Remote studies have long been part of user experience researchers’ toolbox. But with some ingenuity in the current times when all interactions have gone online, even studies traditionally done in-person can be done using remote technology and without busting an organization’s budget.
And just because the business world has shifted to remote work doesn’t mean businesses have to abandon customer research. In fact, it’s more important than ever given the ways that customers are now seeking to interact with brands in light of COVID-19.
Before COVID, the market was already shifting to an emphasis on engaging digital experiences, and the companies embracing that and seeking innovation were the ones on everyone’s lips. Deep understanding of customers, their needs, and designing products and services to match their expectations is notonly the key to surviving in the current environment, but the path forward to future success.
According to Forbes, 89% of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience, up from 36% a decade ago. Whether in a physical branch, ATM, over the phone, or through digital channels, brands that meet customer expectations with minimal friction are outpacing competitors in capturing new customers.
And gathering customer insights through proven research techniques — just maybe in a little different venue these days — is the foundation to that deep understanding.
Pivoting to Remote Research After COVID-19
At g2o, customer research is a core part of what we do. We had an in-person study planned for one of our banking clients when everyone started working remotely because of the coronavirus epidemic.
The goal of the research was to walk away with design direction for the bank’s account opening app and to smooth out any issues customers were having with the account opening experience.
The prototype was highly interactive and we had planned to conduct this study alongside our participants in person so that we could watch their reactions and body language. We also wanted participants to be able to markup a paper version of the prototype with what worked and what didn’t, which can be an excellent way to get participants to articulate concept feedback.
Just days before the study was going to be conducted, everything shut down. We still wanted the insights, so we had to quickly figure out how to get what we needed remotely — and to do it in a cost-effective way for our client since we hadn’t budgeted for remote research tools, which can run into tens of thousands of dollars per study.
Here’s what we did:
- Ran the study online via video conferencing software the client was already using, so no extra cost for a remote research tool.
- Had a team of four researchers so that we could dedicate people to tasks — one to facilitate the study and guide participants; one to manage the technology; one to capture notes; and one who had built the prototype who could handle any glitches, but who could also be a backup notetaker.
- Emailed instructions to participants beforehand about how to log into the remote collaboration software and with the scenario they’d be following for the study. For example, we provided them with an identity to use to log into the prototype rather than using their own. Typically, these things would be provided to them in the room.
- Instead of the participant doing the physical prototype markup, we shared a screen with a static view of the prototype and marked it up as they talked about what was useful or valuable versus what was not.
The study got us what we needed: we were able to gather useful insights about the prototype for the client and the design team. We also were able to glean insights for ourselves about conducting this type of remote study in the future.
Tips for Taking In-Person Research Online
These are some tips we can offer based on our experience conducting what traditionally would have been an in-person moderated study using remote techniques.
- Have one role per person. We recommend a facilitator, notetaker, and someone to handle the remote technology. That way if a participant is having technology issues, the facilitator and notetaker aren’t distracted by that.
- Prepare an email with instructions or how-to videos for the participant beforehand. You can go over what to expect from the study, the process for logging in, and communicate what they’ll need to bring or prepare, so they can have everything ready when the session starts.
- Give the participant a homework assignment before the session. Ask them to log in to the meeting, do something using the tool you plan to work in during the session, think ahead about the topic you want to cover, and get comfortable.
- Do dry run or pilot sessions with co-workers or other people first to make sure the technology works and that you’re comfortable with both the technology and the flow of your session before you try it with live participants.
- Ground your session’s conversation in something to do. Engaging participants in an activity or something to interact with, like a prototype, clarifies what you want to talk about and keeps everyone focused.
- Use your video. Seeing everyone’s face makes it more human and engaging and also allows you to see when your participants are frustrated by your technology.
- Shrink your group size. Consider breaking larger sessions up into multiple smaller groups (ideal is 3-4 per session) so you can see everyone’s video and leave adequate time for each person to talk.
- Be flexible and keep a sense of humor. It’s likely there will be hiccups, or your participants may struggle with the technology, or not have read the instructions carefully. Be patient with them and give them space to work through it.
Free Tools You Can Use to Go Remote
If you find that you need to run an emergency remote study or work session, here are some free tools we like that you can use to pull together a great remote session on the fly.
- Miro: An online collaboration whiteboard tool. The free basic plan lets you create and share up to three boards. You can create activities, instructions, fill in and move around virtual sticky notes, do online dot voting, import images, even do presentations via Miro.
- MicrosoftTeams / Zoom: These are both good options for video conferencing that show multiple participants, allow recording of your session and have free account options. A caveat with Zoom is that the free option only lets you schedule up to 40 minutes if you have more than 3 people in your session.
- Survey Monkey: Set up online surveys to gather pre- or post-session information from your participants. They offer a range of plans, including a basic plan for free.
With all of the remote collaboration tools at our fingertips, there’s really no reason we can’t continue to gather the kinds of insights that support great customer experiences.