The latest update to Snapchat includes a feature that has a lot of people excited: group chat. This new feature targets folks who use the app as a primary way of communicating with friends, rather than something like Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts or traditional text messaging. Like those other apps, users can now set up a group of friends to be recipients of messages. Just like traditional snaps, the new group snaps can only be played or viewed once and disappear after 24 hours.
There are two kinds of people using Snapchat—those who will find group chat useful, and those that won’t. Snapchat has a wide user base and people use the app in myriad different ways. From memories to group chat, the folks at Snap, Inc. keep putting out updates that cater to their different audiences’ needs, despite their huge variances. How do they keep users saying “Yes, that’s what I’ve always wanted!” despite those varying needs?
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not sitting in on brainstorming meetings over at Snap, nor do I have any insider information. However, I can tell you that there isn’t one person or group of people at the top of Snap that simply come up with magical ideas. Perhaps acting on a whim is how Snapchat started off, but the original designers of the app designed it to fill a need that they had in their lives. It’s quite possible that the founders have never used Snapchat for more than what it was originally designed for: sending ephemeral pictures to friends, one at a time. But with that singular mindset, they wouldn’t be able to recognize new use cases and Snapchat’s user base would stagnate. That’s not exactly how you reach 41% of 18-34 year-olds on any given day.
Like any company that develops evolving and thriving products, Snap is doing user research to determine how users are and aren’t using the app. Someone like you is sending scores of snapchats each day to the same people, and by observing broad usage statistics and interviewing users, Snap can respond to that behavior and create the perfect product for you and yours.
Steve Jobs? The man certainly appeared magical, as though he had a sixth sense for figuring out how his users would use the next iPhone. Rest assured, however, that Jobs was human. Behind him, he had a team of people working around the clock with users and data to ensure you bought up Apple’s next big product.
Even Santa Claus, who sees you when you’re both sleeping and awake, stops into hundreds of malls around the world each year to ask children what they want for Christmas. He’s not pandering with his public appearances—he’s conducting user interviews.
Every business needs user research
Let’s bring the topic of user research back to you, dear reader. You may be thinking, “But my business is so small and simple! What do I stand to gain from user research?” Great question. The answer? A lot.
Imagine you’re running a business with an eCommerce aspect. You have a website with a shopping cart and it’s been there for years and years. Every year, your business continues to make sales through the website, supplementing traditional retail sales. A consultant like me approaches you and says “Hey, I see your website is a bit dated and kind of cumbersome to use. Are you interested in doing some updates to it?”
A couple of thoughts may first jump to mind for you. The first is that the website doesn’t do a whole lot of business anyway, so why invest the time and money into it? The second is that no customers have complained about a poor experience yet, so the site must be fine. The fallacy behind both thoughts is their basis in your preconceptions, rather than user research. Both excuses are, in fact, self-fulfilling.
I counter, asking if you’ve actually asked any of your customers how their experience on the site went. You say “Well no, I don’t have time for that and if it was really so bad, someone would just tell me.”
No one will ever just tell you
Have you ever, after visiting a website, taken the time to fill out a contact form to tell the business about your experience? Probably not. Heck, you probably even dismiss 90% of popups and emails specifically asking you about your experience. Actually acquiring this information and feedback takes a concentrated effort. If an in-store experience is poor, someone might ask to speak to a manager and leave an angry review on Google while they wait. If a web experience is poor, however, a user will likely do one of two things: suffer through it to get what they need, perhaps even becoming hostile to efforts to garner feedback, or bounce completely, never to return.
Both outcomes of a poor website experience result in a negative feedback loop. You, as the business owner, see one of two trends. Rather than see users dredging through your site, you see people using the website without complaint, even though they are, in fact, frustrated. Rather than see users leaving completely, you see your site isn’t really doing that much business anyway, when in reality, you’re missing out on lots of potential business. By shifting the perspective onto the user experience, excuses to not invest in your eCommerce experience quickly expose themselves as real business problems. Now let’s talk specifics—what do you actually stand to gain from doing user research, and what does user research look like?
Feedback from customers
You mentioned that your site doesn’t get a lot of business anyway. Is that because people just don’t buy your products online, or is it because your site is dated and seems untrustworthy compared to other brands? We can look at Google Analytics to find out if people are immediately bouncing away from your site. If so, that’s a good indicator that first impressions are a problem. What next?
The best way to get specific feedback regarding first impressions on your site is to talk to people for whom it’s failing. If you have a brick and mortar store, you can easily start gathering feedback from customers by asking them to view your website on a tablet or laptop right there. If you don’t have a retail space, or you want to research a broader audience (and I’ve done this), you could walk into a coffee shop with your tablet and start soliciting folks you’ve never met before. This will allow you to get specific, unbiased feedback from a wide user base.
Now that we have feedback, we can start making user interface changes to your site. Updating the look and feel to reflect what your customers expect from a site like yours is one way to reduce your bounce rate. We can also look at the placement of calls to action and make sure the path to purchase and checkout is obvious and intriguing. Whatever we do, we’re ensuring customers are spending lots of time on your site.
Once we’ve developed a new, enticing interface and your web traffic is through the roof, we may notice that sales are still slow. Never fear, the battle is only half over. We’ve tinkered with the user interface, and now we have to fix your user experience.
The repeat buyer
Perhaps your site is using an off-site cart solution, such as PayPal’s shopping cart. Together, we start doing user interviews. We start with Sharon and ask her about her experience on the site. She may say, “I’m crazy about your bath bombs, so I come on the site every couple of months to order more. I’ve bookmarked them, so I can click the bookmark, add them to my cart, and check out.”
Sharon is a repeat customer, dependably making purchases on your site. This is certainly positive, but I note a problem: Most people who come into your store buy more than one thing. They often purchase multiple packs of bath bombs to give as gifts, or they also purchase lotions, gourmet snacks or candles for their laid-back, bubble-fueled evening. “Do you ever browse other products?” we ask.
“Not really,” Sharon informs us. “I’ve actually bookmarked the bath bombs, so I go right to them. Once I add them to my cart, I go to some PayPal page, so I guess I never even think to browse other things.”
It’s quickly obvious you’ve left money on the table. If Sharon had also purchased lotions, snacks and candles, the order may have quadrupled in size. Instead, your shopping cart implementation takes place completely off-site. Unless a savvy user clicks “Continue Shopping” on PayPal’s end or clicks back in their browser, they think the only possible next step is to check out. Even users who buy more than one thing might be unaware they can continue adding to their cart and they might think they have to buy each item one at a time. What a terrible experience, surely pushing them closer and closer to patronizing a business other than yours.
With an on-site checkout solution, we could provide an uninterrupted browsing experience, updating the cart in the background when users add items and allowing them to continue to find more items that pique their interest. On the cart page, we could propose items similar to the ones they’ve already added, enticing them to go back and find more.
Internal user research
Now we’re cooking. Customers are flooding your site with orders and you can barely keep up. Instead of spending time talking to customers at the front of the store, your employees are now spending time doing order fulfillment and bookkeeping. If that sounds dull, and even like a step backward for your business, that’s because it is. You could hire more employees, but once again, you’re solving a problem that you don’t fully understand. Your employees are your users, too.
We sit down with long-time employee John and ask him what his average day looks like.
“An order comes in from the site,” he says, “so I go grab what the customer ordered from our storeroom. Then I open the point of sale system, create an order there, and mark it as paid. Then I put the products in a box and I open up UPS’s website. I type in the shipping address and pay for and print out a label. I put that on the box and then hand it off to the delivery guy when he shows up. Oh, and yesterday, I actually got an order for a product we’re out of, so I had to let the customer know there’d be a wait.”
Do you see what I see? I quickly point out that what, at its surface, might look fairly efficient, actually involves a lot of redundant work. John is recreating orders that have already been placed online in the POS system. You’d be much better off building a bridge between your website’s eCommerce solution and your point of sale software. When an order is placed online, the POS could create an order, adjust inventory, and record payment. There are even eCommerce solutions that can generate shipping labels as soon as an order is placed.
We can work in the other direction, too. The website could always reflect what is or isn’t in stock, so John is no longer reaching out to customers on a case-by-case basis—they already know that the item is backordered.
Let’s say we implement both of these options. John finds that each order now takes half the time to process, and you no longer need to hire and pay another employee. By analyzing the user’s experience we’ve come up with a lasting solution.
User research leads to wild success
You may not be running Snapchat, or even a storefront, but your business has its own unique problems. Those problems are costing you customers and man hours. If you’re not giving your website a checkup once in a while by interviewing and researching your users, you have no idea if it’s succeeding and why. This makes your website waste of your money. That’s why at Sterner Stuff, I can work with you to conduct valuable user research, ensuring your website is a boon to your business. Reach out today to talk about how I can help you.
Already seeing great results from user research? Share your story in the comments below!