Product Success Means Doing Field Interviews to Understand Your Audience

Understanding your audience is a deceptively complex process that sounds simple. You know what your target user wants after all, you’ve been selling to them and interacting with them for some time now. But then . . . why aren’t your products doing as well as anticipated, or missing the mark entirely? You need to find out why – and not fall victim to feature creep.

Imagine a retailer wants to sell more water coolers, so it researches the most sought-after features available, adding a timer and water temperature indicator and offers the water stand in a variety of hot new colors. And then sales remain stagnant.

What went wrong? Had that retailer conducted consumer interviews, it could have found out the exact problem to solve for – like maybe they wanted smaller units with lighter bottles making lifting easier in the residential models? And maybe colors and timers were entirely irrelevant to their experience. Had the retailer solved for X instead of Y and Z, it could have successfully connected with consumers and enhanced the experience in a way that resulted in additional sales, instead of just an additional spend.

It matters.

The only way to move beyond the intel and assumptions you have requires legwork, “in the field” legwork. Run-of-the-mill feedback loops via surveys and brainstorming sessions do not fully capture user pain points, and there’s no way to ‘solve for x’ and create consumer delight when you don’t truly know what X is. And to gain this understanding, you need to not only elicit audience feedback, but observe them where they are, and really listen to their user stories.

As Cortney Rowan, Director of Strategy at Altitude, says in her blog How to Unlock the Power of Ethnographic Research, “Ethnographic research is a powerful part of the design and innovation process. This human-centered immersion technique of observing people in their natural setting (in home, at the office, at the airport, in a store…) is best leveraged at the front end of engagements to discover unmet or unknown needs. These discoveries then serve as the inspiration and guiding light for ideation and solution development, so we know our innovations will solve real problems for real people.

Done correctly, ethnographic research changes our perspective.  It helps us, and by extension our clients, see things on other peoples’ terms, not on our own.  Doing so helps us unearth opportunities that weren’t previously visible.”

Agencies may offer to create people-centered products and experiences that grow your business, but looking beyond “what” to “how” is a key differentiator to watch for when observing users. What your users say they do is often very different from how they actually do something.

Imagine, for a moment, how you would describe any simple activity in your daily life (and a pain point), like we like to say at Altitude, it is like making toast. Put the bread in the toaster, turn it on and then put butter on it when it’s done. And then do that four times to have enough toast for everyone. Being able to do that faster would help. Seems simple enough, and we could make lots of assumptions there for feature creep, from a variety of settings to perfectly crisp bread, to timers and sensors, and we could even assume the need for an additional tray to make LOTS of toast at once for a large family. But if we saw it in action and our target user was large families, we might see that having it all come out at once isn’t actually desirable, but a way to have pieces come out at a steady pace might be! Or maybe the ability to account for different types of bread matters. Or possibly a little tray popping out of the side to warm the butter and help it spread faster would be nice. Who knows?  Check out Are Kitchen Appliance Makers Toast? for more on where design is heading at home.

All this is precisely why it is important to base findings and product direction on in-person interviews (especially ones where you go where your user is) rather than second-hand surveys or phone call interviews.

When Thermo Fisher began losing touch with its market by relying on distributors, Thermo’s first step was to reacquaint itself with the people who used and bought its products. Design Thinking was used to focus on the user experience. Together Altitude and Thermo Fisher went into the field and interviewed, observed and ideated with customers from a range of industries and geographies. By observing that most users carry their analyzers around all day, use them hundreds (if not thousands) of times, and often have to take measurements in hard to reach locations, Altitude designed and engineered the smallest, lightest, most ergonomic product possible. We addressed center of gravity, balance, handle cross-section, and button locations. In addition to ergonomics, we created a simple, intuitive user interface to reduce cognitive load and accommodate thick glove use. The result was an innovative new scanner that redefined the category and reestablished the company’s leadership position.

Bringing clients closer to the needs of their end users in some fashion is always the end goal. How to reach that goal is different for every engagement, and it all hinges on solving the correct problem – and also on speaking to the right people.

Having the patience and the confidence in the value of gathering, synthesizing and analyzing consumer information from field interviews is very important, as it’s likely the feedback will give you insights you never expected. Analyzing the data and finding the best solution to the right problem is sure to deliver a winning product that will excite users.

On our hangout Designing to Solve Consumer-driven Problems”, Ed Boudrot of UnitedHealth Group shared that designing products for technology sake will leave you with a less than desirable product. What you need is to keep the customer’s “key moments” in mind and speak to your customer’s needs – not to yourselves.

Key moments allow you to focus on a customer’s pain point, so you implement technologies in meaningful ways. When management at UnitedHealth Group wanted to bring Google Glasses into the patient-doctor experience, Ed was game. But, he wanted to do so in a meaningful way. After observing and talking with several doctors, the Optum team at UnitedHealth Group observed and heard about the “wasted moments,” specifically, when doctors were walking to see patients. This was the moment for innovation. Ed’s group used the Google Glasses to help display upcoming patient information to the doctor as they walked to see each patient. The result was a more informed doctor who could then personalize the patient experience. A win all around.

Are you seeking the right agency who is passionate about learning what truly excites your users? Check out “Design to Win: Start By Choosing the Right Partner”.

Gretchen Hoffman

Posted By: 

Gretchen Hoffman

VP Marketing