User researcher Selena Kim and senior product designer Özlem Mis share their insights on combining qualitative and quantitative research methods to fuel more delightful customer experiences.
Zalon is a styling service offered by Zalando that connects customers looking for personalised fashion advice with professional stylists. The moment of truth arrives when customers receive a box of items curated by our experts, along with advice on why or how they should wear the suggested outfits.
We know that some of our customers have seen a clear improvement in their style and wardrobe over time thanks to their stylists. In the words of one of our customers: “The most interesting thing for me was to get an independent opinion on what could suit me. I have a personal style, but wanted a change.’’
However, this was not the case for all of our customers and we noticed some room for improvement in our customer satisfaction scores. A dissatisfied customer told us: “If you would see my order history at Zalando you could see that the things that you sent to me were things I would never buy.’’
To tackle the issue, Zalon joined forces with the Voice of Customers team.
At Zalando, our customer understanding is driven by multiple teams; amongst them my team, Voice of Customers, provides user research and customer satisfaction expertise. When the Zalon team reached out to us, we started by aligning on the team’s goal and scoping out the problem together. This is the story of how we set out to create a joyful styling experience for our customers using an impactful research plan.
Step 1: Lay the groundwork for success
Every design project begins with a clear goal in mind: to solve something that matters to our customers. We kicked off with a research brief to align with direct stakeholders who were focused on improving Zalon’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), and indirect stakeholders in the wider product and design community. We wanted the research outcomes to spark inspiration across teams and facilitate implementable ideas that would have a high impact in the short-to-medium term.
💡 Our Tip: We found a clearly defined research brief that outlines background, goals, research questions, timeline and relevant past findings to be extremely useful. Not only does it help you refine the purpose of your research and establish a solid foundation, but it also allows you to start collaborating with your stakeholders early on in the process. Your stakeholders will help you to align on the right goals, and make you aware of any blindspots in your background check.
Step 2: Work backwards with the end state in mind
At Zalando, we work backwards from what success looks like, and we place customer satisfaction at the heart of our process. We use a structured Product Development Process similar to the Double Diamond framework which uses divergent and convergent thinking to explore an issue widely before taking focused action.
Figuring out the reasons why Zalon customers were dissatisfied was quite an undertaking, so this approach helped us to decide when to expand our knowledge and when to make focused decisions as described in the diagram below.
Our preliminary research (Diamond 1) involved an analysis of:
- Past research: To come up with some hypotheses.
- Current Net Promoter Score drivers: To determine the main categories that influence promotion or detraction.
- KPIs: To understand what we could influence.
- Benchmarks: To evaluate our performance based on Zalando’s regular NPS learnings check-ins and the wider industry.
Our initial findings were that:
- The term “outfit curation” needed to be clearly defined as team members had different ideas about what this meant.
- We needed to pick a focus area from the NPS drivers to tackle what mattered the most in our relatively short time frame.
We decided to expand our knowledge through quantitative research (Diamond 2), and started forming hypotheses around how drivers correlated with each other and impacted satisfaction. The results clearly identified two issues that needed to be addressed:
- Our customers’ satisfaction with their stylists.
- Our questionnaire’s accuracy in identifying our customers’ preferences.
💡 Our Tip: Sharing critical findings with stakeholders along the way helps them to be involved in both the decision and the solution, and to have an easier time digesting share-outs on a project wrap-up.
Step 3: Dive deep & share knowledge
Understanding where to focus was only the beginning of our efforts. We now needed to tackle the real problems by figuring out the root causes (Diamond 3). We designed deep-dive interview sessions with customers to gain a thorough understanding of their needs.
Part of the Product Design team’s customer-centric approach involves empowering colleagues in other disciplines to do user research and understand customer-centric practices. While planning the details of our qualitative research which would focus on a smaller group of customers, we recruited peers as co-researchers. These colleagues were interested in the outcomes of the research, but had little or no experience of running structured interviews with customers. We gave them the flexibility to participate as observers, notetakers or moderators. Of course, we didn’t just throw them into the deep end; we provided comprehensive onboarding with how-to guides, Q&A sessions, and a dry-run customer interview simulation.
After each customer deep-dive session, we held separate debriefs where we shared our impressions. Having structured digital whiteboards was super handy in terms of having a guided discussion, and scheduling these sessions immediately after the interviews ensured that everything was still fresh in our minds. We found out that this helped us enormously while synthesising our findings.
💡 Our Tip: Empower stakeholder teams through knowledge sharing and support. Veronika, a product manager who participated as one of the co-researchers, shared her feedback on the experience: “I really appreciated this opportunity to practice and work on my interviewing skills and get feedback from professionals. The practical interview tips from the dry run were very helpful (especially in light of the home office situation) and really helped to get into the right mindset.”
Step 4: Turn the problem into opportunities
Having a supportive team of co-researchers helped us generate valuable insights around our research questions. After spending time translating these insights into a narrative that was easy to grasp and actionable, we organised an ideation session that several teams including but not limited to engineering, product management, and product design participated in. To make the session more effective, we divided our insights and had smaller groups work on each of them, ending up with an incredible list of 72 ideas! Select highlights included ways to improve communication methods and how we present recommendations to our customers.
After several rounds of discussions where we categorised and refined these ideas, we arrived at a final selection based on how they aligned with customer needs, business goals, and the effort required to implement them. Finally, we began to design solutions that would actually impact our customers’ satisfaction with their stylists and our understanding of their preferences.
💡 Our Tip: Storytelling in research findings share-outs has a great impact on adoption by the audience. How you share is as important as what you share. Expecting everyone to be present and ready to digest your findings is not realistic. You will have an easier time activating your peers if your outputs are relevant and tell a story you can easily comprehend.
Could you apply this approach to a problem you care about?
We’re excited to keep tackling the endless stream of research questions, that continue to pop up, to make our customers happy. Knowing how and when to use your research tools, as well as activating your peers in the research process are keys to understanding customers and driving impact. We hope our experience encourages you to keep experimenting and questioning your own research methods!
Senior product designer, Özlem Mis, and user researcher, Selena Kim, work in Zalando’s Product Insight & Design team. Want to collaborate with us and make an impact? Join Zalando’s Product Design community.