their pulse on the market and know what customers want. But also keep in mind that the motivations and goals of a sales person (hitting revenue objectives and new contract metrics) are not the same as those of a product manager (building the right product for the right customer).

So go ahead and take note of the user feedback that your sales or marketing team provides, but also do your own market research. Contact those customers with whom you’ve built relationships and ask them for feedback. And don’t forget to talk to your support team and social media manager. Every day the support team is overseeing emails and calls from (mostly frustrated) customers, while the social media manager is also overseeing lots of conversations about your product. When time is in short supply, both are great resources for gaining more insight into what customers need.

Conclusion

As the above list of do’s and don’ts shows, UX research with customers is a combination of things. There is no one thing that equates to getting valuable product insights from your customers. The first step to incorporating customer feedback into your UX research process is to simply pledge to make it a priority. Once you’ve resolved to doing this, then you can start to implement the bits and pieces listed in this article that make sense for your company and product.

All changes related to UX happen over time. While you may feel that there’s no time for UX research with customers, by progressively building and expanding that process you’ll find that you’ll be able to more easily get feedback from your other most valuable resource – your customers.

You can stay in touch with Germaine via LinkedIn.