How we leverage UserTesting: how marketers can bridge the empathy gap

By Alex Silveira | December 21, 2018
How we leverage UserTesting: how marketers can bridge the empathy gap

Recently, we launched a five-part webinar series to help showcase the many creative ways UserTesting can be used across organizations. In the series, we’ll delve into how our teams in Design, Research, Product Management, and Marketing rely on the UserTesting platform to leverage human insights to make better, more informed business decisions.

In the fifth and final edition of the series, we sat down with UserTesting’s VP of Market Strategy, Michael Mace, who shared how he uses the UserTesting platform to validate marketing content and get fast insights on customer attitudes in a wide variety of subjects. In his presentation, Michael shared some great examples of how he uses both live and self-guided customer interviews to go beyond quantitative data to better understand people and how that helps bridge the empathy gap between a company and its customer. Below is a summary of three key takeaways, or you can watch the full webinar here. Enjoy!

The quantitative imbalance

How marketers learn about their customers has evolved a lot over the past few decades. As technology advanced, so did our approach to market research. The survey, a key tool for marketers, has evolved as well. What once took months to prepare, execute, and analyze was transformed by advances in technology.

Companies like SurveyMonkey, for example, enabled marketers to gather survey data in just a few days, at a fraction of the cost. This newfound access to data was irresistible to marketers, and they embraced the new and improved survey technology. All this information was now so easy to collect that marketers quickly racked up large amounts of data about their customers. Yet while quantitative data was advancing, qualitative research—how people think and feel—had barely evolved at all. Many companies were still relying on focus groups, which are time-consuming and expensive. The result was an imbalance. Companies were relying more on easily-acquired quantitative data and less on the human side of things. All that data created an illusion that companies understood their customers. The reality was that companies were losing touch with the human behind those numbers and the empathy gap between products and experiences and their customers, widened—and consumers could sense it.

Use interviews to get people talking

One of the best ways to help bridge the empathy gap between customers and quantitative data is through customer interviews. Michael noted that, in his experience, people are usually pretty willing if not eager to talk about their experiences in this format. But it takes more than just having a conversation with someone.

Thoughtful preparation and organization are key to helping test participants open up and share the insights that you’re looking for. Michael suggests having a list of questions prepared ahead of time that will help structure the interview. The first 15-20 minutes of the interview should be focused on the participant. Be upfront and let them know that a big part of your goal is to learn more about them. As they’re sharing, don’t be afraid to ask them to expand and provide examples. Those probing questions will often uncover valuable insights. Once your participant has been talking for about 20 minutes, you can transition into how they feel about your product or experience, but that should take up the least amount of time. What you should focus on is just getting them to talk about themselves. This is essential for building empathy for customers.

Live or self-guided interviews?

Another tip Michael shared related to how these interviews could be conducted. He notes that he alternates between traditional interviews—via phone or videoconference—and self-guided interviews. Self-guided interviews are similar to an unmoderated test, in which the test participant responds to interview prompts or questions. Live interviews are naturally a great way to establish a relationship with your participants and provide you with the opportunity to dig deeper when something interesting comes up.

Self-guided interviews, however, have some surprising benefits. Michael points to how participants can unintentionally bias their responses just because they can see the other person. People have a natural tendency to try to please others or answer questions “correctly” which can obscure a person’s true experiences. But, if a person is just staring at a blank screen and essentially talking to themselves, Michael notes that you’d be surprised at how candid and open people can be. It’s also a great method if you’re interested in more sensitive topics like personal finances, politics, or religion. People may not be as comfortable talking about certain topics face to face, but are much more comfortable when they’re talking to themselves. Self-guided interviews also have the advantage of being a bit more scalable. Since no one needs to sit in on the interview to moderate, you can deploy several tests in the morning, and you’ll start seeing results coming in by the afternoon.

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About the author(s)
Alex Silveira

Alex is an Integrated Marketing Manager at UserTesting. When she's not chatting it up with the industry's best and brightest, you'll find her scouring the city for great new places to eat.