“Always try to learn what other apps are your core customers using on a daily basis. This will allow to design similar experiences and remove any friction or create uncomfortable learning situations.” – Eugen Eşanu, Laroche.co Designer

Users have certain expectations when they start using your product.

Their mental models—their frame of reality or thought process about how the world works—are the result of their beliefs, their use of other products, their culture, and their expectations for how the specific Job ought to be done.

Mental models allow us to predict how things work. It turns out that the closer your product mirrors your users’ mental models, the more satisfied they’ll be when using your product, and the easier it will be for them to build habits with it.

Creating this kind of alignment can have a big impact on retention, and can produce a strong competitive advantage for your company.

Analyzing mental models can help you to reveal gaps, and to point out mismatches between the product and customer expectations.

This is one of the reasons why, in the early days of Intuit, co-founder Scott Cook spent a lot of time in Staples office supply stores waiting for customers to buy Quicken. Whenever someone bought the product, he would ask to follow them home to see how they use the product. This led to many great insights that helped guide product direction.

How to Get Started With On Site Research

To understand how well your product fits in your users’ lives, first identify:

  • your product’s usage frequency (monthly, weekly, daily, hourly, on-going, etc);
  • your core users (be it many user types or profiles, or a single user for a simple consumer product); and
  • the core activities you’re trying to study.

If usage occurs less often than once a week, you may have difficulty getting useful data by going on-site. If that’s the case, a diary study—a research method designed to collect qualitative information by having users record entries about their daily lives involving the experience being studied—could yield better results.

You should recruit 5-10 participants per role or profile studied, and spend at least a few hours in their office or in their home.

Since inviting yourself into their office or their home is a significant ask, it’s probably a good idea to focus on users who are already getting a lot of value from your product. They’ll be more likely to want to help once they understand that you are trying to make the product better for them.

Doing On Site Customer Research

Field studies are a bit like unscripted user tests, during which you observe people in their natural environment.

To put users at ease, make sure they understand that you’re not testing them.

Let users go through their regular tasks and processes lightly probing them about their workflows, reasoning, triggers, and the challenges that they are facing.

Where are users struggling the most to get the Job done? Why are they getting off track? Are there steps that could be eliminated? How could the product get more of the Job done for them?

You’ll want to ask questions like:

  • Why is this task important?
  • Why did you do this step before that other step?
  • What are you trying to achieve with [ Task ]?
  • Why is this the best way to achieve [ Task ]?
  • Do you always do [ Task ] this way?
  • Are there times when you use different solutions to get the Job done? Why?
  • What other responsibilities do you have before, during, or after using [ Product ]?
  • What are the most central tasks that must be accomplished when [ Job to be Done ​]​?
  • What solutions (products, services, etc.) do you use in this process step
  • Over time, what changes have you made to the way you get the [ Task ] done, and why?
  • What have you done over time to ​[ Job to be Done ]​ more quickly? Why did you feel you had to do it? How did that help?

Analyzing Research Data

Your goal with on site research is to map and understand:

  • their thinking as they go about performing the core Jobs;
  • how your product fits in the larger context of their life, or their work;
  • the context in which they use your product (keeping an eye out for Post-it notes or anything else they use in conjunction with your product);
  • other tools or products that they use;
  • the challenges they face and how they overcome them; and
  • triggers that lead to product use, and what follows their use of your product.

Take pictures when appropriate. Pay attention at all times. You might be surprised by what gets said, or what can be observed.

Analyzing workflows and comparing the behaviors of participants will help you find ways to improve and simplify your product, and add more delighters to your road map.

Keep your eyes (and ears) open.

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This post in an excerpt from Solving Product. If you enjoyed the content, you'll love the new book. You can download the first 3 chapters here →.

Categories: Customer Research Technique