Empowering Digital Product Leaders
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Deliver a better customer experience and products by asking better research questions

Deliver a better customer experience and products by asking better research questions

  • Product Metrics /

Jonathon Hensley

Every day, executives, product owners, and teams are inundated with a never-ending list of to-dos. The problem is that when everything is important or urgent then nothing really is. How do you bring focus to the right things? How do you know that those things will make an impact? How do you gather the insights necessary to make better decisions? The insights and the evidence you need comes from asking better questions, listening to what people are really saying, and diving deeper into their world.   

Great questions help you to gather important information, context, and build a common understanding that leads to unique insights, and the evidence you need to make more confident decisions. Good questions invoke emotions, clarify rationale, and uncover the needs that motivate people’s actions. When done properly this leads to better digital product strategies, customer experience, and empowers product teams at every level.

When working to unearth insights and gather evidence you are looking to understand someone’s:

  • Unique point of view based upon their expertise and experience
  • Obstacles they face and the impact it has on them personally or professionally
  • Context of a situation that motivates their perceptions and actions 

3 Critical Steps Before Beginning Stakeholder and User Research

This article covers the common pitfalls that hold people, products, and businesses back when it comes to asking better questions. Let’s dig into identifying what you need to know and how you can ask better questions. 

Define your business and product goals before jumping into research

Before you can determine what type of research and questions you need to be asking, you need to first be clear on the business and product goals. 

Your goals should be the bedrock of your stakeholder, customer, and user research. The methods you select and the questions you ask will be directly related to these goals.

It’s important that your goals are clear, specific, and actionable. Generic goals like “increase product performance” are ineffective. With ambiguity, you leave room for interpretation, confusion, and poor outcomes. Don’t fall into this trap. 

Establish or, if necessary, redefine goals to clearly communicate the business and product outcomes you want to achieve. For example, follow the S.M.A.R.T. method. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. This approach will help you to align your business and product goals with your efforts. The clarity from proper goal setting will not only help you ask better questions but will also provide a lens for a more effective, and easier analysis of the responses you get across your interviews, leading to insights and evidence that will help you move your organization forward. 

Select the type of research you need to generate insights and improve your customer experience

There are two types of research to consider: generative and evaluation based research. Let’s quickly break each one down. 

Generative research (also commonly referred to as discovery or exploratory research) encompasses any method that is focused on developing a deeper understanding of your customer/user challenges, needs, the context of their situation, and the environment in order to help identify insights that inform new opportunities, solutions, and areas of innovation. 

Evaluation research encompasses any method used to evaluate the desirability, viability, and feasibility of a prospective solution and ensure it is effectively addressing a specific problem and delivering the intended outcome(s). 

What insights and evidence do you need to achieve your goal(s) and move your customer experience and digital product forward? What will help you drive the business results you’re looking to achieve?

Now that you have established your goals and defined the type of research you will need to conduct, it’s time to start creating your questions. 

Avoid these two types of bias to ensure clear and actionable insights 

There are two common challenges you have to navigate in asking better questions. The first is confirmation bias. This is the tendency to seek out information that validates and supports your point of view or beliefs. The second challenge is cognitive bias. This is where people create their own subjective interpretation based on their own perceptions of who, what, and how something is being communicated in an interview, distorting the information. 

As you prepare the questions for your stakeholder, customer, or user research, discuss these challenges. Often you can see these issues begin to appear in these common question types. If your questions fall into any one of these types you may need to take a step back and look to see if confirmation bias has worked its way into your process. When this does happen, step back as a team discuss them and refine your approach. 

During the interview and as you begin to analyze your interviews, stay mindful of cognitive bias. 

4 Types of Questions to Avoid That Can Negatively Impact Your Stakeholder and User Research Results

1. Don’t ask leading questions
Leading questions subtly elicit the participant to answer in a certain manner. Leading questions have the tendency to guide people’s responses to be either positive or negative. This might result in false, non-actionable, or inaccurate data. This may result in a lack of new insights and a compromised basis for effective decisions.  

Examples of leading questions are:

  • Did you love our new product experience?
  • Do you have problems with our registration process?

Rewritten to remove the leading bias you instead might ask: 

  • How would you describe your product experience?
  • What could be easier about the registration process?

2. Avoid loaded questions
Loaded questions make an assumption about what the answer will be. Loaded questions can take many forms, such as assuming people’s needs, wants, feelings, motivations, and influences, which may not accurately reflect their experience. Loaded questions often become a barrier to getting someone to provide their own unique point of view and the associated context. 

Examples of loaded questions are:

  • When you use our product, do you like the user experience?
  • Do you go to the self-service support section of our website when you’re frustrated? 

Rewritten to avoid asking a loaded question you instead might ask: 

  • Tell me about your experience with our product?
  • When was the last time you used the self-service support area of the website?

3. Steer clear of double-barreled questions
Double-barreled questions pack way too much into one question, making it difficult to answer accurately. Sometimes, these double-barreled questions ask two or more things in one question or combine two different concepts into one question.

Examples of double-barreled questions are:

  • How long did it take you to complete the task and how often do you do it?
  • Do you agree or disagree?: The product onboarding experience was easy to understand, follow, and very comprehensive.

Breakdown your questions to focus on a single question and concept to bring focus. 

4. Be careful of ambiguous questions
Ambiguous questions are far too broad, leaving room for misinterpretation, confusion, and little contextual relevance. In some cases, ambiguous questions are added as a catch which can distort your analysis and lead to unverifiable data points.   

Examples of ambiguous questions are:

  • Do you think healthcare providers would like our solution?
  • Are we better than other SAAS software companies?

As you craft your questions, also keep in mind that one of the most important aspects of a great stakeholder, customer, or user interview is your follow-up questions. Your questions are a guide and listening tool for opportunities to go deeper into a topic is essential. Listen for key phrases, words, and emotional context like frustration or excitement, and dig in. The nuggets of gold are in the details! 

Connect the dots that lead to better insights and evidence-based decisions.

Every product initiative comes with its own requirements and constraints. Aligning your insights, evidence, actions, and resources is key to producing measurable results, pushing your customer experience and product forward to the next level. Every iteration is an opportunity to ask better questions, identify new insights and context that will set you apart, and help build a foundation for success.