Over the past year, I’ve hosted a series of webinars at UserTesting with some of Europe’s leading CX and UX practitioners. Last month, I invited four of my previous guests back to share how their businesses have transformed. I was eager to hear about their personal learnings and how they think the pandemic shaped the future of customer experience research.

Gathering deep human insights

The pandemic precipitated a radical shift in consumer behaviour overnight, with many industries facing an uncertain future. Businesses needed to understand the feelings and suddenly changed customer behaviours to effectively respond to new requirements.

When we talk about research methods, it is important to mention that quantitative research, even vital, often lacks emotional depth. On the other hand, the qualitative approach allows brands to identify with users and build empathy. Therefore, qualitative insights gathered remotely via recorded tests and virtual interviews, acted as the popular substitute for traditional, in-person methods.

The voice of UX experts

For Nicola Lush, Lead UI-UX Designer at Domino’s Pizza, the pandemic posed uncertainty around whether the business would be allowed to operate and if customers would feel comfortable ordering takeaway. However, by testing to understand their customers’ feelings and needs through qualitative feedback, Domino’s has been able to remain empathetic and act on their insights to provide the best possible service.

“When the pandemic first hit, we thought ‘how do we make our customers – and our colleagues – feel safe? One of the first things we introduced was a hands-free delivery method, where we’d deliver orders on a plinth and step back from the door. We ran a series of quick user tests to get customer feedback and implemented this new process as it made our customers feel safer,” says Lush.

Embracing virtual research tools

A young woman having a remote research session.

Beyond the huge impact on customer behaviour, the pandemic has resulted in necessary changes to how companies undertake research. Despite the limitations of remote working, many UX practitioners have found themselves collaborating more with teams from other departments or discovering the benefits of remote research methods.

For Lush, working remotely has had the surprising impact of fostering collaboration, making it easier than ever before to organise short, cross-disciplinary meetings and involve other departments in the design teamwork. These virtual meetings turned out to be very productive, bringing aligned calendars to cross-disciplinary teams and allowing Domino to keep up with important projects.

Stephanie McNee, UX Manager at Google, found that the pandemic provided us with more productive ways of collecting data and learning about our customers than many other in-person methods. In her opinion, there are valuable virtual tools that can ease our research process in the ‘new normal’ context.

Danielle Macdonald, Design Director at Wise, initially felt that most in the industry were well prepared to pivot to remote working as they were already familiar with what this would entail. For her, the issue has never been how the industry adapts to the pandemic but instead how we will reintroduce in-person research and office working environments.

Looking ahead, the pandemic has raised questions around how the research industry should best work to understand its customers after a time of seismic change.

For Justin Berkovi, Founder of ProductMagic, the need to relearn what customers want, understand how they feel, and tackle uncertainty is key, as the industry looks to understand the long-term effects on behaviour post-pandemic. This makes us question even more traditional inquiry methods and emphasize the benefits of remote research and its added values to the CX industry.

Practising extensive and empathetic research

Field research is expected to make a comeback as restrictions and reservations lessen, but how exactly still remains uncertain. The novelty of being allowed to conduct in-person research will see some tempted to over pivot, losing sight of the unique benefits of remote research. As the past year has shown, the future of research should be about balance and continuing to be empathetic in understanding customers.

No company is truly B2B or B2C; at the end of every business, a transaction is a person. Whether selling to corporate clients or consumers, an individual human being is making the purchasing decision. All brands must be empathetic and reflective of this fact at all times. In my opinion, the best method of keeping the individual top of mind is undertaking extensive research to uncover human insights.

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