Kathy Baxter discusses the state of user research – past, present and future – and her personal experiences with empathy and user advocacy
User Researcher and Co-Author of ‘Understanding Your Users’, Kathy Baxter talks candidly about the state of user research in this True North Master Series podcast. Kathy has gone from studying Aerospace Engineering to Engineering Psychology, working at Oracle, eBay and Google, and now a Principal User Researcher at Salesforce. It’s safe to say that she is a true user advocate.
In the podcast, Kathy discusses how user research has evolved over the past decade, research in consumer and enterprise environments and offers advice on getting the most out of your own studies from past experiences. The team at Justinmind just loved hearing her thoughts and wanted to share them with you. Find a summary of her insights below, and listen to the full podcast here.
Hug your haters
Turn somebody who is your greatest detractor into your greatest promoter.
As a UX researcher, Kathy spends a surprisingly small amount of time worrying about where to place elements in the user interface or what to call a certain feature. She says that the bigger challenge is how she can help customers move to the next step in their journey. Yes, user interface design and usability are very important. But for Kathy, the most interesting research is the overall user experience – ‘the other stuff that goes around the design’. This includes sharing best practices on how to roll out social customer support and how to empower customers in what they do.
Kathy has encountered many companies that view customer service as necessary expense of doing business. But they’re not taking advantage of the opportunity to perform free user research staring them in the face. No sales or marketing campaign is needed, your users are literally reaching out to you. Take those moments to surprise and delight customers, and learn from them.
Empathy in the real world and getting out of the Silicon Valley tech bubble
If you want to conduct user research, you need to travel. Get out of the tech bubble.
Not everybody is as tech-oriented, or as lucky with financial resources as we do are in Silicon Valley, Kathy states. Getting out of the tech bubble is absolutely necessary to conduct research that truly counts. She jokes that she knows she’s going to have a really good session when the participant has a really difficult time connecting to GoToMeeting – that’s truly representative feedback.
Basic research (e.g. user surveys, card sorting, and personas) is essential to inform us and help us build the foundation of our knowledge. But being able to troubleshoot real problems for real users shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s an opportunity to have an actual customer asking for actual requirements – a real-world need. Having the opportunity to interact with a real customer that is going to use the research that you are doing in something is a huge opportunity to understand the importance of getting it right. You need to really assess the situation and the person’s limitations.
Weed out the speeders, cheaters and spambots from your research
Do your homework before jumping into user research activities.
Kathy talks about her book ‘Understanding your users’, which she co-authored with Catherine Courage in 2005 and revamped a decade on. She discusses the democratization of UX research over the past decade. Now, anybody can send out a survey which, although great in terms of people becoming aware of the need to engage with users, opens research up to a world of risks and uncertainties as well. For instance, are the people who sign up for your survey actually representative of the population that you are interested in testing? People need to know how to set up the study correctly, need the right questions, what to look for in the data.
She offers advice on how to conduct a spambot-free user research activity:
- Have a good panel – where are these people coming from?
- Sign up for a study yourself, and keep track of activity.
- Use a probability based sample to ensure random selection.
- If the spambots get into the study, stop them from completing the study by adding human challenge-response tests.
- Clean your study by checking for weird patterns, straight lining in the data, and higher than average error rates.