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PHOTO: Felix Mittermeier

If you build it, they will come.

This has often been the approach of organizations looking to develop new digital platforms and solutions across their business for staff, suppliers and customers. After all, you know your organization best and surely understand the landscape your solution operates in and how to best meet stakeholder needs? Right?

While 91% of organizations are involved in digital initiatives, we are all aware of the sobering statistic that 70% of digital transformation programs fail. The reasons for failure are often complex, but it’s clear that organizations often overestimate how well they understand end-user problems, constraints and desires. This leads to the development of digital solutions that are frustrating or even discriminatory. For example, in 2019 Visa lost a lawsuit that alleged its website was not accessible for blind customers.

Having an inaccessible website is the digital equivalent of sticking a big “do not enter” sign in front of your business for a range of users, from the visually impaired to older people, those in rural areas, and people in developing countries.

So, how can organizations better resolve fundamental disconnects between their customer’s digital expectations and actual customer experience?

The answer is the introduction of a distinct discovery phase in any digital project.

What Is Discovery?

Discovery is a preliminary phase of a digital project that seeks to establish a deep understanding of your users and the problems they are trying to solve. It also looks at the constraints a solution must operate within and any technical considerations that are relevant to the end solution.

Through various user research methodologies and data gathering exercises, the discovery team should achieve an understanding of who the users are and how they are affected by a particular problem, as well as what they need, desire and value from a solution.

The discovery stage is also suitable for digital products and services in any industry and of any complexity. It is usually undertaken by a distinct discovery team which can be of any size, however roles typically include user researchers, business analysts, designers, product managers and business stakeholders.

Related Article: Curiouser and Curiouser – Drawing the Line Between DXP and CDP

Why Invest in Data-Driven User Research?

My early career experience working as part of a cross-functional product team instilled in me a deep belief that we have to collect and follow the data.

Like many teams, we were subject to stakeholder pressure to build certain features which we had high reservations about due to their complexity and slim impact on our customer's end goals. To back up our case, we developed clickable wireframes of one proposed feature and ran a remote moderated user test program where we watched existing customers try to navigate and give feedback on the solution.

The results were illuminating. Most users were completely uninterested in the feature, they found the updated interface too cluttered and confusing. We were able to go back to the stakeholder team with these results and successfully argue that it was not viable to spend six months of development time on something that only 10% of our user base were interested in and even worse, that most users were confused by.

This example illustrates the undeniable business case for understanding clearly who your likely users are and what they’re trying to do with your service/platform.

You can also use various research methodologies to understand how customers currently solve their problem (perhaps by using your direct and indirect competition) and the problems or frustrations they experience.

Related Article: Remote UX Research: A Necessity Now, But Valuable at any Time

What Are the Outcomes of the Discovery Process?

One of the main outcomes of discovery should be a clear description of the problem, backed up with evidence that details how big it is and why it’s important to users. Evidence can include qualitative and quantitative data, from eye tracking on wireframes and A/B tests to participatory design workshops and focus groups.

This user data combined with your high-level wireframes/specifications should enable you to develop a service blueprint — a diagram that visualizes the relationships between people, platforms and processes.

This outline ensures you have documented every customer touchpoint and how this corresponds to the goals your customers are trying to achieve.

This service blueprint can then be broken down further into user-journey maps, which focus on distinct customer segments (i.e. trade vs. general public). This ensures that every customer type and scenario is accounted for and taken into consideration when designing the end solution.

Related Article: What Should Your Digital Experience Stack Look Like? It Depends

Turning Insight Into Action

The discovery phase comes to its conclusion when it becomes clear there’s a viable service you are able to build that would make it easier for users (of one or multiple types) to solve their problem/s.

However on occasion, user research will clearly indicate that your proposed solution is not viable, as my previous story outlines. In this scenario we were able to convince the stakeholders that it would be unwise to pursue a feature that did not add significant value to our customers. This was the right call to make from a financial and customer satisfaction perspective. However, we had spent a great deal of time and energy in finding this out, which some may perceive as sunken cost.

This is not the case. The research we did actually revealed a widespread customer problem and therefore a feature opportunity in an adjacent area that we could build a viable solution for.

This achieved stakeholder sign-off based on our compelling data-driven argument — we were able to deploy within three months to great customer acclaim.