Understanding consumers is a lot like dating

So I am in the tedious stage in my life where my friends and I have decided to wade in the dating pool. Unfortunately, it seems like we’re all stuck on the paddling end of the pool, after strings of first dates for months on end. As such, Sunday date debrief sessions over wine are often a sharing of our neuroses on these dates, but more specifically focused on the supposed neuroses of our prospective Prince Charmings.

Debriefs often start with “It was all okay, he was lovely, conversation was amazing…but I couldn’t figure him out when he…”

“…wore this hideous athletic sweater”

“…read the menu out loud”

“…started close-talking” (see the timeless Seinfeld episode on this).

You get the point. Quirky behaviours that can’t be explained from one two-hour dinner date.

I like to think of myself as the Miranda (of Sex and the City) of our group and act as the voice of reason, telling my friends – “just give him a few more dates, and it’ll all make sense”.

Behind the guise of Miranda, as a consumer researcher, I know there is much to be gained from understanding people’s needs and motivations, providing depth or context for the surface level behaviours and actions we see. Maybe there’s more to the hideous sweater, verbal transcription of the menu, and the close-talking….

Understanding the needs and motivations of people is even more important when we are focusing specifically on behaviour and outcomes, as we do in usability or user experience testing of websites, apps or prototypes.

The benefits of UX testing are in discovering potential bugs and potholes in the system, which generally are not visible to developers, designers and other project stakeholders. Usability testing also provides some understanding on how the needs of people using a software or website actually play out in real life. Watching the ease of use, ease of learning or satisfaction informs an important part of development.

However, observing people play through a prototype or software is only half of the picture in understanding the behaviours and actions we learn in usability testing. The learnings we make in usability testing are like the learnings we make on a first date.

The fuller picture comes from understanding the why – or the needs and motivations of those who are testing the software or website you are testing. With dating, the more dates we go on the better we understand the person behind the quirky behaviour.

It’s all very well to understand whether people are able to instinctively navigate through your website, but the understanding on why they may not choose to click through certain sections of a website can provide more meaningful suggestions on how your website can be truly customer-centric. These insights are useful in shedding light for existing developments but they also ensure future developments are in line with how users act and think.

Combining usability testing with qualitative research and behavioural economics insights provides a multifaceted view of your customers. A view that usability testing alone ignores. The context that qualitative research and behavioural economics insights provides, creates a frame for the behaviour and actions revealed in usability testing.

As with dating, this frame evolves and comes to light, the more dates we go on with one person. Understanding more about a person and the context of their lives over time, helps us to understand the behaviours and quirks we may have seen on date one. Integrating these contextual understandings of a person, really helps us to appreciate who they truly are. Taking a single snapshot of a user experience – like the one off date – can leave us not just lacking understanding but potentially drawing incorrect conclusions.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the hideous sweater offender, turns out his behaviour can be explained by the fact he’s riding a new wave of Hipsterdom… and is currently on date number six with my friend. 

  • Vanisha Narsey is a consultant at TRA.

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