Do you download the mobile applications of all companies that you are a customer of? Do you regularly use a chatbot? Have you ever seen Google Glass?
You can produce the most amazing solutions with the latest technologies, but the underlying needs are what determine the benefit potential of your solution. At the basis of human-oriented design lies the needs of the users and the issues that are experienced when trying to meet these needs. Moreover, the needs can last longer than the solution alternatives. For example, SalesForce meets the same need as wall paintings from ancient times: Data storage.
However, we cannot say that all the needs of today’s people have continued throughout the history of humanity and that we need to go back to the Cenozoic age to be able to determine our needs because as we well know by now, that new technologies create new needs. The need to track the time minute by minute did not exist until the invention of the steam engine, and also there was no need for portable power supply until a few years ago except for batteries of various sizes and capacities. The needs are variable, and each need may not be seen as a problem for all users, or the issues declared by users may categorically correspond to different needs. For example, the main reason why your users complain about the service cost may not be the pricing scheme of your product, but the lack of notification for that price in the relevant sections.
Therefore, need assessment, beyond listening to the complaints of your users, is to work actively to understand users, and it is a process that requires an accurate understanding of unspoken insights. In return for this effort to better understand your users, you can empathize with your users which enables you to uncover needs which were not exposed and identify your users who are pushing the limits of your product/service so that their practices can be implemented within the product/service.
Why do this anyway?
First of all, it is helpful to underline that answering user requests is not the same as producing need-based solutions. Your users aren’t product professionals and do not take into account the technological infrastructure or roadmap of your product when communicating their demands. They only convey their demands based on their needs (often without explaining their need level).
If there are enough users both in number and variety to represent the entire pool, you may have the opportunity to sit down with your team and identify the underlying needs of these demands by reverse engineering, but it would be too optimistic to think that this would be possible at any stage of your product/service. Therefore, to identify your users’ additional needs on top of the problems they have solved with your product, you should come together with them to get their views on your product as a critical component of your product development flow. You can do this by allocating a few hours a week to plan intensive research processes every few months, which should take 1-2 weeks. Moreover, you will not only get feedback about your product/service but also gain valuable information about your users.
How is it done?
Two main research methods are used for needs assessment: observation and interview. Regardless of the chosen research method, some subjects should be considered during the planning and implementation phase. To conduct a proper research process, a detailed (but stretch-resistant) research plan should be prepared, and appropriate methods and participants should be identified.
For example, in your research to improve a specific feature, you should include people who are users of your product or service as well as those who are not users. This way, you can prevent your findings from being limited to only the relevant feature or function, and on top of that, you can get a better idea of the user needs that you have resolved as well as those you might not have.
After deciding the research method to be followed, a safe environment with no out of context, stimuli should be selected for this method. A healthy conversation cannot be made in a noisy or very hot atmosphere, and also objects such as an aquarium or a construction work nearby might distract the participant and may make it difficult for the participant to focus on the interview.
Similarly, special attention should be paid to the fact that the observation or interview does not influence or guide the behavior of the participant. For example, if the participants fix their hair in the mirror which conceals the hidden camera that you placed for the purpose of natural observation, we can no longer talk about an observation in a natural environment. Or if the person who is carrying out an interview on physical barriers is in a wheelchair, this will distort the answers of the participants. Finally, observations and interviews should be recorded with appropriate tools so that the insights gained are not limited to the memory.
Of course, not everyone has to be a professional researcher, but a research process that does not meet the above requirements cannot produce healthy results. Again, since not everyone has research experience, it is useful to share a few tips on how to conduct an observation and interview processes in addition to the above general principles.
How to conduct an interview?
The flow that should be followed to produce as many findings as possible is clear:
The interview starts with the interviewer introducing themselves to the participant and giving information about the subject and purpose of the interview. For the participant to stay within the context of the conversation, it is more appropriate if a bureaucratic agreement such as a confidentiality agreement or the sharing of personal information which might be seen as valuable, should be signed ahead of time and not right before the interview.
After the participant is informed about the context of the interview, the interview can move on with the initial questions. For the sake of giving sample questions, let’s assume that our product or service is a solution to the urban public transport challenge. Simple and general questions such as “Do you use public transport?” and “Do you like traveling?” should be asked.
After the start-up phase, the interviewer asks more personal questions to connect with the participant. Again, in the same context, the interviewer will ask questions such as “How did you get here? How was your journey? What is your preferred mode of urban transportation?”, while deepening the communication with a few consecutive questions which will be formed based on the participant’s responses so you will have more information about the participant’s profile.
After the participant warms up to the interviewer, and the context of the interview, answers that will enable the possible needs to come to light are sought. At this stage:
- “Could you tell us about the best (worst) travel experience you’ve ever had?, What made that experience so good (bad)?”
- “How did this experience affect your transportation preferences?”
- “In your opinion, what would be the ideal transportation service?
- “What would you pay attention to if you were providing a transportation service?”
and similar questions should be asked to answer the needs of the participant.
To obtain as much valuable insight as possible from the interview, the interviewer should also observe the participant. The personal values of the participant and the mood during the interview are the inputs that can play a role in the evaluation phase.
How to do an observation?
The most crucial point which should be considered during an observation reporting and evaluation process is that the researcher should put aside their personal opinions and evaluations throughout the process and focus on the participants’ statements and actions. However, in cases where there is a conflict between the statements and actions of the participants, the comments of the research team will be more valuable. The elimination of conditions that cause these contradictions will be possible through innovative perspectives and ideas.
In observations, detecting solutions developed by the participants by their own means gains importance. Assuming you have a customer database product, if your users get the Excel output to update the data they store on your application, then restore the file to your system, this indicates that your product’s data update feature has not been noticed or has been found inadequate or useless. Because, unlike the solutions you offer, there is a need behind the solutions invented by your users.
As I emphasized at the beginning of the article, the underlying needs determine the potential benefits. The basis of the product or service design that focuses on human beings is the needs of the users and the likely problems that arise while solving them. It is possible to shed light on these needs with user observations and interviews. Regardless of which method you choose, you do not have to be a professional researcher to carry out a successful research process. Just set aside everything you know about your product/service, and just spend some time and effort to focus on what your users do or say. The investment in the satisfaction rate your product or service creates for your current users will be reflected in both the reduction in customer loss and positive reflections on your acquisition indicators, making it easier to scale your product or service efficiently and adequately.