Aug 30, 2017 Design + Creative

Twelve Practical Ways To Become More User-centric

The online world is rapidly evolving. Web users are demanding more. The web has given so many new choices that web users now demand options that may have never existed. They have a voice online with which to complain. They expect instant lines of communication with friends, families, and businesses all around the world. They don’t want to, and will not, wait. They expect an outstanding level of customer service in all aspects of their digital life. They want us to listen to them and to respond.

In such a fast-paced online world, how do we meet these new expectations? How do we better listen to our users and respond to their needs?

Here are twelve practical steps you can take to build a culture that puts users first.

1. Consolidate what you know

The first step in listening and responding to user needs is to understand your users better.

Chances are, your organization has plenty user information. Not just in the research you have done, but also the experiences of your coworkers. The problem is these pockets of information are often isolated. Hunt down this information  bring it together into a single place in order to create a central picture of your users.

2. Fill in the gaps with interviewing

Yet even with the aggregated research, it still won’t paint the complete picture of your users. That will be especially true if you have multiple user groups. That means it is time to start speaking to users yourself.

When you have a very different set of user groups, this can be a difficult process. But any interviews are better than none. Talk to as many people as you can. Every conversation will bring new insights. Make it an ongoing part of your daily work.

3. Widen the sample with data

Interviews are great, but you will need a more representative sample. That is where big data can help. Find out what information you hold on users and dive into it with the attempt to get a high-level understanding. Tailor your approach by coming in with actual questions, otherwise the massive amount of data could be overwhelming.

If what you have can’t answer your questions, gather new data. Run surveys online, add comprehensive analytic tools to your website. Don’t stop until you have a clear picture of the user’s needs.

4. Work from empathy maps and journeys

It is easy to become overwhelmed with all this information, which could dissuade colleagues from from collaborating on such a data driven project. So make this a visual project and take the time to simplify what you learn into customer journey maps or empathy maps. These practical infographics give you and your colleagues a snapshot of the user’s needs.

Turn these images into visual experiences, treat them like artwork and hang them on the wall. That helps focus everybody on the user every time they look up from their desk.

5. Start with a user need

When you start scoping a new service or project, make sure you have those maps to hand. Don’t let a project plan begin with a feature list or an internal goal. Instead, always start with a user need. What user’s need will this project meet?

Don’t make assumptions of any kind. Speak to users and find out if that need is a real one and if the project has the potential to address it. Even consider including the user in the planning stage to ensure the project remains relevant.

6. Prioritise based on users

Typically and unfortunately, most organizations have far more project ideas than are feasible to implement. The result is that project which would help users get sidelined in favor of a senior manager’s pet project.

Stop prioritizing based on who shouts the loudest. Work with colleagues to agree on a policy for efficient prioritization, based on user needs, not personal agendas.

7. Focus content creation around users

Content creation often suffers from a similar problem. It starts from the premise of “what do we want to say,” rather than asking the essential question: “What does the reader want to know?”

That has to change. When creating any content, we need to ask ourselves two questions to frame the piece: What does the user want to know about this subject? What should they do next?

8. Beware the edge case

Another issue with content creation is becoming caught up in complexity. We need to ensure clarity if we want to communicate with users better.

Nowhere is this truer than with edge cases, which are the user groups or users needs that are either unusual or simply outliers from the norm. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring these special instances, but we must be careful in our attempt to address them.  It is key that we don’t allow them to add complexity to the experience of the majority.

9. Prototype, test, and iterate

It is not just how we interact with users that needs to change, how we build digital services needs to change too. We cannot run user-facing projects in the same manner that we run other projects. Not if we want to include the user’s voice in the process. Not if we want these services to meet their needs.

Instead of adhering strictly to project specifications, we need user-facing prototypes to be developed first. Prototypes we can get feedback on from real users. From there, we can then improve and iterate upon the feedback to build a more robust service for rollout.

10. Work hard at cross team collaboration

But in order to create these prototypes, we need to work differently. We cannot continue to work in silos because users don’t think in silos. They don’t care how an organization runs, they just want a perfect experience.

We cannot carve up the responsibilities of our digital services or initiatives between departments. Similarly, neither can we hand-off users and their needs from one team to another. Agencies, from the top to the bottom need to start working collaboratively and leveraging our strengths as inter-disciplinary teams.

11. Think beyond the website

When it comes to a digital experience, it is easy to fixate on just the site. But a website is primarily a broadcast platform or digital signage for most organizations. It does not allow us to listen or interact with users. Even a mobile app can’t help with that.

If we want to become user-centric, we need to put user engaging channels, like social media,  at the heart of our approach. That means an investment in both workforce and resources. Resources to make these a customer service and engagement channel, not just a place for announcements. A global channel,  open 24/7, and ready for anyone!

12. Become user advocates

Finally, if we want to become a user-centric organization, we need to redefine what our jobs are and what they mean. We cannot improve the user experience alone. We cannot even change it with the help of one or two dedicated teams. We need to change the entire outlook and approach of the whole organization.

That means we need to be, first and foremost, customer-obsessed user experience advocates. We need to commit ourselves to educating our colleagues and managers. We need to be raising the profile of the user across the organization. We must become disruptors and mavericks who bring about lasting change.

So with that in mind, why not share the presentation featured in this post and circulate them in your organization. Hopefully, it will start a discussion about how you can become more user-centric.

About the Author Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation. He is a leader in digital and user experience strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice. More by this Author