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Collaborative user research: why agencies and clients need to work together

user research group

UX and Optimisation Analyst Amy Fleming explores why clients need to get more hands-on with their user research

If you’re a senior marketer, chances are you’ve commissioned user experience research at some point. The process probably went like this: your brief was sent to an agency specialising in UX. The agency invited you to a stakeholder workshop. Top-line objectives were discussed. You let the agency get on with the user research. Maybe you had occasional conference calls and emails to check on progress.

But the next time you saw the agency, they had finished the research and were presenting it back to you. And you couldn’t help feel a bit, well, disappointed. The project finished to a chorus of regrets: ‘If only we had agreed the outputs.’ ‘If only they had done more interviews with that particular audience segment.’ ‘If only they hadn’t repeated the research we did two years’ ago!’

Of course, it needn’t be this way. What’s missing from this scenario is collaboration. Client-agency collaboration that goes beyond project kick-offs and wrap-up presentations. Here are four reasons why collaborating during the entire user research process benefits everyone involved:

1. Alignment of research goals with stakeholders’ goals

A stakeholder workshop remains the best way to begin a user research project. The workshop should set a strategy and vision that all internal stakeholders and the agency can align on. Making the whole research effort into a team activity, where stakeholders are actively involved in planning the study, developing personas, screening questions and participants will increase their interest and ownership of the process.

2. Motivation and empathy for customers

Having stakeholders involved in user research gives them first-hand experience of their customers and their needs. Allowing stakeholders to observe a customer workshop, focus group or interview will encourage empathy for the customer which should motivate the stakeholders to actively fix the pain points raised or modify a product or service to meet customer expectations. Clients shouldn’t be hearing customer revelations second-hand from agency researchers – they need to hear the pain points for themselves.

3. Less chance of overlap or irrelevant work

Having a collaborative, communicative relationship between client and agency is a vital part of a successful research project. Giving all the responsibility to the agency and researchers leaves stakeholders out of the loop. With a lack of communication or common goal, this could lead to researchers conducting investigations which the company has already completed in the past, or missing the mark on the type of customers to engage with. Involving stakeholders in the research will ensure researchers don’t do irrelevant work or waste time doing a duplicate study.

4. Solve problems faster

If stakeholders are present at user sessions, they can observe, take their own notes and collate findings with those of the researcher, which can be quickly relayed back to the wider team. These findings can be brought into design-thinking exercises, where solutions can be built and critiqued in line with the stakeholders’ project goals. Having extra eyes and ears at a user session allows for more detailed findings, where stakeholders may notice things the researcher won’t have.

Conclusion

We often hear of approaches such as Participatory Design or User-Centred Research for involving the customer in the design and development of products or services. However, a greater emphasis needs to be made on collaborative user research, where client and agency work as a team to develop UX activities and methodologies that get the most from customer participation.

 

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