The Value of User Research for Custom Software
Posted by Lacey Wilcox | February 15, 2022
There is an old saying in business that the customer is always right. And while that adage is mostly rooted in the principle of offering consistently excellent customer service and care, it has some broad implications as businesses expand into the digital realm through websites and software. Not only is it important to serve customers well, but it’s also important to know them intimately in order to create products that meet their needs and solve their problems.
We talk often on this blog about the importance of using buyer personas to shape the content you share in digital marketing. But the value of listening to and learning from (and about) your customer to shape custom software is invaluable. This is known as user research, and it’s an important part of building custom software.
What is User Research?
It’s my longest-running (not that funny) joke that marketers are the most obvious namers. Everything in marketing is exactly what it sounds like. User research is no different. In software development, user research is simply the process of trying to learn two main things about your ideal customers in regards to the product you are building:
Essentially, you need to understand what they are doing, and why they are doing it (or, how they feel as they are doing it). These two things will help you build tools that meet your customers’ needs on every level.
So how do you conduct this user research? There are multiple avenues to obtain this information, but some of the most common and straightforward include:
- Test groups or trials
- Software that maps a user’s actions (for example, heat mapping software that shows where users first direct their attention on a website)
Not only will this research provide you with valuable information about your ideal customer, but it will also allow you to build a more intimate line of communication with your audience. The more you can understand what they are doing (behaviors) and why they are doing it – or how they are feeling as they do it – the more likely you are to create a product they will love for the long haul.
What is the Value of User Research?
This communication is just one of the many benefits that come from conducting this kind of research. The value in gathering this data and information about your ideal customer is invaluable in building a product that is easy to use, accomplishes specific goals and objectives, and doesn’t create unnecessary stress for your users.
- Save time and money by building custom software right the first time.
- Create a strategy for your product and marketing it that is built on actual data.
- Build a product that is well received and appreciated (and more likely to receive positive reviews).
- Inform future updates and adaptations to increase subscriptions, downloads, etc.
The knowledge you will gather during user research will take many forms, but for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to focus on answers to questions you’ve been working with since elementary school: the good ol’ five W’s and an H.
- Who? Conducting this research forces you to think critically about exactly who your ideal user is. This is important because it keeps you from trying to make your software be all things to all users (which will only cost you more time and money).
- What? It’s really important that custom software solves the exact problem your customers face. It doesn’t need to address part of the problem or offer a solution that kind of works.
- Where? Whether you’re building application software, an intranet site, or something else, you need to know where your audience is spending their time in the software. If there is an area of your app or site that they’re largely ignoring, is it necessary?
- When? Based upon your research, what have you learned about your users’ habits? When during their day do they use this software? Is it something they will pull up one handed as they’re getting ready for the day? Is it something they will focus on as they are on the train to work? Knowing these kinds of habits will help you build an app that fits your personas perfectly.
- Why? When you look at your users’ attitudes and behaviors in regards to this software, what is the why behind them? Why do they feel frustrated or annoyed with a certain part? Why do they keep trying to click in a certain area when they need to be in a different one? Are they having problems with load time or image resolution?
- How? How are your users actually using this product? Do they follow the intent you had in mind when you built it? Do they use it for a slightly different purpose than you intended?
Launch Your Custom Software Project Right the First Time
Yes, the customer is always right, but they are especially right about their needs and desires in the custom software they use. The best way to know these things is by asking and researching. Take the time to get to know your ideal users and their pain points and needs. It will pay off extensively in the long run.
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