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September 21, 2020

The Practical Use Of User Research Data

By Aggelos Mouzakitis

How can user research data lead to the development and optimisation of a product? Living in the product-led era has changed how we approach product development and optimisation. User research is no longer perceived as a theoretical exercise. Instead, it’s seen as something that we should do as a necessity.

In a recent interview with Paulina Wojciak, we explored some practical examples of how user research data can lead to the optimisation of a product. There is plenty that user research can give you which product analytics simply cannot. We discussed the critical differences between speaking with external testers and real customers.


Who is Paulina Wojciak?

Paulina Wojciak brings over 10 years experience in the technology industry, building and developing not only products and services but also growing software engineering and product teams. Paulina was the CEO of Qualaroo, a SaaS company that simplifies the process of collecting user feedback with surveys.

Qualaroo is designed for both UX researchers and designers or any other person within the product team that is interested in learning more about their users and how they use the product. Pauline also has an extensive HR background.

Paulina and I are coming from the same school of thought, the one that worships the value of user research. Sometimes, user research is perceived as a theoretical, almost academic exercise, but it’s not and we both know that. I wanted to discuss with Paulina about how user research data can become actionable for an MVP builder or a post-BMF startup or even a mature tech business.


The Importance of User Input

Paulina believes that there is no way a product can grow without user input. “This can be and should be gathered during all phases of the product life cycle. So, if we’re talking about MVP, probably the research should start before you even start building an MVP. Many products nowadays are being built because of some personal need or frustration, but we tend to forget that we need something and we have a pain and we need a solution”, Paulina explained.

She continued, “When building an MVP, you should start with extensive research user research, just to validate your idea, to learn, first of all, who your potential users are, what they need around the problem you’re trying to solve, what characteristics they have, what frustrations they have, pain points, what motivates them, how they currently solve the problem. Do they use any other tools for that? And probably the most important thing is do they care enough? Is this problem really important to them?”

Using Research To Understand Product-Market Fit

For Paulina, the research in this space is not about how you’re going to build a product, it’s about whether you are going to embark on building it at all. “Sometimes, you know, we’re building products that are not really needed by people. In more mature products, like when you already have product-market fit, you already operate with some, so your goals change and your focus in the research will change as well. So, first of all, the big group of research would be around his ability checking if people can really use your product and whether there are usability hurdles that you should be fixing”.

It’s important to consider the usability hurdles in your products. Once you’ve identified these, you should ensure that they inform your roadmap for product-led growth. “Sometimes, there are a number of ways you can design product features. Conducting A/B tests is great for that, just to decide which design would perform better. There’s plenty we can do with the research that can inform our product”, Paulina shared with us.


User Research & Product Analytics

I was curious to hear Paulina’s opinion on why we should do user research and not just product analytics. “Product analytics is fantastic. I would never say don’t use it, but I feel it’s very limiting in understanding your users. You can see bottlenecks that click through analysis, probably some demographics, but you really cannot understand how your users behave, how they use your product, what they think, and what motivates them”.

Without these a core understanding and level of insight into these areas, Paulina believes that it’s difficult to design a product that truly is a good solution, making people’s lives easier, and helping them to perform tasks and achieve their goals. As Paulina told us, “I’m definitely not against analytics. Analytics is fantastic, but analytics is never enough.”

When you’re constantly staring at product analytics charts and tables, it’s difficult to have empathy with your customers. “Empathy is crucial. And I think once you do proper user research, you can learn stories. You can build stories around using group products. When you present the stories to your shareholders in the company, it’s easier to explain to them why some features should be killed, why some features should be changed and why some features should be prioritized on your roadmap”, Paulina explained.

Paulina continued, “It’s very difficult to achieve it just with analytics, just with numbers. Numbers are great. They can teach us a lot. But for me, numbers were always the starting point to know how I can design my proper product research and user research and what I want to really find out more about. For me, user analytics is basically the starting point and then we can deep dig deeper with product research”.


Filtering Out Product Feedback

Based on my, there are two types of products. There might be more, but that’s based on my experience. The first type are customer-centric products, where everything is based on customer feedback. The other one is the complete opposite, the one that masters the vision of the product and doesn’t listen to customers in fear that they might mislead you in what you need to build, which can sometimes be true.

I was keen to hear Paulina’s thoughts on how we can filter out feedback when building products. As Paulina told us, “The product cannot be only driven by vision. Although, I know companies whose vision or mission is to provide the best solution for a specific problem with user feedback, utilising the data from people who actually use the solution and this is the right approach”.

Paulina continued, “Relying only on product vision is very risky. You can end up having a product that people will not use and that’s part of the research that I would definitely do. After you have an MVP, once you have a product, you may discover that people don’t sign up or people sign up and don’t use it. And this is the moment when you should do deeper research to understand why this is happening. And you know, like nowadays we, we don’t, we can’t really build the products that are based only on vision. You come in and products are pivoting”.

The Importance of User Input

We often build a product for one group of users, but then we discover that another group of users actually finds it to be more valuable. User research potentially opens up more opportunities for the product as well. The product is not built by one group within the company, it’s built by everyone. The developers must write code, the UX team and product team must make sure that people will be able to use the products. These are the people that you should be involving in your research. It truly needs to be a company-wide effort.

“I know companies, like for example, Drift. For a while, there was a rule in Drift that every developer must attend at least one customer call during the week. And it’s just basically to connect them with the real use cases, with real people that are actually using the product instead of just building something that in theory is nice and works well, but it’s maybe not really solving any problem for anyone or solving the problem”, Paulina told us.


Hiring External Testers

Paulina mentioned something critical here. She mentioned that we might build something that looks nice, that looks usable but ultimately doesn’t solve the problem. I was interested in finding out about Paulina’s opinion on using external testers versus that type of user research that you can do with collateral, or other solutions, where you ask your actual customers. 

“For me, there are two different things. First of all, it all depends on where you are in terms of product development. If you haven’t started building the product, you obviously don’t have any users. So, you need to find people who would represent the potential persona of your target market. It’s risky, it’s more difficult. And finding research participants for this space is a huge bottleneck for many companies, but you don’t have a choice, right?”

Paulina shared an example with us: “For instance, if you’re building a product for accountants, let’s try to find the accountants, right? It is really useful to do testing with people who use your product on a daily basis because they can share their problems and struggles with you. These people can help you to accurately assess if certain features need development”.


Final Thoughts

I hope that this article has helped you to learn more about the importance of user research and how it can enable you to build products that meet the unique needs of your target market. I very much enjoyed speaking with Paulina Wojciak about the practical use of user research data and I believe that there were certainly some valuable takeaways from this conversation.

Aggelos Mouzakitis

Aggelos is the founder and Growth Product Manager of Growth Sandwich. He is among the first Customer-led experts in the world, leveraging advanced, Jobs-to-be-done customer research to orchestrate and guide Growth for B2B SaaS companies. A- and B- series SaaS are hiring him to organise, design and execute programs that infuse the whole company with qualitative data, empathy and the necessary knowledge to address any growth dilemma. In the last 4 years, he has worked with more than 100 SaaS companies and trained literally, thousands through my physical and online courses.