User or customer research is the cornerstone of creating and delivering desirable and valuable SaaS products. There’s no better hack than talking to the end-users to understand their wants, needs, and pain points throughout the customer lifecycle.
At a time when travel restrictions, work-from-home, and social distancing is the norm, how can you continue gathering insightful customer data to share the direction of your product? That’s where remote user research comes in handy. Keep reading to know how UX methodology has adapted to modern times.
User Research – Then & Now
What comes to your mind when you hear the term ‘user research’? User research used to involve traveling to far-off places to meet with potential customers, meeting study participants face-to-face in usability labs, or conducting contextual inquiry wherever users lived or worked. That’s what user research meant and how it worked before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similar to other things, covid changed the fundamentals of user research as well. Pandemic-induced restrictions have influenced how research is conducted. And, practices like home visits and gathering insights on physical interactions are slowly dying out.
Even though in-person research methodologies are hard to replace, most of them have valuable remote alternatives. In addition, online technology is great to conduct customer research today; such as online usability testing software, digital surveys, video conferencing, and digital analysis tools.
Remote user research: what it is and why does it work?
Remote user research is an alternative to in-person customer research methods. The researcher and the participant interact via a modality or channel. It is ideal for getting insights from customers located across the globe. Still, today, it is replacing in-person research as companies realize the benefits of remote user research go beyond the COVID times.
Remote user research works as it offers immense flexibility to the researcher to connect with end-users no matter where they’re located. Also, users can undergo testing in their usual environment working with the software or SaaS app they use daily.
Advantages of Remote User Research
I. Safer for the health of the researcher and the participant, which nobody thought of before the pandemic.
II. Ability to connect with the end-users instantly, regardless of their location. The geographic barrier is no more, and there’s a broader pool of candidates.
III. Remote participants are much more honest about their feedback as no distractions or pressures are influencing their responses.
IV. Cost-friendly because the costs of equipment, facilities, and travel are negligible.
Types of remote UX research
In remote moderated user research, the test participants are observed by a moderator in real-time via screen share technology.
The researcher can make personal observations in moderated remote research and gather in-depth qualitative feedback.
Unmoderated or automated research doesn’t involve any interaction between the participant and the researcher. Instead, it uses online tools to collect information.
Unmoderated research can help gather feedback from many participants and offer quantitative results. If you only need performance data, automated testing is right for you.
Methods of Remote User Research
1. Remote workshops
Zoom, Webex, and Skype make hosting remote workshops a piece of cake. These conference calling tools are excellent for hosting groups of participants and feature screen-sharing options. However, for smooth remote workshops, ensure to set some ground rules like using the chat option for answering questions and asking everyone to put their microphone on mute when they’re not speaking.
Remote user interviews are conducted using conference calling tools like Google Hangout, Skype, and Zoom. These platforms offer screen-sharing options, which means you can follow your participants as they use your SaaS product and ask them questions. You can even share your screen to run activities remotely. Furthermore, you can hit record to transcribe your interview using Dovetail and similar tools.
3. Consensus creation
Before conducting remote UX research, researchers must decide on a shared understanding of the metrics with the project members or stakeholders. Then, everyone needs to agree to a research plan or frame a single problem that the user research can solve.
Digital whiteboards, such as Miro can be used to collaborate and share ideas in real-time. Then, when all the feedback or input has been gathered, you can use Google Docs or Dropbox Paper to share the online documents with the project team members.
You can even use online collaboration tools like Slack to quickly pass on important user research observations or change the research plan.
4. User observations
Observing people as they go about their tasks while using your SaaS product is challenging, especially if you’re observing remotely. You might dread missing a few off-screen cues. Fortunately, tools like WhatsApp or Skype can be used for live observation. The participants must use their phones when they are recording their actions or tasks. Even wearables like GoPro can get live recordings of the movement of the participants.
5. Usability testing
Lookback is one of the best tools for both unmoderated and moderated remote user research. Researchers can record the participant’s screen, their interactions, and their voice and face. When the recording is complete, you can upload and share it with the other project members.
6. Mapping techniques
During in-person research, researchers typically create project war rooms. In these rooms, live journeys of customers are mapped and filled with a lot of insights and observations. Similarly, Mural, Google Sheets, and other tools are used to map the user’s journey and share it with others.
7. Insight collection
When all the research is online through digital tools, findings and insights need proper storage to draw various research reports or results. But all the recordings and insights of the research can be easily organized using tools like Trello and Airtable. Moreover, these tools allow researchers to track their findings and even share them with the stakeholders or other team members.
Remote user research might be challenging, but it isn’t impossible. Thanks to improved digital tools and online services, conducting remote research is becoming hassle-free and convenient. Researchers can connect with a large pool of participants, convince them to answer questions or use a product, and give feedback.
The shift of UX methodology toward remote research might be a new phenomenon, but the trend is catching on quickly. More and more SaaS companies are conducting remote research to gather insightful customer data. Moreover, remote research is cost-effective and leveling the field for SaaS companies of all sizes.
Whether you are working with a target audience scattered across the globe, or have budget constraints, remote user research will help you make informed decisions and gather in-depth data. As digital tools make remote research accessible and stress-free, the trend is likely to continue beyond COVID.