User research, when done at the right time, can dramatically reduce risk when making strategic decisions. User research is a type of research focused on user needs, behaviours, and motivations. It’s about far more than usability. It’s used to gain a more thorough understanding of your users so you can make products that work for them.
In some companies, senior management fail to include user research as a part of their strategic decisions making process. This affects the end user experience which can be a major revenue driver. Upper management often sees user research as tactical, as a source of validation, rather than as a strategic partner. They shouldn’t.
Firms that have a strong user-centric culture will conduct user research as a pre-curser to determining the functional requirements of a new product. These companies understand that findings based on user feedback and research is advantageous. They bring objective analysis to the table.
User research can reduce uncertainty around strategic decisions. It’s particularly well suited to product decisions.
Improving a specific existing product
If a firm wants to improve the experience a user has with a specific existing product, the research team looks at user needs, motivations, and existing behaviours. Researchers may look at the usability of the product. They may assess the task flow users must go through to accomplish their goals. Sometimes a gap analysis is necessary to identify where the product is failing users and how it can be fixed.
User research informs the product team so that they’re not blindly changing things that they think need changing. It also ensures that changes are not based solely on unsolicited feedback from a small selection of users (squeaky wheels).
Designing a future product
In mature user-centric firms the early stages of planning a new product require user research. Typically, it starts with ‘we think this user group has this problem… how can we learn more?’. In this case, user researchers may conduct a needs assessment with the user group to identify their unmet needs. Through interviews researchers will flush out user attitudes, the beginnings of use cases, and once a more establish idea is documented, their willingness to pay.
You should do research before developing a product. Simple market research doesn’t suffice in a user-centric company. Thinking right from the start about the experience a person will have when using your product reduces the chance that you’ll have to adjust and fix problems later.
Future focused product mix
Your company probably has more than one product to sell. Many companies have a portfolio of products designed over the lifetime of the company or from various mergers and acquisitions. This portfolio may or may not cover all your users’ needs in an efficient way. User research can identify the inefficiencies and missed opportunities. This helps your executive team identify the ideal product mix to maximize revenue and customer satisfaction.
User research reduces risk when making decisions if the research is done to inform decisions, rather than to validate them. When the product strategy has not yet been set user research is used to define the overall strategy.
User research provides firms and product teams with a greater and more specific understanding of user needs, motivations, and behaviours. Depending on the methodology and moderation it can generate high-level strategic user insights as well as detailed usability recommendations.
It helps you understand the context in which your users live which reduces uncertainty for you when making decisions. You’re able to weigh options against both user needs and business needs resulting in a well thought out informed decision. You can understand how these decisions will affect your business internally, your users externally, and how their experience matters for your bottom line.
What You Do Depends on What You Want To Learn
Depending on the problem you’re trying to solve there are different user research methodologies that a skilled partner could recommend. Contact a consultancy to learn more.