Ensuring Customer Engagement with UX Research

Kevin Richardson, Ph.D. / Tuesday, May 29, 2018

While one might reasonably argue that sales is the lifeblood of any organization (especially if you’re responsible for reporting on P&L), customer engagement is, at a minimum, a major contributing factor. What should a business do then, when it is interested in creating or improving the level of engagement between their customers and themselves?

Traditional Problem

When the primary “product” consists of services, businesses create applications that they believe will meet the needs of their users. With the best of intentions, meetings are held, decisions are made, requirements are gathered, and code is written. To much internal fanfare, the application is released, and confident product owners wait anxiously, hoping for large scale engagement. To ensure customers are aware of the application’s existence, marketing talent is brought to bear - mail is sent out, press releases published, conferences attended, and t-shirts given away.

Traditional Result

What tends to happen next is all too common. The application, which met the needs of the business, and seemed like it should have met the needs of customers, didn’t. For some reason, users were uninterested, downloads dropped to the point that reporting on them became awkward, and eventually, the application stopped being supported and faded away. Why did this happen?

User Experience Solution

Contrary to what might seem the obvious solution, the key to driving large scale engagement is not creating a method by which users tell the business what they want. While this might be sufficient to drive incremental improvement, users are only able to articulate their obvious needs: “I want access to my services,” “I want to be able to pay my bill,” “Make it easy for me to see my coverage details.” These are all fine and obvious bits of functionality that users believe they want, but there is another set of requirements – latent requirements – that define features and functionality that will improve users’ lives in ways they cannot describe or request.

User Experience Research

The next question is, since users aren’t able to articulate their latent requirements, how do we know they exist? Assuming they exist, how can we hope to define them? The answer to both questions is User Experience Research. By employing on-site observations (a technique known as shadowing) and intelligent interviewing (a technique known as contextual inquiries), an experienced UX team is able to identify key user groups, define existing workflows, task frequency, significant bottlenecks and problem areas, device usage, etc., essentially inferring users’ latent requirements. Based on this understanding, they can coordinate this information into a unified set of stated and latent requirements, completely defining the problem areas within a user’s professional environment. This coordinated set of requirements defines the space within which users are willing to engage with the business. The level of engagement, therefore, is limited only to the degree that the solution resolves users’ problems.

User Experience Process & Deliverables

I’ve made some gross assumptions to show what such a research project might look like for a B:B application, such as an insurance application designed for medical professionals. Please keep in mind that any or all of these can be modified, and need not happen sequentially, depending on circumstances and business needs.

Small Office Research (3 people)

  • UX team onsite for 2 days
  • One day to coordinate findings

Medium Office Research (10 people)

  • UX team onsite for 4 days
  • Two days to coordinate findings

 Large Office Research (10+ people)

  • UX team onsite for 8 days
  • Three days to coordinate findings


  • User Profiles/Personas
  • Workflows/Journey Maps
  • Informational Needs by User Type
  • Frequency of Use Metrics
  • Recommended Application Formats (web, mobile web, native web)
  • Application Wireframes
  • Full Aesthetic Designs
  • Front-End Development

The UX process is almost infinitely malleable. Ultimately, it comes down to understanding the risks associated with how you spend your research dollars, the experience of your UX team, and the relationship between time, money, and representative sample size. Customer engagement is about proactively understanding what customers need and how to make it available at the right time, in the most useful format, not about reactively working through a list of feature requests.

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