Let’s talk about the unsung heroes of enterprise UX: our customers. At Salesforce, we routinely call on our customers’ admins, managers, developers, and data analysts when we want to do user research.
These “customer stakeholders” give us access to their company’s users, data, work sites, and sometimes-messy processes. They get us past security, find us the right users, and are willing to talk frankly about where our products fall short. They get stuff done.
How can user researchers work effectively with their customer stakeholders on site visits? Here are three tactics that have worked for me.
1. Speak their language
Many of the customer stakeholders I’ve worked with have never participated in user research. That’s fine: it’s my job to make my user research project relevant to them and their company. When I speak in jargon, the average admin or analyst tunes out — she just wants to understand the benefits of engaging with my team.
I’ve tinkered with my approach over time. I now try to map UX concepts to common business and IT vocabulary. Instead of asking to perform a contextual inquiry in a call center, for example, I’ll ask to watch agents work at their desks in order to understand whether the software is working for the call center.
I also give examples of previous visits to similar customers and their benefits to build trust. If I’m working with a bank, for example, I’ll talk about how we managed confidential information and optimized designs at other financial institutions. I build confidence by being sensitive to customer needs and constraints upfront.
2. Help them help you
When I test call center products for Salesforce’s Service Cloud, chances are good that I will be interrupting someone’s work. Customer stakeholders are going to have to explain to their stakeholders why the call center should tolerate this disruption. The solution? A pitch document they can email to their boss and their boss’s boss.
What’s this document like? Well, first of all, it’s in Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, because this is a familiar format in large companies.
The pitch also demonstrates that I am A Serious Person Who Means Business. A good pitch subtly telegraphs that I won’t waste the customer’s time. It explains what I want (and what it will cost) in 1–3 slides. I use a standard blue and white sales template with corporate logos to seem official. I include a lot of background information (think Duarte slidedocs) and benefits since I can’t be sure who will read it and what context they’ve been given.
The document should also explicitly list the research team’s needs during the engagement. If I need to see work being done at an agent’s desk, I include that (and say why). Conference rooms, wifi, and equipment may be difficult to wrangle on the fly, so I list them in the document if I need them. I distinguish between nice-to-haves (heck, I’ll bring my own lunch) and the things that are vital to the engagement’s success.
I also get this document into my stakeholder’s hands right away. I send my documents immediately after the first meeting. Sometimes, I’ll send it during our initial phone call, so we can edit it in real time.
3. Give Back
Getting better at this one is really important to me. At Salesforce, we have a great tradition of giving back to the community, and we should do the same for our customer stakeholders. They took a day (or days!) away from their regular work, scheduled the conference room, and probably spent some political capital getting us the right meetings.
Here’s how it can look: at the end of most of Service Cloud site visits we’ll have a wrap-up meeting with our customer stakeholder to share what we saw, ask questions, and give suggestions for configuring agent workflow. It’s really exciting to point out a small tweak that will make an admin look like a hero to her co-workers. If my team needs more time to think, I will meet with the customer team after the visit and send a slide deck of observations and recommendations.
Whatever happens during a site visit, our purpose at Salesforce UX is to make the most of our time working with our customers and the Salesforce experts who use our products every day.
Want to know more? For a master class in stakeholder management in private sector ethnography, please read Sam Ladner’s Practical Ethnography.
Illustration by the fabulous Cindy Chang. Thanks to my reviewers: Nalini Kotamraju, Jina Bolton, Ian Schoen, and Jenny Williams. And thanks to Yakaira Núñez and Debbie Mayhew, masters of customer engagement.