Empowering Digital Product Leaders
meatburger is better than veggie
Deliver a better customer experience and products by asking better research questions

Deliver a better customer experience and products by asking better research questions

  • Product Metrics /

Jonathon Hensley

Every day, executives, product owners, and teams are inundated with a never-ending list of to-dos. The problem is that when everything is important or urgent then nothing really is. How do you bring focus to the right things? How do you know that those things will make an impact? How do you gather the insights necessary to make better decisions? The insights and the evidence you need comes from asking better questions, listening to what people are really saying, and diving deeper into their world.   

Great questions help you to gather important information, context, and build a common understanding that leads to unique insights, and the evidence you need to make more confident decisions. Good questions invoke emotions, clarify rationale, and uncover the needs that motivate people’s actions. When done properly this leads to better digital product strategies, customer experience, and empowers product teams at every level.

When working to unearth insights and gather evidence you are looking to understand someone’s:

  • Unique point of view based upon their expertise and experience
  • Obstacles they face and the impact it has on them personally or professionally
  • Context of a situation that motivates their perceptions and actions 

Why is User Research Important when Creating Digital Products?

User and stakeholder research plays a crucial role in the design and development of digital products. It helps designers and developers to understand the needs, preferences, and behaviors of their target users, which enables them to create products that are intuitive, user-friendly, and relevant to their users’ needs. By conducting user research, designers can gain insights into the user’s goals, pain points, behaviors, and preferences, which can inform the design of the product and help create a better user experience.

Without user research, it is easy to make assumptions about what users want or need. This can lead to products that do not meet user needs, which can result in poor adoption rates or user dissatisfaction. User research helps to validate assumptions and identify areas where improvements can be made. It also helps to identify new opportunities for innovation and helps designers to stay informed about emerging trends and changing user behaviors.

3 Critical Steps Before Beginning Stakeholder and User Research

This article covers the common pitfalls that hold people, products, and businesses back when it comes to asking better questions. Let’s dig into identifying what you need to know and how you can ask better questions. 

Define your business and product goals before jumping into research

Before you can determine what type of research and questions you need to be asking, you need to first be clear on the business and product goals. 

Your goals should be the bedrock of your stakeholder, customer, and user research. The methods you select and the questions you ask will be directly related to these goals.

It’s important that your goals are clear, specific, and actionable. Generic goals like “increase product performance” are ineffective. With ambiguity, you leave room for interpretation, confusion, and poor outcomes. Don’t fall into this trap. 

Establish or, if necessary, redefine goals to clearly communicate the business and product outcomes you want to achieve. For example, follow the S.M.A.R.T. method. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. This approach will help you to align your business and product goals with your efforts. The clarity from proper goal setting will not only help you ask better questions but will also provide a lens for a more effective, and easier analysis of the responses you get across your interviews, leading to insights and evidence that will help you move your organization forward. 

Select the type of research you need to generate insights and improve your customer experience

There are two types of research to consider: generative and evaluation based research. Let’s quickly break each one down. 

Generative research and evaluation-based research are two types of research methodologies used in user-centered design. While both types of research are aimed at creating better digital products and improving the user experience, they differ in their approach and purpose.

Generative research is exploratory by nature and is focused on understanding user needs and preferences. It involves conducting open-ended interviews, focus groups, and observational studies to uncover user insights and generate new ideas. The goal of generative research is to identify user pain points, unmet needs, and areas for innovation, and to provide designers with a better understanding of user behavior.

Evaluation-based research, on the other hand, is focused on testing and validating design solutions. It involves conducting usability tests, A/B testing, and surveys to measure the effectiveness of a design solution and identify areas for improvement. The goal of evaluation-based research is to validate assumptions, identify usability issues, and optimize the user experience.

Generative research is typically conducted early in the design process, while evaluation-based research is conducted later on, once design solutions have been developed. Generative research is used to inform design decisions and generate new ideas, while evaluation-based research is used to test and validate those ideas.

Generative research is often qualitative in nature, while evaluation-based research is typically quantitative. Generative research involves collecting and analyzing data in a more open-ended, exploratory way, while evaluation-based research involves collecting and analyzing data in a more structured, measurable way.

Now that you have established your goals and defined the type of research you will need to conduct, it’s time to start creating your questions. 

Avoid these two types of bias to ensure clear and actionable insights 

Confirmation bias and cognitive bias can have a significant impact on the outcome of user research. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out information that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses, while cognitive bias refers to the ways in which our thinking is influenced by our past experiences, beliefs, and emotions. These biases can lead to inaccurate conclusions and poor decision-making, which can have serious consequences for the design and development of digital products.

One of the main risks of confirmation bias in user research is that it can lead researchers to overlook important information or alternative perspectives. If researchers are only seeking out information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, they may miss valuable insights that could lead to a better understanding of user needs and preferences. This can result in the development of products that do not meet the needs of the target audience, leading to poor user adoption and negative feedback.

Cognitive bias can also impact user research by influencing the way researchers interpret data and draw conclusions. For example, researchers may interpret data in a way that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, even if the data does not support their conclusions. This can lead to inaccurate or incomplete conclusions, which can have serious consequences for the design and development of digital products.

Another risk of confirmation bias and cognitive bias in user research is that it can lead to a lack of diversity in the research sample. If researchers are only seeking out information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, they may not be open to feedback from users who have different perspectives or experiences. This can lead to a lack of diversity in the research sample, which can result in products that do not meet the needs of all users.

Confirmation bias and cognitive bias can impact the credibility of the research findings. If researchers are only seeking out information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs, the research may be seen as biased or unreliable. This can lead to a lack of trust in the research findings, which can have serious consequences for the design and development of digital products.

During the interview and as you begin to analyze your interviews, stay mindful of these biases. 

4 Types of Questions to Avoid That Can Negatively Impact Your Stakeholder and User Research Results

1. Don’t ask leading questions
Leading questions subtly elicit the participant to answer in a certain manner. Leading questions have the tendency to guide people’s responses to be either positive or negative. This might result in false, non-actionable, or inaccurate data. This may result in a lack of new insights and a compromised basis for effective decisions.  

Examples of leading questions are:

  • Did you love our new product experience?
  • Do you have problems with our registration process?

Rewritten to remove the leading bias you instead might ask: 

  • How would you describe your product experience?
  • What could be easier about the registration process?

2. Avoid loaded questions
Loaded questions make an assumption about what the answer will be. Loaded questions can take many forms, such as assuming people’s needs, wants, feelings, motivations, and influences, which may not accurately reflect their experience. Loaded questions often become a barrier to getting someone to provide their own unique point of view and the associated context. 

Examples of loaded questions are:

  • When you use our product, do you like the user experience?
  • Do you go to the self-service support section of our website when you’re frustrated? 

Rewritten to avoid asking a loaded question you instead might ask: 

  • Tell me about your experience with our product?
  • When was the last time you used the self-service support area of the website?

3. Steer clear of double-barreled questions
Double-barreled questions pack way too much into one question, making it difficult to answer accurately. Sometimes, these double-barreled questions ask two or more things in one question or combine two different concepts into one question.

Examples of double-barreled questions are:

  • How long did it take you to complete the task and how often do you do it?
  • Do you agree or disagree?: The product onboarding experience was easy to understand, follow, and very comprehensive.

Breakdown your questions to focus on a single question and concept to bring focus. 

4. Be careful of ambiguous questions
Ambiguous questions are far too broad, leaving room for misinterpretation, confusion, and little contextual relevance. In some cases, ambiguous questions are added as a catch which can distort your analysis and lead to unverifiable data points.   

Examples of ambiguous questions are:

  • Do you think healthcare providers would like our solution?
  • Are we better than other SAAS software companies?

As you craft your questions, also keep in mind that one of the most important aspects of a great stakeholder, customer, or user interview is your follow-up questions. Your questions are a guide and listening tool for opportunities to go deeper into a topic is essential. Listen for key phrases, words, and emotional context like frustration or excitement, and dig in. The nuggets of gold are in the details! 

Connect the dots that lead to better insights and evidence-based decisions.

Every product initiative comes with its own requirements and constraints. Aligning your insights, evidence, actions, and resources is key to producing measurable results, pushing your customer experience and product forward to the next level. Every iteration is an opportunity to ask better questions, identify new insights and context that will set you apart, and help build a foundation for success. 

Forward. Digital. Thinking.

© 2024 EMERGE. All Rights Reserved.