In the early days at Calendly, user experience research was primarily interview-based. The product’s growth was healthy enough that we had a steady stream of support tickets every day, many with curious questions about whether we would consider building a new feature.
We would schedule phone calls with these users so that we could learn as much as possible about their job, their daily workflows and why this feature was important to them. Then, in more of an art than a science, we would compare these requests to try and figure out the core problem all of these users were facing. If solving that problem aligned with Calendly’s goals to reduce email back-and-forth with simple, beautiful scheduling, then we would try to tackle it.
Building and maintaining empathy with a growing, diverse user base
Fast forward through millions of meetings scheduled and over a million users, and the product team is still calling customers every day, albeit in a more sophisticated way. To ensure that our calls reach as broad a sample of our customers as possible, we schedule calls both actively and passively.
Active calls are targeted research, which we use when we are trying to understand a specific thing. I.e. why should we pursue this feature? What are the typical daily workflows for users asking for this feature? Why aren’t people adopting this feature? After identifying the relevant customer segment, we’ll reach out and share a Calendly link, inviting them to participate in a research call. By the end of the day, we can expect to fill up the next 1–2 weeks with scheduled calls — all with a single simple email.
Passive calls are for maintaining that critical empathetic connection with all of our users, not just the ones for whom we envision the next few features. When someone writes to our team that they wish Calendly could do X, we’re really curious about why. And even though it might not appear to be on the immediate roadmap, we listen to that user to better understand who they are and to get to the root of why the feature is important to them.
Connecting with customers through automated distribution of calls for maximum efficiency
For a while, passive calls were conducted exclusively by a few product managers, but over time we decided it would be helpful to distribute the calls throughout the product team. This is beneficial in two ways: the user gets to speak directly with the people who build the product and the assigned team member gains first-hand insight into who we are building for. Using Calendly’s round robin feature, we’re able to evenly distribute the calls to the product team so that everyone gets time with our customers.
After any research call is completed, the team member updates their notes and submits them along with the call recording, which then automatically posts to a Slack channel via Zapier. This keeps the rest of the team up-to-date on key takeaways from these calls and presents the opportunity to dig deeper.
Connecting the dots with quantitative data
Do these calls alone validate our ideas and assumptions about what to build? Absolutely not. We also rely on surveys, analytics, user behavior data, testing and market research. But qualitative context completes the story around quantitative data, and we’re always seeking to better understand what is really going on before leaping to conclusions about what to build.
It sounds fairly straightforward, but Calendly’s success to date has relied on a maniacal focus to deliver the best scheduling experience. From its beginnings, Calendly built a brand experience around a simple product that worked extremely well, and we don’t want to clutter the app or make the experience any more complex. We can’t make those judgment calls — the prioritization of work — without truly understanding who our users are and what will help them get their work done. Live conversations with users are invaluable in building that empathy.
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Written by Felix Hu, Director of UX at Calendly