User experience surrounds us.
It’s built into every communication, physical and digital product, and environment—whether we plan for it or not. It’s even built into less visible and less obvious interactions. UX is everywhere.
As a UX researcher, I come in regular contact with my clients’ customers. I see and hear their frustrations, their confusion, and their joy firsthand.
I’m not a salesperson, customer service rep, or PR spokesperson, but I am a representative of my clients’ organizations. I am a face and voice of the brand, too. Me, a user researcher.
For participants, taking part in a research study is a brand experience — one that can positively or negatively impact how they see the organization. Research doesn’t live in a protected bubble.
Here is how I deliver the best user experience I can at every stage of a research study:
In designing the study, I do my best to make the study interesting for participants, or at least minimize fatigue and boredom as much as possible.
- Avoid repetitive tasks and questions (and similarly worded questions)
- Mix up the research methodology or survey question type (e.g., ranking, card sort, slider)
- Make sure every question is essential and the answer will be truly actionable (not merely interesting)
Research Invitations & Screeners
In my research invitations, I try to provide as much information as possible about the study — to ensure the topic aligns with their interests and attracts the right audience. It’s a fine line to walk because I also want to exclude “professional” research participants or those just in it for the $$$.
I work hard to eliminate unnecessary survey or screener questions. Does it really matter what their gender is or how much money they make? Are there other questions that would better identify the right target audience, such as recent purchase behavior or the participant’s frequency of use?
For example, there are low income households that own multiple $500 smartphones. There are high income households that coupon or regularly shop second-hand goods. In those cases, asking about household income doesn’t automatically identify the right target for a cellphone carrier or second-hand clothing store.
I include an accurate time commitment in the research invitation.
For online surveys, I primarily use SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics. Both include an estimated length of survey. To calculate the length of a survey, I also use this formula. If I say a usability study will last one hour, I mean it. I don’t sneak in an extra 10 minutes of questions. The participant’s time is important, too. Talking on the phone for an hour is difficult for most people. Holding—and using—a smartphone in front of a laptop web cam… that’s hard work!
I send reminders that include everything the participant needs at-a-glance:
- Appointment day and time
- Driving directions and parking information
- Links, instructions, and toll-free phone numbers
- Contact information (email and phone number)
In reminders, I provide the above and even what to do once they enter the building, if needed. I also include the full street address so participants can just click to use their preferred mobile map app. I’ll be busy with participants or setting up, so I ensure they have a phone number and email address for someone else who can immediately help them.
I ensure appointment times are in their time zone, not mine.
When conducting in-person usability sessions or focus groups, I do my best to personally greet each participant. I say hello and thank you for helping out, show them where the restrooms are, offer refreshments, and provide a timeline of what they can expect.
For example, I might say “We’ll begin the study in about 5 minutes.” If they’re completing paperwork, I provide a pen and clipboard to write on. Little details matter.
During the Study
I do everything I can to put a participant at ease once the session begins. I feel bad when the participant is visibly shaking from nervousness. So I do my best to distract them from the one-way mirror and emphasize that I’m not testing them — there are no right or wrong answers.
- If the participant says something funny, I laugh.
- I smile and make eye contact when I’m speaking or they are speaking.
- I express my sympathy if they tell me about an unfortunate incident and I apologize if they share a poor customer service experience.
- I speak at a normal pace, loudly enough, and clearly. I use active listening cues.
- I make them feel what they have to say is important. They’re here to share their story, not listen to mine.
Wrapping Up the Study
If the session took place in person, I walk them to the elevator or waiting room.
I make sure they are paid their gratuity quickly. If I pay gratuity with an e-gift card, I email it on the same day as their session.
I also sincerely thank them for their time and valuable feedback. I answer any questions that I wasn’t able to answer during the session. I share how or when their feedback will be used.
Whenever I plan or conduct research, designing a positive experience is utmost in my mind. Whether customers feel passionate or neutral about a brand, everyone wants to be helpful and feel like they made a difference.
Every voice matters.