Conducting user research comes with its own spate of challenges, but it’s the step after the research is done that’s the real pivot point in a project. You can collect data, dig into user types, create personas, and any other thing you like until you’re blue in the face, but if you can’t share what you uncover with your stakeholders in a meaningful way, you’ve wasted your time and theirs, and your work will be stopped in its tracks.
Working in the digital enterprise space means spending a considerable amount of time conducting user research and user tests. It’s the best way to ensure you’re building a worthwhile, meaningful experience for users: get to know them, their needs, and the journey they have to follow to help them get the results they’re after. And at the enterprise level, there are a lot of users to try and connect to.
Figuring out the best ways to share the information you’ve learned with stakeholders is a skill too few of us spend time honing, but not anymore. It’s time to pull out your whetstones, folks, because today we’re going to correct that.
Build a Foundation of Empathy
“Set the stage for your stakeholders so they can experience, as intimately as possible, what the target users have experienced.” - Arash Nurk, Associate Director, Myplanet
One of the hardest things to master is the framing of information. Each situation comes with its own requirements—employee tools should emphasize one thing, consumer apps another—but there is one thing that holds true no matter whom you’re speaking with or what they’re looking to create: you need to create empathic understanding.
“The most effective way to get stakeholders to empathize with the customers is through a story,” says Arash Nurk, Associate Director of Design at Myplanet. By creating the story of the customer’s journey, focusing on their wants and their frustrations, you’re building a foundation of empathy you can draw from when you start to connect to the business objectives of the stakeholders.
He adds a note of caution, though. “Often, people make the mistake of giving stakeholders a huge and comprehensive journey map, which remains largely unseen because it’s an intimidating document for stakeholders. If you start by telling your stakeholders a story, and leverage the conventional structure of a story to build empathy and draw them in, the journey map becomes a good complementary reference document, instead of a source of overwhelm.”
By helping them step into the mental space of their users—whether it’s customers using an app or employees using a workplace tool—you can start to shape the understanding of what needs to be changed, improved, and maintained to ensure success.
“In order for them to understand exactly what certain user experiences mean for their product, site, or experience, we need to talk specifically about the touch points we’ve found and where in the journey they are when they experience those touch points,” he adds.
This is where using a journey map, something most designers are quite familiar with, is useful. But a key element of the journey map that’s often overlooked, as Arash notes, is that it has to be actionable. “They should be able to pinpoint where and how users are interacting with their digital experience, how it makes them feel at those points, and then compare those results to their competitors’ experiences.”
“We have to monitor three key things to understand the behavioural patterns of our target and arrive at more defined psychographics: what is the user thinking, what are they feeling, and what are they doing.” - Arash Nurk
You need to build what Arash calls a “relational experience”. And to do this, you need to share the user’s thoughts, feelings, and actions at each stage and touch-point clearly.
“The synthesis will identify the differentiating factors among the users, which can lead to figuring out the pain points you need to focus on,” says Arash. By creating a relational experience, stakeholders will understand more tangibly what their users feel at a particular point in the experience and be able to compare that to their competitors’ experiences. Once you’ve established that, you can start to dig into whether they’re meeting, exceeding, or falling short of the expectations and standards their users have— and ultimately, what you can do about it.
And be sure to do as much heavy lifting up front as possible, since it’ll make your work much easier down the line. Arash suggests you “start pulling stats from outside and set a benchmark in advance, so your stakeholders have context when you go to present your findings later.” This makes a big difference in the long run.
When Bad is a Good Thing
The great news for designers, is that no matter how bad it is, it’s never that bad. Once we have the insights, all the juicy user findings that can steer us towards a better end result, we can start to frame the conversations we have with stakeholders about where and how to start course correcting. But this, naturally, takes finesse.
“Start with what is already working effectively and resonating with customers/users, and use that as your benchmark. By emphasizing their strengths and how they’re setting the tone for their brand as a company, you can then offer strategies that align with their pre-existing successes, reinforcing and anticipating new areas for success down the line,” suggests Arash.
There is never a thing so terrible that there aren’t good things to be found, and by confirming where things are good, which areas are succeeding (even if it’s only minimally!), you’re giving everyone a sense of what to work toward.
You want to be sure that you’re safeguarding your stakeholders brand identity and not, frankly, sabotaging yourself by insulting everything that has come before. If a preschool art teacher can find something nice to say about each and every piece of “art” they see, you can do it here, no problem.
Then, once you’ve put everyone in a positive, forward-facing direction, you need to start identifying your top priority areas for improvement.
“You want to speak to the areas of growth,” says Arash. “Speak to each one using the journey map you laid out already, defining the touch points and user needs at each stage, so stakeholders can see where, how, and why they are important points of impact.”
Connecting user pain to a key business objective of your stakeholders is the secret sauce that ensures you’ll be able to do your best work.
Why Good is Never Good Enough
Arash likes to say that there is “No such thing as ‘no work needs to be done’” and we tend to agree with him.
Let’s say your user findings plot a journey map with almost no pain points on it. You have a seamless product flow, or employee feedback shows high marks for helping get the job done and low marks for friction. Even in this scenario, there is no such thing as done.
“We are always progressing, the benchmark is always moving in response to market trends,” says Arash. “More importantly, it’s dictated by the outside. Competitors are always moving and engaging and setting new strategies. It’s a living thing, there is no end point.”
This can make your role as user advocate seem more challenging. When you’re not up against a mountain of issues, doing the work seems less pressing. But if you’ve laid the foundation of empathy with stakeholders, you’ll be able to more clearly articulate why it’s so important to invest in improving what you have.
“You can always make stronger and more impactful connections or have better interactions on any channel. At any given touch point, you can trigger a deeper emotional connection. Customer experience, customer relationship management, maintenance and improvement… all these things have no end point. You should never assume there is a ‘satisfactory’ state,” notes Arash. There is always going to be someone ready to come in and offer the users something better, and your user findings should be able to point you directly to the areas they’re going to care most about.
What are the points where they feel the most joy? Where do they get the most delight from the experience? How can you capitalize on those moments, develop them further and give the user even more to draw them back and keep them loyal to your experience?
Again, this is the place where empathy, an effective journey map and the foundation of user understanding makes all the difference in your presentation.
How You Can Make It Better
If you can do the above, you’ll be well on your way to presenting your user findings in a meaningful, empowering way. But there is still one other thing you can do to make your findings resonate even more with your stakeholders.
“Make it as engaging and collaborative as possible—even before you present, but especially during the presentation,” suggests Arash. “Engage stakeholders in conversation as early as possible, so they feel heard and like they’re contributing to the conversation. It should never feel like a teacher giving a lecture, it should be a continuous conversation with them about their users/customers and how they can better reach them,” he says.
By involving instead of merely telling, you make it easy for your stakeholders to be personally invested in the journey—not just of your users, but of the work to be done—and you create a store of empathy you can draw from as you work to create the results that will make everyone happy.