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Humanise the way you connect with users during research

Humanise the way you connect with users during research

Hayley Camille Morgan  |  May 19, 2020

Today's customer guest post comes from Hayley Camille Morgan, Head of User Research at WorldRemit.


Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances. -Viktor Frankl

Whether you describe yourself as a warrior during this pandemic, a storyteller of quarantined life, or possibly a researcher analyzing COVID-19’s impact, your attitude throughout this period will play a critical role in supporting your overall strength. 

Your attitude becomes a muscle that is built and developed over time in order to empathetically respond to the ever-evolving and uncertain world around you. Despite its beauty, the unknown is undeniably terrifying. Yet, it is so reassuring to note that the vulnerability which we’re all experiencing is a shared emotional response. 

The world has pivoted as one, moving from face-to-face interactions to a dependency on digital interactions overnight. A new normal, which we are still becoming accustomed to, whilst preparing ourselves for what is to come next. A tomorrow which is contingent on your contribution, knowledge, and applied skill. 

The following article aims to highlight the strength of modern research practice, and the power of avoiding sanitised interactions during the pandemic in 3 key research areas: participant recruitment, moderated interview format, and pre-scripted usability testing.

The power of modern research 

User researchers across the world have an undeniable edge, as the migration to digital research methodologies and supporting tools is one that they have been grappling with for years. A 2020 norm which has played a significant contributing role in the increased agility and success of the practice long before the pandemic of COVID-19. 

Now, more than ever researchers are dependent on their digital toolkits. Online recruitment tools, testing platforms, videotelephony software, recording programs, or tools which encapsulate these many steps, simplifying the process like UserTesting’s Human Insight Platform. Combined, or standalone, these tools provide researchers working remotely with the ability to both obtain and share rich user insights with great ease. This serves to demonstrate the resilience of these researchers and the consistency of their work throughout this challenging time. 

So what’s changed now that we have been faced with this crisis, and how will this impact the field of research long term? The key change and driver of subsequent practice changes is that of user behaviour. Acknowledging the simple fact that we have changed and so have our users is key to reflect upon in order to address and support one another throughout this time. Responsible for interacting with users, researchers must ensure that they are applying an empathetic nature while engaging with their audience now more than ever.

Applying empathy to research methods

Covering three key areas that are critical when it comes to core processes, and methodologies practiced by remote researchers today. These include participant recruitment, moderated interview format, and pre-scripted usability testing. 

1. Participant recruitment 

This is the point at which researchers behind the scenes make their first impression. A time whereby they should be descriptive, succinct, and warm. This early step requires heavy coordination skills, yet is often rushed through as a result of the fact that one may already have standardised pre-screening criteria (e.g., personae, target segment), or set of pre-written screener questions. However, this is the time to set the tone for the research, which will ultimately impact the output of the report. Revising questions to ensure they are inviting, yet functional, is key. 

Furthermore, when it comes to participant recruitment, privacy statements abiding to ethical guidelines should also be acknowledged. People are conscious of their privacy, and the associated variable of trust plays a critical role in this. Therefore, acknowledging the future use of the collected content should be included in one’s pre-screening criteria. Providing the sample to opt-in to their session recording being included in a research summary video or shared in a company-wide presentation. Remember to recruit in a way that sets the tone for your research, ensuring a level of professionalism whilst maintaining warmth. 

2. Remote interviews (moderated)

Interviews, the time to practice active listening and ensure that the participant feels as though they are the true expert in the room. The standard format for interviews includes a rather mundane series of questions and tasks, followed by a time to take questions (should any time remain at the end of the session). 

It's time to optimise the practice, turning it on its head. Beginning by ensuring that the researcher introduces themselves, and those on the call. Continuing to clearly describe the purpose of the session, tasks, and remind the participant of their rights (e.g., the right to refuse to participate at any point throughout the session), and providing them with the opportunity and time to ask questions before continuing. This revised format empowers the participant and ensures a level of trust which sets the foundation for the moderator to continue to build on throughout the interview itself. 

By now, undoubtedly we have all experienced an awkward videotelephony moment. Whether you experienced an abrupt interruption (unsure if it was the WIFI or someone cutting you off), no audio, or absolute radio silence, remote interviews can pose a challenge in comparison to the traditional face-to-face format. Although, it is important to remember that this method is also more forgiving, and provides the moderator with the space to pause and listen. Supporting the participant without a heavy hand or guidance throughout the session. But most importantly, expressing kindness and patience. Remember, they are the expert and you are there to learn from them.  

3. Pre-scripted usability testing (unmoderated)

An art in itself, pre-scripted usability testing requires even the most seasoned of researchers to revise their work in order to ensure that the tasks not only make sense to them but are supportive enough to make logical sense to a participant who will independently complete the session. This requires robust context building on the part of the researcher, ensuring that the participant is able to anchor themselves to the provided scenario. Much like the script for a moderated session (e.g., video call), tasks should be written in a way that removes a sense of unease and anxiety from the equation. Empowering the participant, and providing them with the space to provide feedback throughout the process without pressure. 

Ways in which a pre-scripted usability test may be optimised includes providing more reassuring copy to each of the questions. This can be placed at the start and end. Bookmarking the task with context, tone, and ending with reassurance around the action to complete. Remember that despite carrying out remote research, you can play a critical contributing role in the participants’ success by revising your work, and injecting enough support conveyed through your empathetic tone.

Now’s the time to put this into practice

Whether you are a researcher, manager, or affiliated with the practice, it’s now your turn to share this insight. Apply this new knowledge to your daily life and turn it into wisdom. Remember, it all starts and ends with your attitude, take the time to humanise your approach and emotionally engage, avoiding sanitised interactions in the process.

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About the author: Hayley is a behavioural scientist leading the research team at WorldRemit, the fintech creating faster, easier, and lower-cost money transfers. Hayley focuses on humanising the digital experience through customer understanding across all business levels, fuelling positive transformations with long-lasting impact. Her passion for the craft stems from designing and building products within the digital space and applying scientific rigour to the process.