Customer experience is a topic we talk about a lot in the customer support field, but UX research isn't typically part of the conversation. Improving the customer experience requires effort from multiple departments, but in this post, we focus on how user experience (UX) research and customer service coexist.
When UX and customer support work together, UX can learn about patterns in customer behavior, usability problems, and customer emotions. If something is a pain for users, customer service reps will know about it and UX researchers can forge a plan to remedy the issues.
In this post, let's review what UX research is and how you can improve your customer service with it.
What is UX research?
UX research is the study of the user experience on a practical and functional level of product design. UX researchers are focused on making sure products and services are usable so customers can easily meet their goals.
UX research focuses on the functionality of your product/service, and not the holistic view of your brand.
The main difference between customer experience (CX) and UX research is that while CX research might focus on how confident customers are with your customer service, UX research focuses on how successfully those customers can navigate your product and self-service website with a special interest in whether it's easy to use.
This means UX researchers want to study how customers move about on your website, or in your product/app. They're thinking about questions like "What are your customers' behaviors like?" This research might involve using digital observation sessions to see how customers use your tools or you can use surveys to collect user feedback.
UX is a structured, data-driven, research-driven strategy. This type of research usually begins with qualitative methods to determine the user's motivations, and then might use quantitative methods to test the results. Let's dive into the differences between those two types of UX research now.
Types of UX Research
- Qualitative research: This type of research is focused on attitudes — meaning it's focused on the user's feelings and emotions toward their experience. To gather this research, you'll need to conduct interviews and ask questions, like "Why did you have trouble completing a task?", or "How did you feel while using the product?"
Qualitative research can be conducted using methods like interviews, focus groups, diary studies, and open-ended surveys.
- Quantitative research: This type of research is focused on behavioral research methods gathered in the form of numbers and statistics. For UX, this means you measure things like how long it takes a user to complete a task, the percentage of users who completed the task, and how many errors they encountered on the way. With these results, you'll see where users click on a page, and what navigational path they take through your product/app/website.
Some methods for quantitative UX research include usability testing, card sorting, A/B testing, evaluations, and analytics.
Now to do this research, you can use several different UX research methods. Let's review those now.
UX Research Methods
- Usability testing.
- Card sorting.
- Diary studies.
- A/B testing.
- First click testing.
- Accessibility evaluations.
- Focus Groups
1. Usability testing.
The most common type of quantitative research method, usability testing is when you observe a participant trying to complete a task with your product. This will let you measure how easily people can complete a task, how quickly, what problems they encounter, and if they are satisfied with the process.
Usability testing can also be done remotely, using a platform to record the screen (and voice) and track the eye movements of participants as they interact with your product in their natural environment.
2. Card sorting.
This quantitative research method is commonly used when designing the navigation of a website to help inform information architecture. Card sorting works by having the participants of the research study organize topics into groups that make sense to them, so you can create intuitive and easy-to-navigate web pages.
With a survey or questionnaire, you can ask questions to help you with both qualitative and quantitative research. This will help you listen to your customer so you can find new problems, come up with new ideas, and collect feedback from your users.
4. Diary studies.
A diary study is a self-report of a user's activities at regular intervals to create a log of their activities, thoughts, and frustrations. This type of qualitative research takes place over a long period of time. This can help you gather organic feedback on your user's behaviors and experiences using your product in their day-to-day life. You'll find out how often they use your product or service, and why or why not. Plus, you'll learn whether they were able to complete the task or if they experienced frustrations in the process.
Similar to surveys and diary studies, you can also interview your users to gain insight into what a user wants from a potential product. If you interview more than one person at a time, this is called a focus group.
These interviews help you observe dynamic discussions and you can observe verbal and non-verbal feedback from your users by asking open-ended questions to uncover details that surveys cannot. This helps you understand your user's feelings and experiences because you can ask follow-up questions and dive deeper into the qualitative research questions.
6. A/B testing.
With A/B testing you can test two different versions of your product to see what audiences prefer. Whether it's a different navigation system or different versions of a landing page. For UX research, this could mean testing various versions of product features, navigation, or self-service website pages.
7. First click testing.
A first click test is when you examine what a user clicks on first when they're on your website and trying to complete a task. This lets you know where their eye is drawn to, and if the logic and navigation all make sense to them.
8. Accessibility evaluations.
An accessibility evaluation will take place to test your design and ensure it's accessible to everyone. How do people with disabilities interact with your design? Are there accommodations for people with disabilities? Accessibility is an important aspect of your customer experience and user experience research.
The last type of research method you can use is studying the analytics and metrics via website traffic reports. This will let you know information like traffic, bounce rates, time on page, etc.
At this point, you might be thinking, "What types of questions should I ask a user when conducting UX research?" Let's go over some UX research questions you can ask during an interview.
10. Focus Groups
A focus group is a qualitative research method that lets you have an in-depth conversation with existing, past, or potential users of your product or service. During this conversation, you can hear exactly what the end user thinks of your product in real time.
Focus groups can be done blind, also called a "blind study" for even more accurate results that won't be skewed by brand recognition (or lack thereof).
UX Research Interview Questions
- What is your first impression of this product/feature?
- What do you think this product/feature does or will do?
- When and where do you think someone would use this product/feature?
- What do you expect to gain from using this product?
- What would keep you from using this product?
- Do you feel this product is similar to another one?
- Do you trust this product?
- You [started to shake your head] when I showed you the interface, what caused this reaction?
- How would you go about performing [task]?
- What do you expect to happen if you did this [task]?
- What alternative method would you use to perform [task]?
- Was anything surprising or did not perform as expected?
- Was the interface easy to understand?
- What was the easiest task to accomplish?
- What was the hardest task to accomplish?
- Do you feel this design was made for you? Why or why not?
- What was the one thing you liked the most about the design?
- What was the one thing you disliked the most about the design?
- If you could change one thing about the design, what would it be?
- Would you download/use this product if the change(s) were made?
- Do you feel this is something for the desktop? Mobile? Or both?
- Would you recommend this to a family member or friend?
Now that you're ready to get started with your user research, you'll probably want some tools to help you get the job done. Below we review some tools you can use at each step of the user research process.
UX Research Tools
- Survey tools.
- Usability testing tools.
- Card sorting tools.
- A/B testing tools.
- Accessibility evaluation tools.
1. Survey tools.
Survey tools can help you design and format your surveys. They'll help you send your surveys to your audience, whether it's a large or small survey.
UX Research Tools for Surveys
- HubSpot: HubSpot's feedback software takes the guesswork out of customer happiness with customizable surveys, built-in feedback dashboards, and a wide array of feedback methods at your fingertips.
- Qualtrics: Qualtrics XM Platform provides a suite of tools that enable UX researchers to identify gaps and opportunities in their customer experience so that they can focus on building the right solutions.
- SurveyMonkey: SurveyMonkey has built-in solutions to target feedback from employees, customers, potential customers, and other stakeholders of your business. You can choose the reason for your research (marketing, HR, etc.) and build a feedback tool to capture the quantitative or qualitative data you're looking for.
2. Usability testing tools.
Usability testing tools will help you capture insight into how your customers use your product. Tools with a video approach will help you observe customers' facial expressions and body language, screen record their experience, and hear their tone of voice. Other tools focus on providing heat maps so you see where the user's eye is drawn and what areas they click on the most.
UX Research Tools for Usability Testing
- UserTesting: UserTesting helps UX researchers target participants for feedback on their products. It can be difficult to source participants without introducing some bias, but UserTesting can reduce the possibility of this happening.
- Chalkmark: Chalkmark specializes in first-click testing that lets researchers identify how users interact with their website, app, and other digital platforms. This tool can measure and help you improve the number of tasks a user can complete after their first click.
- Ethnio: If you already have tools to conduct your research, Ethnio can help you organize them in a research operations CRM.
3. Card sorting tools.
A digital card sorting tool will provide a platform where you can have users drag digital cards to different categories. This will help you learn whether the names and categories of products are understandable and match your customer expectations.
UX Research Tools
- OptimalSort: OptimalSort gives you a front row seat into how people organize and categorize information. This inight helps UX researchers make decisions about product architecture.
- Maze: Maze is one of the fastest ways to get customer-centric insights on wireframes, content, copy, and customer satisfaction. You can choose from a variety of eight tests, notable ones include prototype testing, tree testing, and the 5-second test.
- UserLytics: In a simple, 4-step process, UserLytics can improve your user experience. You can use the platform on its own, or incorporate professional services like test plans, moderation, and analysis into your workflow to get the best insights possible.
4. A/B testing tools.
Most marketing automation tools offer an A/B testing tool that will allow you to test different versions of an email, web page, or landing page.
UX Research Tools for A/B Testing
- HubSpot: You can run A/B tests on your web pages using HubSpot's "Run a test" feature. After analyzing the results, deleting the lower performing variation can be done in just a few clicks.
- FreshWorks: If you're looking to test multiple variations of a landing page, try Freshworks. It enables audience segmentation and revenue optimization features to help you get accurate measurements of the impact of your test.
- Optimizely: Optimizely offers researchers to run A/B tests without compromising other aspects of the user experience like site speed. By using a CDN to process images and other content, your A/B test results won't be skewed by an additional variable.
5. Accessibility evaluation tools.
An accessibility evaluation tool will review your website and let you know if it meets accessibility standards.
UX Research Tools for Accessibility
- DynoMapper: DynoMapper incorporates local and international accessibility guidelines in it's testing platform so that you can test for known and potential issues on your site.
- Remediate: Run automated accessibility checks using Remediate. It includes WCAG Guidelines, schedule testing, and re[air recommendations so you don't have to guess the best way to improve your site — you can rely on quality data.
- TPGi: TPGi is a free tool that scans five pages of your site on a monthly basis. It looks for potential issues and offers remedies.
Improving Customer Experience with UX Research
Continued collaboration between customer support and UX researchers will help both teams achieve the same goal: a more positive customer experience that results in fewer questions and provides immediate value for your customers. UX researchers should regularly keep in touch with customer service as they have incoming customer feedback on a regular basis with a gold mine of user expectations.Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.