Building value solutions by understanding the user experience

Part 2 — Working the problem — The change needed and possible solutions

Andrew Ward
Mar 30 · 12 min read


This is the second section of a three-part view of the world looking at how, once we have built an understanding of the business and the audience (Part 1 essay), we need to understand what we can do to serve them better and capitalise on that relationship through iterative growth and development of our products or services — what we call Working the Problem. Finally, the third essay explores how we work with and communicate the change to a wider audience, especially when that audience comes from different backgrounds and disciplines.

If you don’t understand your audiences to be able to say what motivates them and how your supply chain works we would suggest having a read of the first Essay, before delving into this “how to come up with effective solutions” phase. The second and third essays are a little more detailed than the first.

Here we look at “Working the problem” and how to unpick this, not just the symptom. We intend to show different approaches for working the problem so you can get to the heart of the matter quickly and communicate this problem to a wider audience using different layers of communication to ensure the right balance of understanding is gained with any stakeholder — from the most detailed person through to the loftiest dreamer.

Welcome to our journey…..Firstly, we look at how we identify any barriers to your goods or services experienced by your customers.

Problem identification — an example from the utilities sector

When we consider the utilities industry, there is typically a lot of focus on meter readings as these build an understanding of usage. From this, you can generate an accurate bill for what was used. But as we have already learnt, that is not the end of the journey.

Whilst people may need to provide readings, customers may have more fundamental concerns and they might say something like “I want to be confident that my bill is accurate so that I can pay this and continue to receive the service I have commissioned”. They want this interaction to be as seamless as possible. They may also want transparency, but they still want it to be easy.

So if you have a problem where customers are not paying their bills, where do you look? Do you consider implementing different methods of payment such as credit, debit card, direct debit etc? Do you look at dates in the time of the month? Or, the payment terms? Or do you look at the wider journey and consider what the problem is you want to be resolved?….

Using the methods already defined we can model the journey and look at the different stages of the lifecycle and how each is affected by other factors. Is the payment problem actually a payment problem or is it a billing problem where the bill is wrong, or perceived to be wrong, or is the problem further back with the meter?

Context may also be significant, In the light of the Covid outbreak, the last of these options for businesses at least maybe the most probable. If a meter reading is required for an accurate bill, and people were not at their places of work to get a meter read, the system had to rely on existing data to generate an estimated bill. As a result, the bill to the customer may seem too high, resulting in them not wanting to pay.

Some utilities companies, in this scenario, may have been chasing customers for non-payments because they don’t consider the end to end journey/process compared to other companies who can see the underpinning problem. The latter company would, instead, be contacting customers to obtain accurate meter readings when this became possible for them to do so.

This example shows that picking things from the value proposition can make sense, but if the obvious low hanging fruit becomes the focus, rather than addressing underlying problems, only marginal improvements are likely to be made.

We suggest that, instead, you should unpick what the actual problem may be — and look at it from how customers experience it. Too often that is not our starting point or even a consideration. Some will already do questionnaires, for example, but how many investigate the why instead of just compensating the what. How many would go further and be brave doing this through crowdsourcing? What we really need to do is apply the same approach to a doctor would and not just tackle the symptoms but investigate to find the underpinning problem.

Selecting and describe the problem to work on

There are a number of different approaches to determining problems. We set out a number of tools to help understand the problem and that help to explain this problem to others.

Kano Prioritisation

Start with identifying the area to work on. We find that Kano is one of the best tools to use for this — and there are two ways to do this.

Firstly, we will explain the quick way.

On a whiteboard draw a cross-section with satisfaction going from top to bottom and functionality going from left to right with the crossover point being neutral. Write out a post-it for each of the areas where value is gained and place these on the board cross-referencing the satisfaction with the functionality.

Once points of value are on the board, draw three lines to represent the ‘must be’, ‘attractive’ and ‘performance’ split points. Then, for this quick version, focus on those which are within the ‘must be’ and the ‘attractive’ curves as these are the base expectations and those things which will draw in new customers.

For the more detailed explanation of the Complete Guide to the Kano Model, we suggest having a read of the article on folding burritos where Daniel Zacarias has provided a great explanation, including a ‘how to’ guide

The simple image below provides further explanation:

For this, we use access to free Wi-Fi on holiday as an example. For many, the provision of this service in a hotel used to be an ‘attractor’. As it became more widely available, it moved to ‘Performance’ as the quality, speed and connection reliability were very varied but fundamental to satisfaction.

It has increasingly moved into the area of ‘must-be’ as it was just expected, and if you didn’t get it, you are ‘dissatisfied’. In more recent history it has moved again with many people now indifferent to its provision as the mobile offers now allow international roaming on your phones with no extra charges.

All things move on this grid in a horseshoe shape, usually from ‘Must-be’ to ‘Indifferent’. In the case of our Wi-Fi example, it moved from ‘attractive’ to ‘indifferent’.

Whilst the quick approach will help in the short term, true prioritisation that is undertaken across your business and that brings increases in customer satisfaction and the chance to delight, is likely to require the full approach at least once a year.

Generating ideas and possible solutions

Idea canvas

This is another method for bringing together your thoughts on what ideas you want to investigate. This is split into 5 areas — Who, What, Why, Dragons and Effort. By putting the idea on a canvas, like this one, you can easily explain the idea and why it should be provided to any audience, regardless of whether they are internal or external.

Empathy (Who)

This is where you’re identifying the audience for your idea. If you have undertaken the earlier steps suggested, and you have the value proposition, this should be easy. You will understand why someone would want this change and what problem it is solving. Without this prior work it will take longer to put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

Idea (What)

This is best served in two halves. Firstly, provide a short description — the box is small as it helps ensure you make your idea description short and to the point. The second half is a simple drawing showing the significance of the idea such as representing the most important stage of the journey being resolved.

Benefits (Why)

This is the commercial element: what do we as a business or supplier gain from making this idea into a reality? Will it bring us growth, retention and/or increased engagement? Whatever the reason, put it here. Your organisation must then decide what worth to place on this value.


There is always something which interferes with an idea — if there wasn’t you would have done it already. So what is that thing — cashflow, politics, time? Whatever it is, you need to identify and flag it so that you can investigate your ideas with your eyes open.


What do you need to make the idea a reality? What conditions need to be true? What resources do you require? How much time do you need? This gives an understanding of the scale of investment needed to make this a reality.

Using the ideas canvas allows you to identify all the key pieces of information needed in relation to identified problems, enabling decisions to be made on whether or not change should be progressed.

Idea Funnel

With most big ideas, they will need to be broken into smaller parts to prove or disprove them. The approach for this is an idea funnel where you take your assumptions and model them on a flow diagram below.

You start with all of the assumptions around your idea ranging from “you can do it in two weeks” to those needing legal sign off. Then examine these to identify which ones must be true to achieve some element of your idea.

If you had an idea that customers could request a home visit via your website which would automatically book someone to do this, assumptions around the website, automatically and someone going out. So these three would go on the assumptions level. But not all three would make it through to a critical assumption because the website doesn’t need to “automatically’’ do anything in order for someone to visit the customer. This Could be achieved manually.

So now in our critical assumptions we have a website and someone going out. But you may already offer a service where someone visits the customer’ home. If that is the case, you know that to already be true. But for the website element, you don’t know if customers would book this online, if they had the ability to do so. So that progresses to the last stage and should be the item you create a test against.

Learning Canvas — testing solutions

So following on from the idea funnel, we need to understand if people will book a home visit using our website this is when a learning card can be very helpful. It is useful for constructing our thoughts of what we want to test. We can complete the first stage, the “we believe that” box with a statement such as “We believe customers will happily book their own home visits directly from our website without needing to phone us”. This then forms the foundation of our test. We need to construct an experiment which will prove or disprove this hypothesis.

In the past we would have built a solution that took the customers details and payments, then automatically feeds a process and sends someone to the customer's door. But this approach is very expensive and may not address the customers’ needs.

So this is where different level prototypes come in, alongside user testing. Or we could just do a ‘fake it’ journey, especially if you already offer this service through a different channel such as phone. So to start, grab a screen monitoring tool, such as hotjar or decibel insights and install that on your website. This allows you to playback videos of customers activities on different pages.

Next, do a basic model of the journey showing how it should be with each stage (shown earlier). Ideally, with no details of where the activities are achieved.

  1. Customer supplies contact details
  2. Customer selects preferred date and time
  3. Customer receives confirmation
  4. Customer pays for visit
  5. Person visits customer

To address our hypothesis we need to cover stages 1 and 2. The others give commercial benefit, but are not needed for the purposes of the test.

There are a number of solutions which can be implemented such as creating a simple form which sends an email to one of our staff, who will then manually book the home visit and email the customer. If needed, they can then send an email with a link for payment to the customer too. Then we can observe the behaviour and complete the rest of the learning canvas.

By performing tests in this way, we can test elements of a journey without the whole thing being plumbed in. Once we have a journey that works, we can then develop it and invest the funds needed to make it a reality.

Using UEQ to measure experience

By asking the questions prior to using a product, you can gauge the expectation from the user, and then ask the same questions afterwards to gain the results for the actual activity.

UEQ, also known as User Experience Questionnaire, is a simple 26 question questionnaire. It has a 7 point response for each question which means gaming/faking the questionnaire is very difficult. But you place your response on the scale between two words.

attractive o o o o o o o unattractive

These questions cover 6 different areas of experience

  • Attractiveness — Overall impression of the product
  • Perspicuity (Intuitive) — how quick can you learn to use the product
  • Efficiency — perform the task without undue effort
  • Dependability — do they feel in control
  • Stimulation — does it excite to use the product
  • Novelty — is it creative in the way it archives the task (simplicity can also fall here)

By asking the questions prior to using a product, you can gauge the expectation from the user, and then ask the same questions afterwards to gain a comparison from the results for the actual activity. Each time you exceed the expectation with the reality, you show the opportunity to delight the users. However, when it is the other way around, it is the assured way to disappoint.

The questionnaire and calculator can be found They include everything, including a host of papers that show how they have used UEQ. The two most important elements are the questionnaire and the excel calculator.

By using this, you will generate results in a detailed form. We like to compare them visually using the chart generated by the excel document in the pack.

Forgotten password expectation (completed prior to experiencing the journey)
Forgotten password actual (after experiencing the journey)

From here we can see everything in the customer experience has increased iso there is an opportunity to delight the users, especially if this is consistent across the other features on offer by this product. However, as we saw with the journey modelling, if you have a great experience, followed by a terrible one, the terrible one feels that much worse so it is better to bring your experiences up to excellent together, or up to average, with some elements at excellent.

Once you have solutions identified, the next challenge, which we look at in our final essay, is bringing people with you as you make the necessary changes. This means addressing the technical aspects of delivering the solution as well as all the necessary communications to everyone who needs to be involved, at whatever level and in whatever role.

Essay 1 — Understanding the Business and Audience.

Essay 3 — Understanding Impacts and Communication

Author Bio

Throughout the last 20 years I have been designing and implementing experiences for people, from a family partnership running a children’s farm and hedgehog hospital in Devon, to both of the universities in Nottingham — the later working on a global solution — to British Gas and now at a leading consultancy. I have worked on IT service models, designed a superlab implemented product delivery models and performed countless art of the possible workshops to simulate free-thinking to break free of what we “know” to be true.

But I would say for the first 10 years of my work supporting the user experience, I didn’t know this is what I was doing. It just felt like the right thing to do for a good quality of service. Through my varied experience, I have found that you can focus on the experience but, if that is the only point of focus, you won’t be able to make it a reality.

A Special thanks to Jo Herlihy for her relentless support and determination exploring the thoughts and ideas through discussion and debate, without your support, we would not be reading this today.

User Research Explained

A Charity Collection Of Essays For Pandemic Relief (To Benefit Doctors Without Borders)

User Research Explained

User Research Explained is an international effort to compile best practices and perspectives on effective user research. Edited by Adrian Murphy, Jo Herlihy, Bobby King, and Lisa Galarneau Ph.D

Andrew Ward

Written by

He grows businesses through telling compelling stories and building customer relationships, lasting narratives and relationships that redefine the experience.

User Research Explained

User Research Explained is an international effort to compile best practices and perspectives on effective user research. Edited by Adrian Murphy, Jo Herlihy, Bobby King, and Lisa Galarneau Ph.D

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store