Stop Listening to Your Customer

Behavioral research, focus groups and customer feedback are all ways to hear from your customers on what they want and how they feel your product offering could be better. But, is this the best information to take action on?   Microsoft’s research and focus groups testing lead them to the development of “Clippy”, the office assistant feature that helped users by way of an interactive animated character.  This feature has been called one of the worst software design blunders in the annals of computing. How can this be? Their consumers told them this was a good idea.

Testing typically is conducted with false assumptions and asking hypothetical questions instead of actually watching and observing.   The notion of research should be expanded and begin to analyze consumers as they complete a task or action. During the SXSW panel “Stop Listening to Your Customer” they outlined 4 steps of task analysis:

1. Define the audience and their goals

2. Create tasks that address those goals

3. Get the right people- don’t apply false motivation

4. Watch them perform the task

Twitter continuously takes this testing approach to improve their product.  With this approach it is important to test with functional prototypes. These prototypes don’t have to be fully developed; they can simply be wireframes or a static site that a user clicks through comps.  You are able to watch a user’s behavior as they navigate through the task you have created. A few ways to conduct this type of behavior tracking is to use any of the various meeting software that allows a user to share their screen as they navigate and you watch. Also, software like Silverback(  are inexpensive and help you capture screen activity, video the user’s face and record their voice.

Good research investigates current behavior, so let’s break the two way mirror and start observing people real time.

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