May 12, 2022

How much customer research should you be doing?

Kate Preuss

When designing new products, it's important to strike the right balance between conducting customer research and starting product development. Spending too little time on research can hamper your ability to discover real customer needs around which to design a successful business. In contrast, spending too much time on research can delay your product development iterations and deprive your team of precious learnings that could be gained from usability testing.

Signs that show you're doing too little research:

There are a few easy sense-checks you can do to determine if investing a few extra days on customer research is worthwhile. If one or more of these symptoms appears, go back through your previous interview notes or maybe schedule a few more customer interviews to drive that last bit of knowledge you need before moving forward. Here are some possible learning gaps that you should think about:

  • Not knowing your target clients' journey from beginning to end: The first step in learning about your customer is to appreciate their entire trip. If you're still unsure about all of the stages your consumers should complete, how their feelings vary, who they're interacting with, and what technology they're currently using along the path, keep learning until you've drawn up a clear - and ideally visual - customer journey map. This may assist you in better defining where your solution should fit in the overall process.
  • Not knowing how your target consumers are broken down: Personas can assist you in differentiating key aspects among diverse user types. You may better define exactly what target users you want to win by describing their activities, needs, behaviors, and desires. Make sure you make distinctions and similarities between subgroups of customers to properly identify whose needs your product is truly meeting.
  • Not having a specific customer's voice in mind: You must capture the experience of a single, identifiable customer who you think epitomizes your target user and use that customer to rally your team. The power of specific user stories is immense and can be highly effective in pitching your venture to others. Building a new venture is tricky because the path is full of distractions and possibilities. The voice of the consumer can be your compass. Revisit your research until you’re able to pull out enough customer verbatims to ensure user-centricity among your team.
  • Not knowing how customers would characterize and describe the problem: Consumers tend to have different mental models and concepts that they use to explain the same problem. To ensure that you optimize all your copy and marketing for customer conversions, you must speak consumers’ language. So avoid using jargon and complex constructions. Use consumers' own words wherever possible.
  • Not understanding how your consumers view your competition: Before you design and build anything for your audience, there’s so much you can learn from what they think about products that already exist in the marketplace. So make sure you’ve had ample opportunity to ask consumers about what products they’ve seen, heard of, or used before - the competitors playing in the same arena. Ask consumers for their thoughts about those solutions - and why they did or did not enjoy using them. If they’ve never tried those products before, why not? What would change their mind about a product?
  • Not being clear on how the problem you're solving compares to other pain areas in your customers' lives: It’s crucial that you grasp how the pain point you’re focusing on solving stacks up against your audience’s other relevant circumstances and issues. Do they care enough about this pain point to give you the time and money to solve it? Or is there a more important problem on which you could and should be focusing?

Signs that show you're doing too much research:

The more you research and learn about your customer base, the better it is said to help product design. However, in reality, spending too much time on customer research may lead to significant problems for your business. Delaying product-development timelines, allowing your competitors to gain a lead, losing focus, and becoming trapped in analysis paralysis are all possible consequences. The following are indications that you're ready to advance to the next stage of product development:

  • Getting too caught up in user personas and customer journeys: the purpose of research is to advance clarity, not cause confusion. If you’re finding yourself knee-deep in data, trying to account for every permutation of your personas and their nuanced journeys, it’s time to stop and simplify. Your goal should be to capture just the right amount of complexity, so keep your personas simple and avoid getting too creative with your customer journeys. Generalize where possible and try to create models that your team can easily reference - models that can guide you onward.
  • Hearing the same feedback continuously: If you're getting the same inputs from different, unconnected consumers over and over again, you've already found a pattern. It's probably time to move on if the next few customer conversations produce little new information.
  • Taking too long to prototype: It is hard to put time limits on when you should move on to such work - mainly because the right answer depends on how much day-to-day capacity you have for pushing your ideas forward. Maybe you’re exploring ideas in your free time outside of work. But, if you’re working on your product full time, months have already passed, and you haven’t yet gotten around to building it, you should probably reevaluate your progress. Explore some ways to move forward with prototyping and testing your learnings and assumptions so far.

When prototyping and testing, you would be better off going for quick sprints that target particular assumptions or problems. Avoid getting stuck in analysis paralysis. Remember, customer research is a means to an end: building a minimum viable product (MVP) that you can test. It’s okay if you don’t know or fully understand everything about your customer base. In fact, your learning only deepens once you have something you can put in front of your customers.

In conclusion, customer identification should be as fine-grained as possible. Identify the various sorts of consumers that may be in a product category and what their pathways might look like. Understanding customers' decisions, inquiries, and low points allow you to make better judgments about who to develop your product or service for and what issues you want to address during their journeys. You should begin by striving for complexity so that you may notice little details.

However, you should then attempt to generalize until you can make broad-based decisions. There is no such thing as a single client journey, not even for one persona. Your goal should be to gather enough information to determine what critical, important learnings are required in order for you to establish a functioning model that allows you to take action.

There is a sweet spot for research in customer-insight development that balances complexity with simplicity. Being conscious of how much time and effort you should devote to research might help you achieve this objective and, as a result, produce better goods faster.

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