How to get insights when you can’t talk to your users

By UserTesting | July 20, 2023

Gathering user insights when designing is very important, but it can be hard to get buy-in, especially in the beginning stages. You could just jump straight into creating wireframes or making assumptions about your users and their needs, or you could use all the resources currently available to you.

This article explores some of those options and how you can use them. You can also use these methods for exploratory research or for inspiration when you’re looking for new and exciting challenges and projects.

1) Social media

People are always talking about everything on social media, whether it’s a discovery, new trends, interests, or apps they’re using. When you have a complaint about an app or experience (physical or digital) the first place you go to besides your Whatsapp group chats or your friends, is social media. Your users do this too.

To use social media as a research tool, you can also do a bit of competitive analysis. Research what your users or potential users are saying about your product and that of your competitors. Social media helps you get insights on what they wish your products had, what they think is missing from your product, what they hate about their experience, what they loved about it, and so on.

With growing awareness of UX, even non-technical people are using the relevant terms. You can use search for keywords relevant to your product space like “the UX of …” or just a regular search for your product, service, and company name. You’ll discover what users are enjoying and what they’re frustrated about.

Your company doesn’t need to have a presence on social media (although I wonder why that would be a thing in this era). Whether you’re there or not, your customers are and they’ll be talking about you and your competitors.

2) App Store reviews

App Store reviews are also a great way to get user feedback. A lot of teams forget that they exist, but there’s so much useful information there.

If you look through your app store reviews, it’s usually just some stars with one or two lines about how this is the best app ever or the worst app ever. However, if you dig deeper, you’ll find some reviews with more to offer. These you should be paying attention to.

You can find valuable feedback containing complaints, compliments, questions, feature requests, and more. Remember, if your app is available on more than one platform you should check all the platforms.

Just like social media, you can also view the app store reviews of your competitors to see what they are requesting for or complaining about.

For an extra challenge, check out app review sites and platforms where people can compare alternatives to your product. It’s basically like users are doing competitive analysis for you.

3) Existing studies (aka desk research)

You might be thinking that the previous tips don’t apply to you because you’re a B2B company, but don’t worry there are things you can do too.

Companies and research agencies are always putting out one report or the other. Get your Google game on and review research done from various publications and sources on your topic of interest.

They don’t even have to be UX specific. You can search for academic papers using Google Scholar. For example, if you’re in the VR, AR, XR space, there is a ton of academic research on best practices from social psychology to human competitive action.

Nielsen Norman Group also publishes about user behavior, user preferences, and additional information that may be relevant to your products or areas of interest. Lots of companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and others also post case studies and best practices based on their research.

If your problem area is onboarding, there’s also a lot of research being published out there by other companies who do products around their own onboarding.

Also, look out for previous research done in your company because there might be valuable resources in there. You don’t always have to start afresh, you can look at what your company has done in the past and see how it can be useful to you.

4) Looking inwards

Another tip that would work for both B2B and B2C products and companies is to talk to user-facing teams and other teams that do research in your org.

This could be customer support, marketing, sales, or any other team in your company that interfaces with users. Ask your company’s accounts managers, sales reps or customer support reps for feedback on user complaints, feature requests, and so on.

Another way to look inwards is by using an internal panel for research. If your colleagues fit into the user personas, you can have them do interviews or usability tests or concept tests.

For example, if your company creates products for pet owners, find coworkers who have pets. Consider behavioral and psychographic attributes that are similar to your users. Don’t talk to the design team though.

In summary

None of these methods should actually replace in-depth research and speaking with real users, and there are limitations to what you can do with the data gathered through these means. However, if you’re not sure what questions to ask or where to start doing research from or you are struggling to find buy-in for research with end-users, these are great ways to get started.

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About the author(s)

With UserTesting’s on-demand platform, you uncover ‘the why’ behind customer interactions. In just a few hours, you can capture the critical human insights you need to confidently deliver what your customers want and expect.