How much research is enough?

How much research is enough?.png

Every three or four meetings we get asked some variation on the following question: “We absolutely love the comprehensive results you’ve delivered for other clients, but how much research do you think we really need to do for our project?”

We have been doing Service and Experience Design for over 10 years now, so we intuitively understand the question behind the question and it most often centres around this. We love and actually really want the outcomes you can deliver, but we just want to fast track to the solution rather than go through the process to get there.

What we have come to realise are two things:

1.    The mindset most of us used to adopt before the ‘Age of the Customer’ has become obsolete. The approach we all took back then was to analyse what we had in front of us, determine the best approach from the (maybe) three insights that we managed to uncover and then execute the plan. This all happened with little or no true understanding of what our customers really wanted. Therefore, in reality, customer problems were only partially addressed rather than being truly solved.

2.    The second thing we have come to realise is that there is still not a full understanding that great commercial and customer outcomes come from fresh insights that shed new light on a problem. And although sometimes you may chance upon a hypothesis that actually nails the true customer issue (or issues if lucky), for most of us the only way to develop compelling insights is to undertake a decent amount of design research.

Enacting service design without customer research is basically trusting luck to solve your problems. The only way to develop the compelling insights that drive outstanding service design is to undertake precisely enough targeted research to develop a deep understanding of your customers, charting their reactions and emotional states as they move along your customer journey.

The Questions Behind The Question

So back to the question at hand: How much research is enough? Someone wise once told me to answer a question with another question to elicit what is really being sought out. So here goes with some clarifying questions:

•    How important is it that you solve the challenge at hand correctly? Is it important enough that you answer it correctly or just get it sort of right? Depending on the scale of decision sometimes sort of right can be enough.
•    What $ investment will follow or be made on the back of this research? Is it a $200,000 or a $20 million investment of people, technology, opportunity cost and other resources?
•    How much do you know about the current problem at hand and how much research have you undertaken already? Even if the research was recently undertaken, was it the right type of research to provide you the understanding you need?
•    Do you need the research to prove or disprove your hunch or would you like to use the research to build alignment and understanding across the whole team?
•    Do you have the expertise to determine what type of research is appropriate for the challenge at hand and do you have the right skillsets to take the raw data and transform it into a compelling range of actionable insights?

These are some of the questions that organisations would benefit from asking themselves as they seek to answer the question of how much research is enough.

Understand The Problem, Solve The Problem

Service design research is explicitly done to improve customer experience and business outcomes. It’s undertaken to determine what the problems are and when they occur. It also helps discover how serious these issues are to customers and what type of solutions holds merit in their eyes. 

So how much research is enough is more than likely the wrong question to ask when it comes to customer research. Some more productive questions to ask would be:

•    Do I really understand the problem I am attempting to solve?
•    Have I proved what is the right starting point in understanding that problem?
•    How important is it that I get it right? 

Until these questions have been satisfactorily addressed, there is more work to be done.

In our experience it’s difficult to solve a problem unless we fully understand it and empathise with it. Great design is built on empathy. Without research, we can't connect with customers and build that empathy. Design executed without building empathy runs the risk of becoming disconnected from the customer and their needs, resulting in wasted time and misspent resources.

If organisations invest heavily in solutions before uncovering critical insights, they run the risk of investing in building a product that doesn’t answer customer needs. One example we came across was an organisation that wanted to create an entire self-service digital customer journey without conducting any research to find out if it was of value to their customer.  The significant investment they were about to make in terms of people and resources was at risk of being wasted if it was not solving the job customers wanted to get done. 

Research drives design. If the research hasn't answered the question, nearly everything that follows is time wasted. Every hour spent on conducting valuable research saves ten times that amount during the project phases that follow.

What do you really want as your outcome? Is your goal merely to build a functional service solution – indistinguishable from most other services developed over the last 20 years?

Wouldn't you prefer to design and create something that not only works, but seriously improves the experience of the people who use it, and those who deliver it too?

If the thought of seriously improving both your customers’ and your delivery team’s experience with a cleverly researched, carefully designed service excites you as much as it does us, contact Proto on (02) 8001 6119 and speak to one of our service design research experts. 

Posted on August 1, 2018 .