UX Consulting’s 3 Options Strategy

How UX Consultants can empower their clients in decision-making processes by framing solutions into 3 options

Ricardo Gerstl
EverestEngineering

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In theory, UX design consultants help businesses create products that are user-friendly and provide a positive user experience. Despite having UX research to back you up, helping businesses can be a challenging task since conflicting perspectives and interpretations can arise on how to resolve problems.

The purpose of this article is to explore the power of options, specifically three options. It is our aim to empower clients to make important decisions, to guide them to find the best solution, and to create an atmosphere of trust where conflicting views can be reconciled and a middle ground can be found. This approach is based McKinsey Three Horizons Approach.

We will cover three topics:

  1. Why Three? what makes it the magic number
  2. Structure to lay out the options
  3. The Delivery method to get the best outcome

📊 Learn by Example!

Before we dive into the topics, to better understand the process in this article, I have set up a hypothetical situation we can work on:

🛒 Supermarket ABC App

Scenario: you are working with Supermarket ABC on a recurring buy-and-delivery functionality on their app to allow customers to automatically have specific products delivered periodically.

Problem: a lot of product subscriptions are lost on holiday periods and fewer users come back after.

*UX Research Conclusion: “Customers drop is likely due to customers traveling and being away from their usual delivery location, as well as a lack of awareness or ability to pause or adjust their subscriptions during this time.”


*In order to keep this article short and focused, the UX methodology and process used to reach such a conclusion are not discussed.

and now, back to the article…

So, why three?

Three in the marketing world

The Rule of Three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. Some cultural examples include:

  • Three Musketeers
  • Three Stooges
  • Three Little Pigs
  • Holy Trinity
  • Three Wise Monkeys
  • Three Tenors
  • Three Godfather movies

For marketers, there is an optimal number of positive claims in settings where consumers know the message source wants to persuade them. The more claims, the better. But after the fourth claim, consumers’ persuasion knowledge makes them doubt everything. For a detailed study behind this reasoning: Kurt A. Carlson of Georgetown University Department of Marketing, and Suzanne B. Shu, UCLA Anderson School of Management have published an important and interesting work titled When Three Charms But Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings.

Three in the consulting world

The relationship between Consultants and Clients is meant to work as a collaborative effort, then again there is an aspect of persuasion in guidance where the Rule of Three can be beneficial for several reasons (3 😉):

  1. More than 1 way:
    Offering three options can provide a range of choices, each of which has its own benefits and drawbacks, so there’s something for everyone depending on priorities. You are not limiting the product to one way.
  2. Not too many ways:
    A balanced set of three options can help avoid decision paralysis. Having too many options can overwhelm people and make it hard to make a decision.
  3. Team consensus
    When a group is trying to come to a decision, offering three options makes it easier to reach a consensus. People can express their opinions and preferences, while still having a manageable number of options.

Ultimately, the benefit of offering three options is that it strikes a balance between giving the decision-makers enough options to ponder, does not overwhelm them, and allows for group discussion.

Structure

The first thing you need to do before you ever consider coming up with a solution (or any other options) is to identify the problem or situation that needs to be addressed and make sure that it is clearly written down and identified. By doing so, you are able to convey a clear understanding of the problem to all stakeholders and you will be able to clarify the scope and boundaries of the issue. Infinite options for solving the wrong problem will not help your client in any way.

The structure I follow for presenting solutions is the following:

  1. Problem
  2. Title
  3. User Data
  4. Pros & Cons

1. Problem

Problems can exist on many levels. UX Consultants primarily focus on User problems, but we are not limited to them. Prior to offering any solutions, you must have a thorough understanding of the client’s problems. You should ask questions to clarify the client’s needs, objectives, constraints, and expectations. Many clients will come up with ideas while discussing the problem right away.

As a rule of thumb when phrasing problems, I aim to answer all or most of these questions:

  • Who is affected?
  • What is the problem?
  • Where is the problem?
  • Why should it be fixed?
  • What is the expected result? (be mindful of this one since you don’t want to provide a single answer as part of a problem definition)

If you group these questions, you can frame the problem as one question that each of the solutions is meant to answer:

[Why should it be fixed?],
How can
[we/organization],
[solve/address/improve]
[specific problem: Who? What? Where?]?
in order to [achieve the expected result]

📊 Example:
Following the structure above, the problem definition for the Supermarket ABC Scenario would be:

With product subscriptions dropping, how can Supermarket ABC, address the lost product subscriptions during holiday periods and retain customers who are temporarily away from their usual delivery location in order to improve customer retention and achieve higher subscription rates?

2. Title

This phrase should describe the solution in simple terms. It should contain the main difference between the options when comparing them. The best titles strike a balance between being self-explanatory and using the fewest words possible. As a rule, most titles begin with a verb.

📋 Example:
Following how to write a title, the 3 options for the Supermarket ABC Scenario would be:

1. * Offer temporary location change for subscriptions

2. Inform customers before the holidays that their plans can be paused

3. Provide flexible subscription options as part of the plan


* At first glance, this seems like an odd option from a user perspective: Why would someone need their toilet paper, cleaning products, milk, and juice shipped on their holidays? what if the destination is outside Supermarket ABC’s range?

On the other hand, from a business perspective, it can make absolute sense, and most often than not, you will find clients pushing solely from a business lens: “Let’s continue their subscription no matter where they are, we that way we keep the revenue during this time”

It is in this situation that you create an option that aligns with what the client has proposed in previous conversations rather than simply discarding it. You help them understand why this option is likely to fail compared to the other two options. Leaving a client’s suggestion out of the picture can lead to trust loss, and can be taken personally.

3. User Data

Explain how your UX research led you to conclude the proposed solutions. Summarize the data concisely and draw meaningful conclusions to support your claim.

Note that we are covering how to present the options to clients. The process of coming up with them is up to you. As a rule of thumb, gather user data, and then you can come up with ideas. Avoid coming up with ideas, then fitting the UX research to support them.

📊 Example:
The 3 options for the Supermarket ABC Scenario together with their related user data would be:

1. Offer temporary location change for subscriptions

User Data: 60% of users answered in the service cancellation survey: “Temporarily out of home”

2. Inform customers before the holidays that their plans can be paused

User Data: 70% of participants in user testing were unaware of the pausing capability

3. Provide flexible subscription options as part of the plan

User Data: 40% of survey participants plan their holidays in advance

4. Pros & Cons

When providing options to clients, it is inevitable that each option will have its strengths and weaknesses. Providing accurate information and being transparent will help build trust and strengthen the client-business relationship. Clients must be aware of the possible advantages and disadvantages of each option and make an informed decision.

A business perspective should be taken into consideration when framing the Pros & Cons. Risks, drawbacks, costs, feasibility, effectiveness, and impact on the client’s business are some of the most common categories to consider when framing Pros & Cons.

1. Offer temporary location change for subscriptions:

Pros:

  • Even if customers are away from their regular locations during holiday periods, their subscription stays active.
  • The products will be delivered to the right address every time, so customers won’t have to worry about missing deliveries.
  • As a result of this solution, customer satisfaction can be improved and subscription rates can be increased.

Cons:

  • This solution can be complex and require additional resources, such as expanding delivery capabilities.
  • New locations may pose logistical challenges such as ensuring delivery accuracy and timely service.

2. Inform customers before the holidays that their plans can be paused

Pros:

  • Implementing this solution can be easy and cost-effective.
  • By allowing customers to adjust their subscriptions before leaving for the holidays, unwanted deliveries can be avoided.
  • Giving customers more control over their subscriptions can improve customer satisfaction.

Cons:

  • It is possible that some customers are unaware of the option to pause their subscription and may forget to do so before they leave for the holidays.
  • Unwanted deliveries may frustrate customers who forget to pause their subscriptions.

3. Provide flexible subscription options as part of the plan

Pros:

  • The solution allows customers to adjust their subscriptions based on their changing needs.
  • By giving customers more control over their subscriptions, it is possible to increase customer satisfaction.
  • The ability to modify a subscription rather than cancel it can help retain customers.

Cons:

  • The implementation of this solution may require changes to the existing subscription platform and additional resources.
  • Too many options can overwhelm customers, resulting in frustration and confusion.

Besides Problem, User Data, Title, and Pros & Cons: there will be other points that can be offered when proposing solutions. Without going into too much detail here are a few:

  • Budget: cost estimate in terms of money, work hours, sprint points…
  • MVP: In order to test a solution’s viability, describe the most basic version.
  • Prerequisites: additional work is necessary before implementing the proposed solution
  • Success Metrics: how will we measure that the option is working once it is implemented? A huge topic on its own: Establishing ways to monitor performance and track progress towards an outcome can be quantitative or qualitative, and is typically done through the use of key performance indicators.
  • Plan of implementation: for big projects that don’t offer solutions as a Big Bang, already outline a high-level plan of how the solution can be implemented.

Delivery

Options can be delivered in many ways depending on their urgency, impact, and size. What will change is their fidelity: the amount of information they contain. From the simplest to the most comprehensive:

  • Text messages (Slack, Teams, GoogleMeet…)
  • Long Email
  • Talked at a Meeting
  • Talked at a Meeting + Slidedeck
  • Talked at a Meeting + Slidedeck + Document + Follow up

How do you decide? Consider providing options as a UX deliverable. I wrote an article on UX deliverables that are relevant, timely, and targeted where I dive into the factors determining how much effort goes into creating UX deliverables.

In summary, you need to consider:

How far?
Distance from the audience. How far apart are you from your audience? Will you be in the same room or 5 time zones away through a video call?

As distance increases, fidelity must increase as well.

When?
The time when the model will be delivered. When is the person receiving the proposals? Synchronously (in the same meeting where you present) or Asynchronously (as an email read later that week)?

As time gap in communication increases, fidelity must increase as well.

Who?
Identify to who you are presenting the proposals — Who receives the options? How much of a shared understanding of the project, problem, and solutions do you have with these people?

The audience with whom you collaborate the least requires higher fidelity from your models

Who else?
Are the options shared with others? Who will additionally decide upon your proposal?

As reach increases, fidelity must increase as well

You can find more information about delivery in the article UX deliverables that are relevant, timely, and targeted where I provide tips on how to handle each of these factors.

📊 Example:
In the Supermarket ABC Scenario: the client team you collaborate on a daily basis is a product manager (PM) and a business analyst (BA), each of them working directly under the head of product at Supermarket ABC. Even though you collaborate with both, the ultimate decision will be taken by the head of the product.

You’ve tried to include the head of product in a meeting, but due to the Supermarket ABC app's big backlog and her limited availability, she will not be able to join the meeting where the 3 options are presented.

In this case, focus on high fidelity document that can be easily handover to the head of product. During the meeting present the document, highlight the recommended option, and answer any questions from the PM and BA. Aim to have a preferred option by the end of the meeting so that it can be highlighted to the head of product once she receives the document.

A few weeks later, option 2 “Inform customers before the holidays that their plans can be paused” is chosen and you start working on designs. You have many ideas but want to try 2 for AB testing. You’ll be collaborating only with the PM and BA, but since Supermarket ABC is having a software release this week, they are very busy.

Send them the 3 design options, list a few Pros and Cons of each, and let them know which will be suitable for testing. Lower fidelity will work in this case.

Conclusion

By focusing on proposing three options, providing a structure to them and delivering the proposal properly: you can present options as a consultant in a way that is structured, logical, and data-driven, which can help to build trust with the client and increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

You should not hesitate to recommend a solution to the client. Based on your analysis and evaluation of the different solution options, you should provide a clear recommendation. You can explain why you believe that option is the best fit for the client’s needs, objectives, and constraints.

Other interesting articles:

👋 Hola! Let’s meet! You can connect with me on LinkedIn. As well as Medium, I’m on Everest Engineering for more User Experience content.

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