If you are an in-house UX strategist or product manager bringing in an external UX research agency, you might be wondering how to get the most from the collaboration. We’ve found that companies don’t always know what to expect, what to request from a UX consultancy, or how to socialize the research within the company, and therefore might not be prepared to get the best results. In this article, we provide tips on how to approach an external UX research team so you can maximize the impact of their services.
1. Save time on your calendar to participate in research sessions
Scanning through pages of research findings reported by the UX team will provide answers to research questions, but you’ll miss the opportunity to build empathy with your customers. By getting involved in the research and attending debrief sessions you will witness the richness of the emotional and contextual data firsthand.
In lab or in the field, in rain or shine, having many people from a company’s side involved in the research and analysis has proven to help with a smoother knowledge transfer and internalization of the research within cross-functional teams. Furthermore, the people on the company’s side who actively engage in research and debrief sessions become strong customer advocates within their company. They also tend to facilitate the handover of research and integration of the innovative ideas that come from it.
2. Supply your UX team with background information
There are many reasons why companies might be unwilling to share background information with their external UX team. You might want to get a fresh perspective on the issue, or you might have restrictions on sharing sensitive company information. However, supplying the UX team with the right amount of information and insights will make the research far more effective.
Below are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding on how much background information to share with the UX team:
- What information would be enough to ensure that the UX team will build on the existing knowledge and not repeat what is already known?
- What are the most important problems your company is trying to solve?
- What would a new internal team member need to quickly learn about the offering?
Then, think about the most efficient way to communicate the background information. A one-thousand page product manual might not be the best choice. We’ve found that one smart person on the company’s side, giving a high-level outline to the UX team, is usually enough.
3. Decide on the right deliverables to request from the agency
Research deliverables and artifacts requested from the UX agency is a strategic communication tool that your company will use to distribute research insights within the organization when the project is over, and thus must be chosen carefully.
Deciding on the right deliverables and artifacts depends on three sets of variables:
- The company’s goals and needs.
- Who needs to see and be convinced by the research.
- Services and core competencies of the UX agency.
Start with outlining the needs and goals of the project and business, then look for a UX agency whose services best match the desired output.
Ultimately–whether you choose reports or journey maps, personas or storyboards–a company should decide on the format and attributes of the output that ensure it’s easy consumption within the organization.
We find that making the research findings visual and real, with the help of data-visualization tools and video clips, facilitate acceptance of findings and new ideas.
4. Get help from the UX team to act upon research findings
By the end of the project, your UX research team has their heads absorbed with knowledge about your customers and product(s), so they are uniquely positioned to continue to uncover the innovation and market edge you are looking for. Think about how to engage your consulting agency in next steps and beyond, such as wireframing and rapid prototyping.
It is good to remember that there can be collaboration between internal resources and an external UX team in an on-going way.
5. Work with your external UX team to crystallize the problem that the research will solve
At the stage of creating an RFP, it is good to think about your goals and needs for the project.
As you move forward with your UX agency, use the project kick-off meeting as an opportunity to be clear on the business problem. Have some specific questions in mind and know the consultancy can help in defining the research questions.
6. Embrace the new perspective–a qualitative one.
Does your company have the DNA to accept the insights? The paradox of innovation is especially prominent in established organizations and should be addressed. In order to get the most from your collaboration with an external UX team, your company should consider the fresh perspective on their offering and customer behavior and allow for disruption and ambiguity as they move along the research journey.
“There is a lot of ambiguity and chaos for a while. The team needs to embrace this and know there is light at the end of the tunnel.” – Mary Piontkowski, Director of Insights & Service Design
At gotoresearch, we’ve learned that for some companies it’s challenging to rely on qualitative research especially when most of the past research data has been collected quantitatively. This gap often leads to resistance to internalize and act upon the research. This is why understanding the difference between qualitative and quantitative research, and how one can inform another, is vital in connecting the research findings with existing and future work.
For instance, if you have an internal research team (SEO or data analysis), qualitative research could help you identify the questions to ask quantitatively. This would validate the research and drive internal understanding and acceptance of the findings.
7. Plan on managing ingrained views about customers that could hinder integration of new ideas
The best research insights are probably going to be disruptive, even a little shocking, and might be hard to integrate into any business, especially a big company, who has established views about their market and customers. For instance, when you ask your consultancy to develop a new set of user personas, there can be a disconnect on how the personas relate to the existing customer segmentation. Socializing the findings internally is something the team needs to take on. Different audiences within the organization may need it presented in different ways. Remember to empathize with the recipient of the information when packaging it for various stakeholders. Your UX partners/agency may have some suggestions.
You should work on how to connect to any new framework with the existing customer segmentation. Having a conversation with your UX agency about existing assumptions would help prevent the research findings from running into a wall of resistance. When informed, the UX team can anticipate and address objections in a timely manner and make the integration smoother.
You might also begin trying to change the existing views at your company. Lunchtime talks about innovation would be a great way to do that. This offers an opportunity to encourage long term thinking for the company and more interest in the outcomes of the research.
Most of all, make sure you get to know your consultants.
Working with external UX professionals requires time to develop trust and may be intimidating for some members of your team. Building a relationship with your UX consultancy on a personal level contributes to trust and confidence in the work being done and might lead to great friendships and ongoing connections. Remember that you’re investing in people who become intimately familiar with your business and the marketplace, so don’t miss the opportunity to bond with them and enjoy the passion and enthusiasm they bring to the table.