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Why now more than ever is the time to invest in understanding your customers

Nathan Hornby
Nathan Hornby
Product Design Lead 20 Apr 20204 minutes read

User behaviour has and will continue to change. Nathan Hornby, Product Design Lead, looks at what businesses could be doing to learn from their customers during an unprecedented and difficult time.

An empty highstreet

“May you live in interesting times”, goes the curse, and times don’t get much more interesting than this.

When organisations are choosing to pause progress on projects, furlough employees and decimate marketing budgets it’s the companies that use this time to invest in understanding their customers that will come out of this stronger than ever.

And invest you should. If user research were the stock market this would be the lowest the index gets, now is the time to BUY BUY BUY!

A captive market

Often one of the challenges with user research is simply finding the users. Even when you can identify and reach them, persuading them to help you to make your product better can be a hard-sell. Time-poor professionals aren’t easily swayed by Amazon vouchers, and there’s always a risk that the people responding to your calls represent a narrow, opinionated slice of that demographic.

Right now people are at home, they’re restless, they’re furloughed and they’re desperate for bread flour. Some of these people will also be keen for an opportunity to share their wisdom and contribute to solving problems. Tap into this resource and use this opportunity to learn as much as you can from them.

Running interviews and facilitating tests remotely has never been easier, and shouldn’t be a barrier to entry. Using tools like Zoom for picture-in-picture capture and Figma for creating live prototypes allows you to engage on a variety of platforms with anyone that has access to an internet connection.

The world has changed

The effects of COVID-19 won’t end with the Stay-At-Home orders. Behaviours and buying patterns will have changed, social norms will have evolved and priorities will have shifted.

Online retailers are flourishing, currently welcoming the last stalwarts of brick-and-mortar retailers as well as creating new habits for those that might have had a preference for rubbing shoulders with other shoppers. An influx of customers is worth celebrating, but it’s important to recognise that these new customers will have needs that have previously gone unidentified or de-prioritised. Inclusivity might have been a nice-to-have a year ago, today it’s essential.

Even if your product or service’s operation remains unchanged by the coronavirus epidemic your users won’t be. How people use their time, what device they choose to use and their frame of mind when using your product will have all changed drastically.

Your users probably no longer check-in on the bus with their phone, headphones in. They’re at home on their laptop with a child clambering up their trouser leg. These (not so subtle) changes in environment and usage patterns will change how your users engage with your platform, what aspects of it they are most interested in and how focussed they are on the task.

If you use Job Stories or Personas to help in designing solutions then they will probably need to be revised, and your user journeys re-assessed.

The world will remain changed

When new habits are formed some won’t be broken. The high-street won’t disappear, but some of those previously resistant to online retail will have become accustomed to it.

A lot of people will want to continue working remotely, and businesses that were previously not set-up to offer this way of working now are, by necessity, and will likely need to continue accommodating it whether they like it or not.

There’s a potential flip-side, too. We might see an ‘IRL’ revolution, with customers that were previously heavy users of your product that are suddenly wanting to break free of their digital shackles. How we respond to this will require more discovery and further changes to your products and services.

Ensuring that we continually learn from our users during the next few months will make or break businesses, and we expect to be helping a lot of people on this journey at Etch. We’re already busy reacting to changes in retail and hospitality behaviour, and as you can imagine our Etch Play team is very busy helping their clients sate the desires of their new 24/7 gaming audience.


If you’d like to keep up with our thoughts and insight during this time make sure to check out the weekly Business Briefing from Etch's own Harri Nicholson.

Hero image by Philipp Lublasser