5 tips for planning CX research abroad

Conducting customer experience (CX) research in another country sounds fun to me! I always picture this (see below) when I get briefed on a project happening outside of the UK:

Image courtesy of https://unsplash.com/@mrsamwheeler

After my initial excitement, I start to plan and begin feeling something like this:

Image courtesy of https://unsplash.com/@jonathanbean

I love researching, but planning has never been a huge forte of mine. I’m always iterating my planning approach to make what we do better every time. This includes the planning methodology, research design, analysis and insight playback. I’ve learnt that each project varies slightly and so flexibility is key to planning.

“As the world gets smaller and more flat…user research is increasingly focused on globalization and localization of products. In the context of user experience, we define ‘globalization’ as user experiences that are common for all users. ‘Localization’ are those experiences that demand that the experience be different when introduced to different user communities because of either language or cultural artifact.”

Understanding how customer experience differs in different countries and cultures is essential to designing for people globally and exceeding customer satisfaction for our partners. Whether we’re planning an exploratory research trip or gaining feedback on prototypes in other countries, there are many complexities to consider.

To prevent feeling overwhelmed I’ve created a quick checklist for the team for planning research internationally. Here’s the key points:

1. Plan translators and translations

Don’t underestimate the additional time and effort that comes with translations. If you’re conducting interviews or testing products in a country in which you do not speak the language, always use a translator to assist you. I like to brief them on the purpose and value and get them as excited about the research as me. The more passionate they are, the more they’ll help in achieving the goals and building further rapport.

If discussion guides, interviews or surveys of any shape are involved, the translations needed should be considered as part of the project planning stage.

2. Speak to local experts before your trip

I’m always fascinated by how much you can learn from an hour conversation with a market or local expert. Someone who can give you some pointers before you start planning. Insight can include places to visit, people to speak to and brands in the region. The last conversation I had with someone about an area we were looking to explore, he suggested we visit specific coffee shops where our audience would definitely be. We wouldn’t have considered this at all if that chat had not happened.

They can also give you a heads up on some of the cultural differences you need to be aware of too. Something which is very valuable when engaging with local people.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of the words you use, your tone of voice and body language

These elements become even more important when conducting research in other countries. Always being open in your body language including the simple act of smiling to show you are fully engaged with someone. Mirroring language or sayings can make people feel comfortable too, i.e. in the UK great is common whereas in Germany super is used more.

I’ve been conducting some research in the US recently so have found myself being more friendly at the beginning of conversations, it feels like it is a cultural norm to have a good chat before getting into detail. Whereas in contrast in other European countries this can be deemed as oversharing. Being aware of these little differences can go a long way.

4. Plan some flexibility into your research trip

It takes a fair amount of time to plan a research trip in another country, including logistical elements like booking flights, hotels, car hire, insurance, sim cards, etc.

You can only plan so much of the research activity such as interview times and transport from one destination to the next. Its always a little harder to get around when you’re not in your home country so always allow time for flexibility and don’t over plan your days. Burnout abroad is worse than at home! I plan mornings and afternoons allowing time for changes, curiosity and experiences that we might needs to investigate.

5. Buy a decent dictaphone and back up your files

After all of your planning and great research, remember to record as much as you can. Invest in a decent dictaphone with a large memory capacity. Losing important interviews you can’t replace is not ideal!

‘It’s not a holiday!’

John, CEO here at Common Good loves to remind me thats ‘It’s not a holiday!’ But it is important to have breaks and take time to sample local cultures, immerse into the environment and experience the place. Maybe even challenge yourself do to some on the spot ethnography… that’s all part of the research immersion in my eyes!


Handbook of global user research — Robert Schumacher

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