I recently posted the Top 5 Habits of Customer-Obsessed Companies, gleaned from the work done at my digital consultancy, AnswerLab, with companies who dominate the digital space like LinkedIn, Intuit, and eBay. As promised, here are five more habits you can also use to build supremely useful digital products.  If you missed my last article, be sure to check it out here.

6. Iterate designs with multiple rounds of feedback

No design is ever perfect the first time, and it's rarely perfect the second time. To get the optimal digital user experience, it's essential to iterate on the design process, soliciting customer feedback along the way. Doing this ensures that the end product is the best it can be.

Customer-centric companies adopt an approach similar to this: test, iterate, test, iterate, and test again. If they use an "agile" or iterative development methodology, this process feeds nicely into a scheduled design "sprint". If they follow a traditional "waterfall" development approach (one the gradually unfolds over time), resources must be made available to enable at least one round of changes after initial user testing. Even if you have just two days of user testing planned, you can schedule one to two days of design changes in between to validate that the improvements will be effective.

As an example, one of AnswerLab's user-obsessed clients is a major media site with many sub-sites, including one focused on sports. We partnered closely with the design team during a two-week design sprint to redo the entire site navigation. The research involved three rounds of testing. After each round we led an issue prioritization session with the design team and delivered a plan for changes while the design team iterated. The design delivered a new navigation structure that enabled users to access desired content more quickly, resulted in significantly higher user satisfaction, and allowed the team to go from start to finish on the project in just two weeks—far faster than when using traditional development and user-testing methods.

7. Get feedback in creative ways 

Let's be realistic. You won't always have the time or budget to do user-experience research. In these situations, customer-obsessed companies get creative. They rely on inventive research approaches to guide their design decisions rather than no research at all. For example, the design agency redesigning the brand website for a major automotive company wanted user feedback on the site, but hadn't budgeted for research. To solicit quick feedback, it relied on research respondents whom did not require payment (the design agency's employees in human resources and finance), paper prototypes, and a webcam that was streamed into a neighboring office.

Although the client didn't learn as much as it would have with the right target audience, a better representation of the stimuli, and a more sophisticated lab, it did uncover key user needs that guided decision-making.  In fact, the company learned a fundamental user need—consumers want the site to "show me the differences" between car models. Using this down-n-dirty research approach, the automotive company and design agency received several core useful insights rather than no insights at all.

8. Measure your impact on attitudes and perceptions (not just clicks)

User-obsessed companies look at regular benchmarks to confirm that the changes to their products have an impact not only on the bottom line but also on customer satisfaction, attitudes, and impressions.  Analytic data for traffic, clicks, page views, and time provide lots of numbers for comparison, but they don't tell you why people are doing what they do—how customers feel. User experience benchmarks like these can round out the picture and ensure you're hitting a home run on every "key performance indicator".

Typically benchmarks are done quantitatively with 200-plus customers either by sending them to your digital product or intercepting them while they're on it. There are two basic approaches to measurement that work:

  • The sandwich: This is appropriate when digital product changes happen all at once through a major overhaul. This can be done either by sending users to the digital product to do tasks or by intercepting them while using the product.
  • Continuous benchmarking: This is appropriate when your product or service undergoes continuous changes. It typically involves a persistent intercept survey within the digital product and provides monthly or quarterly reports.

Companies that rely on this kind of benchmarking data know whether changes to their sites are having the user experience impact they want. And they know whether to change course if they're not.

9. Look beyond what people say

What people say is not always what they do. For that reason, smart user-focused companies don't rely on customers to "tell" them what they saw on ads, websites, and e-mail campaigns. Instead they use eye tracking to show them where customers focus their attention on the webpage. This insight leads to smarter business decisions around call-to action placement, logo position within ads, and product page optimization.

Eye tracking is an ideal tool for observing and understanding how users visually process an experience on screen. Here's a great example from a study we at AnswerLab completed on online dating sites. Although all participants told us they seek the same personal information online when making decisions about potential mates, eye tracking showed us that men look more and women read more. Although not surprising, the finding helps highlight that what people say and what they do are often in conflict.

10. Get customer insights the right way

Although the user experience research field is relatively young, there are many methods and techniques for learning about your customers. No single method can properly answer all your questions. And, you need to be extra careful about which methods you choose.  For example, you should never conduct usability testing in a focus group setting—the attendees will influence each other's behavior and comments. You should also never predict product adoption by asking users in a one-on-one interview if they would use your product—they always say yes to avoid hurt feelings.

User-obsessed companies use a blend of methodologies to triangulate on their business questions. For example, a major pizza delivery chain wanted to significantly increase online orders.  So its research objectives were twofold: (1) find out how the company could get phone-order customers to switch to online and (2) learn how convert more online visitors to customers.

To answer part 1, the company required focus groups to find out why phone customers preferred the phone over online. But to answer part 2, a live-site intercept survey was necessary to find out why visitors were abandoning the online order process. We needed to ask customers in the context of their site visit. Even if you have just one business goal, you might need multiple research questions that require different methodologies. User-obsessed companies realize they need to apply the right combination to turn up the best and most effective business insights.