Three Reasons Why Customer Research Matters

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Customer research can often feel like your annual checkup at the doctor’s; you know it’s good for you, but you can’t help feeling that it’s really just a waste of time. After all, you feel fine, you think. In the same way, your product might feel fine after you’ve established a clear idea of what it should be and how it should work. At that point, outside opinions may seem arbitrary, or worse, an expensive waste of resources.

And yet, just like routine checkups, regular customer research can prevent major problems down the road. By performing customer research, you may find that you didn’t know your customers’ needs as well as you thought, or that your product isn’t intuitive to use. Here at Inkling, we’ve learned the hard way that building a great-looking product doesn’t matter if people can’t (or worse, don’t) use it.

One of Inkling’s fundamental tenets is that digital publishing products are software products, and we’ve tried to apply best practices from software development to content creation and development. As part of that, we’ve developed a vibrant culture around user experience research. We conduct research at all stages of the product development process, including making strategic product decisions, defining new features, and improving the usability of existing products. By talking to real users and learning their pain points, we’re able to identify and correct issues quickly, with the confidence that we’re making our products better.

However, don’t think that you have to build software products to implement and reap the benefits of customer research in your own organization. Regular customer research programs are applicable and constructive across a variety of products, organizations, and workflows. In fact, we recommend them to our customers and to anyone who builds digital content, whether they’re producing analyst reports, test prep materials, employee training courses, or any number of things. Talking to end-users provides the best information about where your content is working and, crucially, where it’s not. Maybe your customers would use your content more often in a different format, or maybe some of your assessment questions are worded poorly. You’ll never know unless you ask.

So, what’s our bottom line on customer research? Through an iterative approach that values learning, customer research can get you to the right product faster. Here are three reasons why you should consider adding research to your own team’s process:

  1. Gain leverage over your competitors by making informed product decisions. Your product will be better–more useful and usable–because real users have validated it.
  2. Minimize risk by measuring twice, cutting once. It’s much less expensive to perform early stage exploratory research to learn about the people you’re building your product for before you build it. Test out small hypotheses rather than spending months on a large project that you keep under wraps until the very end.
  3. The sooner you find what doesn’t work, the sooner you can fix it.  Ship early and often. It’s better to build a “good” product that your customers will use, rather than something “perfect” that they won’t.

To initiate a research-driven culture at your own company, start by showing early versions of your product or content to your end-users. This will require a change in how you think about your product–you won’t be creating a perfectly-formed gem, forged through months of pressure and toil. Instead, you and your team will build a number of smaller experiments to ensure that what you’re creating truly serves the needs of your users. By committing to a process of prototyping, testing, releasing, and validating–known in the software world as “agile development“–you can make incremental gains, resulting in a much stronger overall product offering.

Once customer research is the lifeblood of your product development process, both the added time and cost upfront will prove worthwhile in the long run. Your customers’ insights can cause you to bypass useless ventures or correct mistakes that could have gone unnoticed for months. As for those pesky doctor’s appointments? We’ll leave that up to you.

Check out our Solutions page to see how you can benefit from Inkling’s thoroughly researched products and why top publishers and corporate clients have used Inkling to iterate on their own digital content.