What do you do if the users who end up falling in love with and embracing your product are a far cry from the 'ideal' user you have in your head?
Laura Klein, a UX consultant with more than 20 years experience, faced this exact scenario and watched from the sidelines as the company she loved to work for chose to ignore the needs and challenges of their real-world users (above her objections).
Today we’re talking with Laura Klein, the author of Build Better Products and UX for Lean Startups, as well as the founder of UsersKnow.com. She also hosts her own podcast, What is Wrong With UX, where she shares insights from her 20+ years in improving experiences for users.
In this episode, Laura shares a story of what happened when a company she worked for chose to ignore the needs and challenges of their main users, just because those weren’t the users the product team wanted to have.
It sounds crazy, but in Laura’s experience as a UX consultant, this actually happens more often than you might think.
It’s a fascinating conversation about how to really listen to your
Laura was a pleasure to speak with, and I hope you find her as insightful as I did.
[00:00:04] David: Welcome to the Human Strike Back by Hotjar, the weekly podcast designed to help you succeed by putting people first. I’m David Peralta. Today, you’ll be hearing from Laura Klein, the author of Build Better Products and UX for Lean Startups, as well as the founder of Users Know. She also hosts her own podcast, What is Wrong with UX where she shares insights from her 20-plus years in improving experiences for users.
In this episode, Laura shares an interesting story of what happened when a company she worked for chose to ignore the needs and challenges of their users just because those users didn’t line up with who the product team thought their ideal users should be. It sounds crazy but in Laura’s experience as a UX consultant, this actually happens more often than you might think. It’s a fascinating conversation about how to really listen to your users so that they can help take your company in directions you never thought possible.
We also talk about the importance of creating a culture of respect for your users as well as how to find that critical overlap between what users want and what’s best for your business. Laura was a pleasure to speak with and I hope you find her as insightful as I did.
I'm going to start this interview by being totally transparent and totally honest. I feel like I know very little about UX design. I feel like I understand the need to create value and to prioritize the needs and challenges of your users. That feels very intuitive to me, but what goes into UX and the nuts and bolts of it, I'm going to approach this with a little bit of a beginner's mind, if that's okay with you.
[00:01:46] Laura: Great. That’s fantastic. Yeah.
[00:01:49] David: Cool. You've got a great story about a time that you were working with a company–the way you put it was they had a passionate fan base that was a little bit quirky, but the company wasn't actually paying so much attention to them, their needs and their challenges. Can you paint that picture a little bit about what was going on, who was this fan base and what was the disconnect between them and the company?
[00:02:18] Laura: I'm not going to get too terribly detailed because, because like I said, the company exists and I'm actually a big fan of the user, in fact. It's a social product. They have users. They are really, really passionate about how they use the product, what the product should do for them and how they want to use the product. There were problems because it was a startup and I was there.
There are going to be problems because you can't do everything all at once so there were bugs, things that didn't work like we wanted them to and all of this, and we would get all of this amazing feedback from people that was essentially, "I love your product. It has been life-changing for me. I wish it just didn't do this one thing that is actively hostile to me," or, "I wish you just did this one other thing."
Of course, as a user experience designer, you never just want to take exactly the feature request from people and just build that. That's a really good way to have a scattered product. Let's put it that way. It can be a little Frankenstein-y or Frankenstein monster-y where it's assembled from parts. You want to have an overall vision for how it should work and make it make sense. That said, they had some really, really amazing input. The people in-charge, who were not me, did not really get this particular fan base. You get it. They weren't a typical tech fan base. It wasn't like we were building something for venture capitalists, or for engineers or for the kind of people who might be in the room, even.
[00:04:05] David: Who was the target audience?
[00:04:06] Laura: It was definitely folks who tended to be lower-income. This is a while ago, so the nerd culture was not so prevalent, let's say, but they were the kind of folks who liked to sew their own costumes, dress up and do cosplay, really amazingly creative people. Some of them were quite young. Some of them weren't particularly technical. They were folks like you might find on Tumblr or great, smart, creative people who liked to dress up in costumes or who were super into vampires.
[00:04:57] David: What did the app do? What did the product do?
[00:05:01] Laura: It's a social product and it lets people connect with other people who are into sort of similar things.
[00:05:07] David: Was it intended for this particular audience or was this the audience that took hold and embraced it?
[00:05:12] Laura: I think the second one is really––I think that there was sort of an idea that it was going to be a mass-market thing and it was going to be for everybody. It was going to be a huge new way of communicating with folks and all of this. I think what happened was this particular group of folks who didn't have a lot of options glommed onto it and were like, "This is great. This is perfect. This lets me be me."
[00:05:36] David: What percentage of the total users was this particular cohort?
[00:05:46] Laura: A lot, most.
[00:05:50] David: Like majority?
[00:05:53] Laura: Yeah, I think so. I would say it wasn't like all vampires, but it was all people who felt they needed a different outlet for self-expression and for creativity. A good example might even be DeviantArt. That's a good example of folks who are doing really creative, interesting, not necessarily mainstream stuff. That's awesome but, unfortunately, it's also not Facebook. You're never going to get very mainstream, super widespread use. I think that people who were running the product really wanted to see the hockey stick growth. They kept trying to put in features that would appeal to people who were very mainstream, but that's not who the users were.
[00:06:58] David: What was the reason that this particular group was so attracted to this social network? What was it that appealed so much this particular group?
[00:07:12] Laura: It let them be very expressive of themselves. It let them do lots of customization, it let them really show off who they were and I think, also, those were the folks who were on it. There's always that sort of the network effects of, "Oh, there are people like me on here," and a lot of us were like, "Oh, we should find more folks like that," more folks who had these niche interests. "We don't have all of them. We should get them involved and I think that there are more people like this out in the world than we know about who want this kind of self-expression."
It's funny because I think that some of the folks who were making decisions really wanted it to be very mainstream, the people that they would hang on. They wanted to create a product that they would use and they were like, "I would never do this." The problem with, "I would never do this," can turn very quickly in an environment into, "Why would anybody ever do this?" and that's very dangerous. You have to be able to go in and look at a product and say, "I would never do this thing. Let's look at some of the folks who would do this thing and understand why they would do it and understand more about them and what they're getting out of it, and how to make them happier." As opposed to this really dismissive, "Well, I don't think anybody would ever do this because I wouldn't," or, "This isn't for me." "This isn't for me," shouldn't turn into, "This isn't for anybody."
[00:08:49] David: Was this group actually generating revenue for the company?
[00:08:54] Laura: Yeah, most of the revenue came from folks like this.
[00:08:58] David: That's a pretty interesting disconnect. You mean the founders or the people who were creating a product had a vision for the product, then they put it out there and then the way that the users actually used it or the people who were attracted to the product didn't match their original vision and rather than adjust to the reality, they kind of stuck to this vision that actually wasn't very rooted in reality?
[00:09:22] Laura: I wouldn't put it all on the founders. I would put it on some of the folks who came in later. I wouldn't say that it was necessarily the founders who did it. The founders were pretty open to trying to new things and experimenting, but some of the product folks that came in later were very much like, "But this is never going to be huge." We had business folks come in and they were like, "This needs to be much bigger and this will never be big. This should be more like World of Warcraft," but we weren't building World of Warcraft. If you wanted to build World of Warcraft, there is a delightful company named Blizzard and you should go work with them because that's a thing that exists in the world. I'll work on a different thing that is for this group of people.
[00:10:05] David: What happened? What did this lead to?
[00:10:08] Laura: I think it led to a lot of–they called it "experimentation" and sometimes it was, but sometimes it was sort of a, "Let's try this new feature that Facebook has," or, "We need to do this thing that this other company did." Like I said, they kept saying, "Why aren't we more like X? Why aren't we more like Y? Why aren't we more like Z?" and so they'd say, "Well, World of Warcraft is popular because it has quests. We should add quests," or, "Facebook is popular because you can upload pictures. We should let people upload pictures," or whatever it was.
They would throw these ideas at the product. Meanwhile, the users who I was talking to on a regular basis were sort of like, "Can you just please fix this thing that breaks for me all the time? I tried to use the product but it crashed seven times in 10 minutes so could you maybe fix that?" or they would say, "There's this harassment problem. Could you maybe fix that for us?" The funny thing is this is not necessarily an uncommon story; I think that we see it with a lot of social networks that are trying to really hockey stick and go more and more mainstream. "We've got to have user growth. We have to have more and more people," and then it's sort of like, "But there are all of these obvious issues that maybe we could just fix those and maybe some of your really passionate users won't leave?"
[00:11:46] David: What's the underlying issue? Was it a desire to chase a vision that doesn't exist or a lack of connection to the users?
[00:12:00] Laura: I think it's disdain for the users that you have because they are not the users that you want. That you want this vision of the "mainstream" user which I quibble with that presentation anyway, but you want everybody and you want to make a product for everybody so you ignore the very real humans who actually love your product or love you service and give you money. This wasn't the kind of thing where it was, "I have 12 users." It wasn't like that. There were millions of people who were super into it, it was not small and they made money.
It was unfortunate because I think that there was a real feeling of, "I don't understand these folks. They are not like me. I want to build a product that I would want to use. I would want to build a product that the tech industry is going to love." Here's the thing: All of these things that I'm saying could apply to ten different companies I've worked with, seen or talked to people about, at least the, "Oh, it's more important for me to build something that will win an award," or, "It's more important for me to design something or to build something that the tech industry will love or that will get me written up in TechCrunch," or whatever, like, "That's more important to me than building a thing that the people who use my product really actually care about and love." It's sad.
[00:13:45] David: It's an interesting conundrum because, on the one hand, I can understand. You go out there with a vision. You have an idea of what you want it to be but then you put it out there and it actually ends up getting used totally differently. What is the solution here? What, in your opinion, is the proper way to adjust when something like that happens?
[00:14:10] Laura: I wish I could just make people care about other people. I think that would be delightful. That will be wonderful. I think one of the issues was that some of the folks who felt this disdain for the users didn't have a lot of contact with the actual users. They were not necessarily the ones who were talking to users every day or even every week or at all. They were the ones who the only interaction that they had with users was complaining. When you have passionate users, you will have people who complain and accuse you of terrible things and say that you're awful. They will not agree with your decisions all the time.
All the interactions that some of the folks who had this opinion had were just the negative interactions. They only heard the complaints, and that can make people very defensive. I think that the right answer for me was just, get out, have positive interactions with people all the time, talk to them about what they do love, and try to understand why they're so excited about it because when somebody comes to them like, "I can't believe you're doing this to me. You're absolutely ruining my life," which, again, if you've ever worked on a popular social product, you will 100% get these people. You will 100% get people saying, "You are destroying my life by not doing this thing," and that is a hard thing as a product person to hear because even the ones who don't care that much are still trying to build something that people like. We want to hear, "Yes, this is great."
[00:15:55] David: But there's something underlying there, which is what that person is really saying, is, "I love your product."
[00:16:01] Laura: "I love 95% of what you do. I love it so much that just leaving is not an option for me."
[00:16:10] David: Exactly. "This is already so built into my life that changing this one thing is having such an impact in my life because I love it so much."
[00:16:19] Laura: Yes, and that's the thing that you need to hear. I think that the other thing that happens is that people can get so focused on, "Oh, we're going to do this big, new, awesome thing." If you ignore the little things, the little annoying things that don't actually drive people, the individual thing that doesn't drive somebody away but that little thing that's nagging, "This is really bad, kind of," or, "This is kind of bad on a regular basis," when you unveil your bright, shiny, new, awesome thing, people will look at it and go, "Great. I didn't ask for that. What I wanted was fixing that crash seven times a day," or, "Oh, that's great but I'm still getting harassed." Again, they're not even going to appreciate some things that they might otherwise actually love. Some of the things that got built were things that people eventually did really like; they just wanted this other thing first than they wanted this other thing more. That's always a tricky thing.
[00:17:25] David: Why were the people who were in charge of the product not hearing more of the positive? Were the customers not giving positive feedback? Was the majority of the feedback negative? Was the positive feedback coming in but just from a different channel that these product people who had this disdain weren't being exposed to?
[00:17:43] Laura: Here's a question for you. I'm going to answer a question with a question in the most irritating, possible way. How often do you go through all of the things that you love and write to them and tell them how much you love them?
[00:17:55] David: Not often enough. I was just actually talking about that with my wife. We're renovating right now and our builder is doing an amazing job, but 95% of what he's hearing is, "Can you do this? Can you do that? I'm not sure about this; can you do that?" and we're not telling him, "Wow, the work you're doing is just incredible," and we need to be doing more of that so that he knows how much we actually appreciate him. Exactly. Not as much as we should.
[00:18:20] Laura: That's a one-on-one, very personal relationship that you have with someone who is in your home probably multiple times a week for hours, right? Now, compare that to an app that you use or a website that you visit. How many letters to the editor are, "I love what you do. Keep it up," as opposed to, "Everything you are doing is bad and you're horrible people."
[00:18:59] David: I know exactly what you mean but since coming to Hotjar, I've seen of these positive responses because of how much I see the team go out of their way for the users.
[00:19:14] Laura: There you go. That is 100% the correct thing. It's not just for your own personal ego, although there's nothing wrong with that–I'm just going to say that right now–like, "Hey, look. We're working hard. We're trying to do good things." It's nice to hear positive feedback. You do. You have to go out and find out what are you doing with this, what do you like about it and go to the people who are quietly using your product and get their feedback. I don't necessarily mean an NPS survey but talk to people.
It's great to frame that as, "We want to know how you feel, positive and negative. What do you love? What do you hate?" If you had that conversation with people, a lot of times, it's just like, "Wow, you changed my life. It's so great. The one thing that you could do for me is this thing," and then you can have that conversation. You can go back to them and say, "Hey, we did this thing," or, "We did it a little bit differently than what you think," and it becomes a partnership. You hear way more positive feedback and you hear why they like it, too, which is important.
[00:20:29] David: Exactly. Actually, what you're talking about is this feedback cycle because it's not just enough to go to somebody. To listen to them, that's already a huge step. I would recommend everybody to do that, but the moment they say, "We would love this thing changed," and you changed it and you go back to them and say, "Hey, thank you so much. We changed that one thing." It's just like, "Whoa, I can't believe that you actually did that and that you actually told me about it." Now, you've got somebody who, if they've loved your product before, now they're fervent. They're passionate about it and anytime you ask for feedback or anytime you ask for help or anytime you apologize because you made a mistake, these are the people who are answering back to you immediately, saying, "Thank you so much. I love what you guys are doing."
I've seen this. I'm not on the product side; I'm not the marketing side, but I see this happening all the time because of how involved our product people and our customer service people and our customer success people and how committed they are to helping their users and how committed they are to keeping that conversation open the entire time and not just, "Okay, we got our feedback. Thank you very much. We're done with you. See you later."
[00:21:35] Laura: The other thing that I think gets you is when you go out of your way to build that kind of goodwill, is it gives you a little slack for the next time because you are not always going to build the thing that they ask for. That is just true. Like I said, you can't just always build exactly the thing that everybody asks for or it would become the Winchester Mystery House.
[00:21:59] David: For people who don't know what it is, it's a house that was actually built in Northern California with staircases that literally lead nowhere, doors that open up to nothing. It's just a house that's getting built, and built, and built and expanded with no purpose.
[00:22:13] Laura: It's a fascinating story that everybody should look up anyway but, yes, it is absolutely a great way to build something that nobody can use. That said, when the thing that the user is asking for coincides with the thing that is good for the business and is good for other users, anything that's not exactly–I always like to say, a lot of times, people will ask for a button but they don't want a button; they want the thing that that button does. They want the magic that happens after they push the button. If you say, "Hey, you asked for this thing. We gave you a way to do the thing that you really wanted to do," and they're like, "This is so great!" The next time that you release something that maybe isn't the thing that they asked for, they're going to give you a little bit of slack, not 100% of the time but maybe they'll give you credit for knowing what you're doing and for being responsive.
[00:23:09] David: They thought that they wanted a button to let them do that but when you let them do it in a way that doesn't even need a button, then the wow factor is 5x or 10x as much because it's like, "I didn't even you know could do it this way. This is so much better." This was a case of how not to do it, a case of how not to listen to your users and what happens when you don't want to understand your users, when you don't care, necessarily, about who they are or what's interesting to them. You're more interested in yourself. You're more interested in what you think the right thing to do is. Do you have examples of companies that did it the other way where you started to work with them and they were very passionate and committed to their users?
[00:23:53] Laura: Yes, there are lots. I see this more at individual team levels and specific conversations. I've had tons and tons of clients that are much more open to working directly with customers, and they just create more of a collaboration with the end-user. I think, for me and hopefully for my clients in general, that's actually the default. That's the way I'd like to work with people and so I try to select for that so any specific examples are going to be overwhelmed by just the, "We're going to go out and we're going to work with people."
I do want to say I think it's extremely important that we always do consider the business case for things. I'm that one weird UX designer who does say, "Look, there are a ton of things that we could do for the user and we should figure out what those are and we should figure out what their needs are and what they want, and we should also make sure that when we're building that, that it's good for everybody, that it's good for us, it's good for them and good for the whole environment." It's not, "We're just going to give everybody what they ask for," because not only could it create a Frankenstein's monster but it can also create a product that will go out of business, and that doesn't serve anybody.
[00:25:23] David: How do you find that overlap between what the users want and what's going to be good for the business?
[00:25:29] Laura: You have to look at each problem or metric. You have to look at your business metrics and understand, "What are the things that we care the most about as a business?" and, at sort of this high level, "Do we need more growth? Do we need more money? Do we need more whatever? What is the thing that we want?" and then you look at all of the different problems that you could solve for the users and all of the different behaviors. "What is the behavior that I would like to see more of?" because, remember, metrics are just user behaviors. "What is the behavior that I want to see more of? How do I get people to do that behavior in a way that is good for them? How do I make them want to do that thing? How do I make that?" and it's not tricking. I want to be real clear about it. It's not like a dark pattern.
[00:26:26] David: I think I understand exactly what you mean because at Hotjar, when I sit in on the product meetings and I'm listening in, a key challenge that we're facing is retention. People see a lot of value when they come into the product and then they use it very passionately for a single project but then, once that project is completed, they might drop off and they might not feel like they need Hotjar anymore. Retention is a big thing that we're facing.
We get all kinds of feature requests from all different places but when we look at, "Okay, what is it going to take for Hotjar to be able to succeed as a company so that we can be there to provide value for our users?" this is a challenge that we need to solve. "What is it that our users need in order to feel like this is something that actually provides value for them on an ongoing basis?" because we do believe that it can. Actually, this is a challenge that we took on and we started thinking about it, and we realized, "Okay, people think that this is a one-off thing," and they're not understanding how this could actually provide value for them on an ongoing basis.
This is actually what happens because we don't have silos at Hotjar and there's a lot of integration between the product, customer success and marketing. We realize that one thing that we should start doing is we should create a course that actually helps people with the underlying challenge, with what they actually want to use Hotjar for, independent of the tool. "What is it that they're actually trying to accomplish and how can we help them to accomplish that?" because once they're able to accomplish that, then Hotjar is a custom-made tool for that. We recognize that this is how we can actually help people. This is how we can actually help people get their goal done, but it was all because we put this lens on of, "Okay, within the specific business need of solving retention, how can we help our users the most?" It's this synergy of, "What do they need?" and, "What do we need?" and, "How can we create something that's beneficial for everybody?"
[00:28:30] Laura: I think that that is an incredibly important thing for people to understand because I will say that, from a user experience, design and user research standpoint, I think, a lot of times, the designers and researches that I have talked with and maybe that I have been in the past can get very–it's very easy to get wrapped up in the problem that the person is presenting to you at the time because you're an empathetic human, you care, you don't want to cause problems for other people, you don't want them to make them sad and you want them to make them happy. I want to give them everything that they want, but we have limited resources.
Again, I always like to say, if you are at a company that does not have limited resources, you should give me a call because I would like to come work with you. Let me send you my rights. If money is no object then, hey, give me a call. It's really important because we do have to prioritize. We can't do absolutely everything next. If there are 10 things that are really big problems for people and all other things being equal, maybe we don't work on the thing that's affecting 1% of the people who don't give us any money; maybe we work on the thing that's affecting 90% of the people who do give us money or maybe we work on the thing that gets people to stick around for longer as opposed to the thing that gets more people into the funnel.
I love your example. Retention is a great metric, honestly, because realistically, if you can retain people in a natural way, you're basically saying, "I want my product to be so good for you that you wouldn't even think about leaving." You can absolutely align your incentives around retention really easily. You can also not do that and you can absolutely screw people over by doing things like, "We're going to lock you into a five-year contract and charge you a lot of money to get out of it," and I am not a fan of that both because I think it's awful and also because I actually don't think it works long term. I think it's a bad strategy, long term, but I also think it just makes you a bad person. I'm just going to throw that out there. If you're doing that, you're a bad person.
[00:30:59] David: I was thinking about this question. How do we create this culture of respect for the user? Going back to what we were talking about at the very beginning, you said you have to want to do that. You have to want to care about your user and you have to want to be willing to put your user first when it comes time to actually design the product in a way that's going to create a behavior for them that's beneficial for them because, going back to this retention example, we just as easily could have said, "Retention is the number one problem," and then we could have shut ourselves in a room and we could have said, "How are we going to solve this problem?" and not realize that, "Okay, behind every single one of those numbers or that percentage of users that are leaving, there's an actual human being that's making a decision to stop using the product. What's going on with that person? What's their motivation? What were they trying to accomplish that they didn't feel they needed this tool anymore to accomplish that goal and how can we understand that? What are the best ways to go and talk to them and understand what they are trying to do here?""
[00:32:15] Laura: Talk to them. Observe them. See what they're doing. See what their lives are like. See what their motivations were. Understand, "What were your goals? What were your dreams? What were your aspirations? Seriously, what were you trying to achieve when you signed up for this thing, what were you able to achieve and what other things in your life are you trying to achieve that we can also help you with?" You can't just ask them that, of course, because they'll be like, "I don't know. If I knew that, I would already be using it."
You actually have to see what they're like and see what kinds of things they do. You have to understand why did they choose this particular product to meet this particular need and what other kinds of things were they using, what have they tried in the past, what's failed for them, why–that's a big favor to find–it's sort of like, "Well, what have you done to solve this problem to do this in the past?" or, "What are you currently using? What's not working for you about it?"
All those kinds of questions go into that, and I think you're right; I think the trick is not locking yourself in that room with your coworkers whose opinions you can hear all the time but to get out there and talk to people because I love your framing of, "Every single person who decided not to use this product, every single metric, every single number is a person with a life, and a budget, and decisions that they're making, and goals, and needs, and problems," and you develop more understanding of them by interacting with them.
[00:33:48] David: Exactly. I think one thing that comes up for me is I know a lot of people–because I got this pushback a lot of companies before. I was like, "Why don't we ask what's going on? Why don't we ask why they're leaving? Why don't we ask why they're using it to begin with?" all the questions that you were asking earlier. The pushback that I always got was they're too busy. They don't have time. They don't care. What I found lacking there was a willingness to be vulnerable and authentic with those people because if you just send a blank survey, "You left. Why did you leave?" It's like, "I don't have time to answer that."
There's a difference if you say, "Hey, we realize that we made a mistake. You must have had a reason for leaving and we want to know what that reason is because we wanted to help you accomplish your goal and, obviously, we didn't do that so can you help us to understand what it was that you were trying to do so that we can help people like you more in the future?" If I got a response like that, I would be so much more willing to say, "Okay, you can have 5 minutes of my time," or, "You can have 10 minutes of my time," because there's an attempt to make an authentic human connection with somebody instead of just treating them like, "Here's an NPS survey because you left." That is also a good thing to do, actually. I'm all for that, sending NPS surveys to people who left. The response rate might not be as high but you still can learn something incredible. At some point somewhere, there has to be an attempt to create a human-to-human connection with the people who are leaving and using open, honest, authentic communication.
[00:35:24] Laura: Even if you do get them, a lot of times, the first pass of feedback that you're going to get from them are things like, "I just didn't have time," or, "I just didn't have another need," or whatever. There's more to it than that. That's the thing. There's digging to be done there. If somebody says, "I didn't have time to do this," what it really means is, "The perceived value of what I was getting was not worth the amount of time that I would have had to put into this." There is time to do all sorts of things that we actually want to do and from which we get value, not 100% of the things but if you care about it enough or if you're getting enough value from it, you will make time.
If I offered you $1 million, you would probably find the 10 minutes that it would take to do the thing that I was asking you to do as long as it was ethical and not illegal. The perceived value has to be there, and what they're basically saying is you weren't worth it. When people say, "I don't have time," or, "I was done with my project," what it means is, probably, "I didn't know that I could use you for another thing," or, "You didn't give me that much help on the project that I did and so I don't really see the point of using you for the next one." Those are really different kinds of responses that you need to figure out which one or if there's something else, but which one it is because, otherwise, what you're going to do is you're going to generate a ton of solutions for potentially the wrong problem.
[00:36:58] David: I was thinking back to what we were talking about at the beginning which is, "How do you create a culture of respect for the user?" As we're talking about this, I'm realizing what the answer is, is you have to hire people who care about people.
[00:37:09] Laura: Then, you have to expose them to the people.
[00:37:11] David: Exactly. Because it's not enough to hire somebody who's a kickass programmer. I interviewed David Cancel, the CEO and founder of Drift recently, and he said something that was super interesting to me, which was that he had a team of engineers at one of his earlier software companies who just swore they did not have enough time for the changes that were being asked of them, and the changes were impossible and the changes were just going to take too many resources. The list of his excuses was endless.
A problem that David had was that they didn't have a customer support team and they couldn't afford one so what they did was they just made the engineers the customer support team. What started to happen was once the engineers started to hear the problems directly from the customers, suddenly, these changes were getting made instantly like within a span of hours. David would go back to the engineers and say, "Hey, you told me that this was impossible. Why, suddenly, is that change made?" and they said, "Well, we heard it from the customers. We got it. We heard it over, and over, and over again." You're right in that we have to create a culture where people are being exposed to the customers, that somewhere along that chain, there has to be somebody who cares enough about the customers to put those processes in place.
[00:38:37] Laura: Anybody who gets to make decisions about how something actually works–I'll tell you right now: There have been many, many projects and many, many companies where I am customer service. I'll be the VP of product and I am customer service for the first two months of the product. I am the one on the frontlines and so are product managers or designers who work with me. We get all of that feedback and we have to deal with it. If we are the ones who are making the decisions, we should absolutely do it.
I was also in a user research session that I was at a company and one of the engineers was watching–and this was the company that I talked about earlier where we had engineers start shadowing us during these user research sessions. They would just come in, they would sit and they'd just watch and we would do these research sessions. There was one great example of a bug that had been in the product for years. Nobody verifies them, nobody never prioritized it and we saw it happen during the research session.
They came back later, doing the same thing, and the bug was gone. It wasn't happening and I kind of looked at the engineer and they were like, "Oh, yeah. I fixed it," like they had literally fixed it and pushed it to production during the research session because they couldn't stand to see it. They were like, "Yeah, I'm going to fix that." It was amazing. Here's a thing that was never going to get prioritized but it was happening to so many users and the engineer could just go, "Yeah, let's fix it."
[00:40:19] David: It's like the kind of thing where a lot of people feel they're so swamped by all the things that they have to do that there's no time to go on customer calls. "I wouldn't have time to develop. I'm already swamped with requests and all these things that, if I take the time, all these things won't get done." What a lot of people don't realize–and I've been guilty of this as well–is that actually taking the time to do that makes the rest of your work so much more effective because, then, you do the things that have the biggest impact.
[00:40:53] Laura: If I never had to go to another meeting where a bunch of people sit around and argue about what we should do or what things might we do, if I had never had to go to another one where we're just slinging opinions back and forth, I would be just a much, much happier person. I think those happen because the exposure to what users really want and what customers really want is not well spread-out through the company. I think there's still some room for discussion about what is the best solution to this problem but I'm tired of having discussions in a vacuum about, "What might the problem be?"
Well, let's just go figure that out. That should not be a mystery. We don't need to opine about that. We can absolutely have discussions about how to fix the problems that we've seen and we can absolutely have discussions about what kinds of things we might do in order to–if we're doing something really innovative or really changing something, that can be really hard and it's kind of asking people to tell the future, but we don't have to use an Ouija board to figure out the present. We don't have to debate facts, as we like to say in this household. We don't have to debate facts; we can just go find out facts. We should debate things that we can't know, like what the future is going to be.
[00:42:33] David: Like, "We know the problem. What are we going to do solve it?"
[00:42:36] Laura: Absolutely, let's have conversations about that, but I don't need to guess what the problem is.
[00:42:41] David: One thing that we ask all of our guests is: What's one resources that has helped you to develop this people-first, user-first mindset that you've got? Was it a book, a video, a podcast or something? What was it?
[00:42:59] Laura: It's tricky for me because I saw my first user research in a lab, I think, in 1996. It was the dark ages, dinosaurs ran the earth and I was watching people play with toys, actually, for that very first one I was with. That was my observation. I started out doing user research a million years ago by watching really good people conduct user research in all sorts of different ways, not just usability tests but all sorts of different ways, contextual inquiry, diary studies, lab studies and everything. That was an unbelievable introduction to, "How do we get information from humans in a way that is helpful for us in building products?"
I understand that that was an incredible privilege and that not everybody has access to all of that, and I also understand that some of the things that I used to learn that probably aren't the most up-to-date things. They're still observing the user experience, which was I think, Kuniavsky, which was the textbook for this back when I was doing it. It's still actually a really good book. It probably has 97 editions by now, but there are a lot of really good resources for helping you to really understand people, anything by Indi Young, anything by Tomer Shiran, Steve Portugal.
There's all sorts of great resources. I'm exposing my bias here–I'm a Rosenfeld media author–but if you look at Rosenfeld media, they do have a lot of really good books about the sort of details of how to understand the user and not just the user but people in general, how to do better interviews, how to connect with people. I can't give you one thing that changed my life because, of course, it was probably that one user research session that I did in the converted mortuary in Delaware, that one time back in 1990-something. That's my non-answer to that.
[00:45:26] David: Fair enough. Where can people go to learn more about you and the work that you're doing?
[00:45:33] Laura: I have a website that is almost never updated. It's called Users Know. I also occasionally do my own podcast, which is called What is Wrong with UX and its shody. I'll tell you everything that you're doing wrong in UX with my co-host, Kate Rutter, and I have two books.
[00:45:58] David: What are the titles of those books?
[00:46:00] Laura: Build Better Products is the most recent one and then UX for Lean Startups if you are a big fan of lean startup, as I am. That is the first one. Build Better Products is really built for product teams who are trying to make collaborative decisions and a lot of the stuff that I talk about with them. You have to understand the business need and you have to understand the user need and then you have to find the Venn diagram where those things overlap. I've covered a lot of activities in there for how to do that.
[00:46:26] David: Cool. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here on the show. It was really a pleasure.
[00:46:30] Laura: Thank you so much for having me. It was great meeting you.
[00:46:40] Louis: Thanks for listening, my fellow human. We know how fast paced life is. If you're listening to this on your daily commute, while running, or even cooking, you can always go to Hotjar.com/humans and look for today's episode. That's where you'll find access to all the resources and humans we talked about, the full transcript of the conversation, and even links to really see the episodes.
[00:47:04] David: If you like today's episode, please help us out by leaving your honest rating and review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. The more honest feedback we get, the more we can improve the show for you, and the more this podcast will be discovered by other humans. It's a win-win situation. Until next time, take care and be human.
'The Humans Strike Back' is hosted by Louis Grenier (Content Lead) from Hotjar.
Hotjar is a powerful way to analyse people's behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience. Based in Malta, Hotjar launched in 2015 and grew from €0 to €10M using a people-first approach and no outside funding.
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