Traditional market research takes weeks or months to deliver insights, meaning it can be used to inform only the biggest, slowest-moving decisions. Many companies make their quicker, tactical decisions based on guesses and limited quantitative data, without the benefit of fresh human insight. But the same mechanisms that brought fast feedback to UX design are now empowering companies to incorporate customer feedback into almost any decision being made within the organization.

The possibilities are so broad that few people understand all of the ways human insight is starting to be used. Here are seven emerging uses we’re seeing in human insight:

1. Validate the resonance of marketing content before it launches

Recent surveys have shown that more than half of marketing deliverables are never validated with customers before going live. This creates enormous risk that marketing teams will waste significant amounts of time and money on deliverables that don’t resonate with customers. Untested marketing can also damage the brand when a message is misunderstood or angers customers unexpectedly. The internet has a way of remembering brands that have released unintentionally insensitive or offensive messages to customers.

Fast feedback can be easily applied to pre-launch content to answer key questions like:

  • Does the target audience understand and resonate to the message?
  • Does the message align with the voice of the brand?
  • Are there any misspellings or mistakes within the copy?
  • Could the message accidentally offend or anger some customers?

Liquid Agency turned to the fast feedback approach when it recently needed to quickly capture insights on brand concept, campaign and strategy. The approach allowed the team to collect crucial human insights 75% faster and at 25% of the cost of more traditional means. As the company’s Chief Strategy Officer, Dennis Hahn, put it, “The decision was between testing fast, or not testing at all.”

In order to ensure that their rebrand and messaging resonated with its customers, Athletic Greens turned to fast feedback. This approach provided their team with critical insights from actual customers that helped the company understand how to describe the product in a way that made sense as well as position the product’s value and packages available to purchase on their site. This customer-centric approach led to a 5% increase in online checkouts.

A major online education company was planning a full rebranding. In the past, for this sort of activity it would have scheduled live in-office interviews at its headquarters. This process was slow and expensive, there were a lot of no-shows, and the results were biased because all of the interviews were recruited in a single city.

Using human insight, the company scheduled online interviews with more than 40 customers, testing everything from copy and logos to the brand’s color scheme and tagline. Plus the feedback was more relevant, because the company could recruit nationwide. The entire process took a few days, compared to weeks for traditional research. The results enabled the company to go ahead confidently with its rebranding, with good results.

2. See the competition through your customers’ eyes

Most people assume you should use human insight to test your own experiences and ideas, but there’s no reason to limit yourself to that. You can learn a lot by evaluating the broad experiences offered by competing businesses. When you see your competitors through the eyes of customers, you’ll get new ideas on how to improve your offerings, and you may find weaknesses in their approach that you can target. Here are some examples:

  • Messaging. What do people think about the way your competitors are communicating? How does that compare to your own messaging?
  • Online Journeys. How do people react to your competitor’s web experiences? Is their website easy to use and navigate? 
  • Creative Treatments. How do people react to ad copy/images and social posts of your competitors? Is there anything that strongly resonates with your customers?
  • Purchasing Experience. Is there anything that your competitors are doing to make the online purchase experience easier for their customers (if applicable)? How does that compare to the purchasing experience that you provide your customers?
  • Retail Experience. If there’s a retail element to your business, what do people like and dislike about the retail experiences offered by your competitors? How does that inform the retail experience that you are offering your customers?
  • Customer Experience. What is it like to be a customer of your competitor? What do customers broadly like and dislike about their experience as a customer?
  • Brand positioning. Does your competition’s branding resonate with customers? What values and ideas do they connect on, and why? Is that connection reflected in their products and services?
  • Setup. What is it like to set up and use the competition’s product or service? 
  • Partners and team. How do the competitor’s partners and employees feel about their relationship with the competitor? What do they like best and dislike most?
  • Sales. How do customers feel about their interactions with the competitor’s sales organization (if applicable). What do they like and dislike most?
  • Pricing. How do customers react to the competition’s pricing? Dig beyond “high/low” comparisons. Does anything confuse them? Do they feel it’s fair? What does the pricing structure incent them to do, and how do they feel about it? How do they contrast that to your pricing? This is especially important for companies with complex pricing, especially B2B companies.

Why is it important?

It’s very easy for companies to believe their own sales and marketing hype about the competition: “they’re reckless, unprofessional, cut corners, etc.” Those impressions are often fed by stories from discontented customers and employees who turned away from the competitor. All of those stereotypes about the competitor may be true, but you won’t know for sure unless you test them with neutral customers. Chances are there’s a very good reason why your competitor is still in business, and you need to understand what it is. Looking through the eyes of their customers and partners is a great way to learn the truth.

ADT, a well known company in the home security space, was recently revamping the mobile application used by their customers to control their home security system. They had all sorts of intel about the app features offered by their competitors, but they did not have the rich, qualitative perspective of how those competitors’ customers felt about using their apps. So their product team utilized the fast feedback approach to observe their competitors’ customers using their apps. Ultimately, the insights captured through this exercise helped ADT understand which competitors have the best functions, key learnings that enabled the team to confidently prioritize which features should be integrated within their own app. 

3. Understand how your employees feel about working for your company

Most companies that strive to create great employee experiences use internal surveys to capture quantitative data on employee preferences and company culture. This is an important practice that we fully support, but the companies that offer the best and most meaningful employee experiences are going another step further by regularly incorporating empathy data and human insights to reveal why their employees feel a certain way about a particular topic. Employee surveys are only going to give you statistics, but by capturing richer insights you can better understand why employees feel the way they do and what suggestions they may have for improving employee experience.

Many companies also neglect to capture feedback on the custom software tools designed internally and used every day by employees of the company. Frustration with internal systems can be a big driver of employee discontent, so fast feedback should inform the design of the your internal software and processes, just as it does your external ones.

Why is it important?

Creating an environment that promotes employee happiness, satisfaction and engagement is especially important today with so many employees working remotely and low unemployment rates that make it easy to switch jobs. It’s difficult for many HR teams to have the in-person conversations that they previously relied on to keep in touch with attitudes.. 

Practicing what they preach (or drinking their own champagne as they like to say), the UserTesting People Team regularly uses its own human insights platform to gather feedback on decisions impacting employees. Issues include what benefits packages to offer, how to attract top-tier talent, and how employees feel about coming into the office versus working from home.

Here’s an example of the sort of employee feedback you can collect through human insight. UserTesting asked support agents to discuss their jobs. In this clip, an agent describes the frustrations of her job.

Frustrations of a support agent

4. Stay on top of rapid market changes and major new issues 

When any major change affects the market, it’s critical to rapidly understand what your customers are feeling, why, and how that will change their buying patterns. You can’t rely on the industry consensus because often that consensus is wrong. In times of rapidly shifting conditions, it can be easy for companies to come across as out of touch or emotionally wrong, infuriating or alienating customers when they are already stressed. In these moments, speed and objective insights are essential. Fast human insight is the ground truth that your teams need in order to make the right, customer centric decisions. 

Why is it important?

In March of 2020, Covid-19 drove a sudden shift in consumer behavior, as people were forced to stay at home and rely on the internet for their daily needs. For many businesses, this meant embracing new technologies and digital solutions to find new ways to reach their customers and keep their companies running. This itself was a wrenching change, but then as the pandemic waned there was another big shift as consumers moved back to pre-pandemic behaviors. Many companies missed one or both of those turns, costing them dearly in lost revenue and overspending. The businesses that leaned into capturing rich insights quickly were able to make better decisions at the speed of the market.

For example, perhaps no industry was more negatively impacted by Covid-19 than air travel. Alaska Airlines lost $450 million in just 30 days early in the pandemic. “For 55 days,” CEO, Brad Tilden told the Seattle Times, “we had more cancellations than new ticket sales.” But the company was able to quickly pivot and adopt new safety measures welcomed by their customers based on rapid feedback received from the few travelers that were still flying, despite the risks.  

As a result of the feedback received, the airline pioneered many of the changes that ended up being adopted by almost every other airline to make customers confident during pandemic air travel.

5. Build empathy and inclusion into your company’s decision-making

Doing business online makes companies more efficient, but it also breaks the human ties and understanding that people develop when they interact face to face. The pandemic accelerated this distancing, and many executives worry that their people are losing touch with the human needs of customers, and of each other. Most companies want to pursue empathy and inclusiveness, but it’s hard to implement. Engaging with customers and hearing them describe their first-hand perspectives is a key part of that process. Their stories, and the act of listening to them, are the foundation of inclusiveness and empathy for everyone. A human insight system is the fastest way to have those conversations at scale.

For example, two Fortune 500 companies, one in consumer products and one in technology, have created broad “Customer Connects” programs which require employees to interact directly with customers on a regular basis via online video. These live conversations are designed to help keep the employees grounded in customer realities and empathetic to their needs. For more information on how the programs work and how to set one up, see our article here.

6. Explore new frontiers in customer experience such as chat, VR, and AR

In order to create more engagement for their customers, companies are exploring new forms of interaction such as augmented reality, virtual reality and chat. As adoption for these new experiences becomes more widespread, customer expectations for them are changing as well. 

For AR and VR, this means creating an experience that is useful, visually appealing, and user-friendly. Customers must be able to interact with these experiences in a natural and intuitive way, without the need for complex instructions or extensive training.

Likewise, chatbots must be designed with the user experience in mind. Customers expect fast, accurate responses to their queries, without repetitive or irrelevant messages. The recent release of more advanced chatbot experiences powered by generative AI like ChatGPT is creating a greater urgency for brands to keep up and stay relevant in the space. 

Each of these experiences are in danger of falling short of customer expectations if brands do not incorporate fast feedback into their design and deployment. The good news is that there are relatively simple and straightforward ways to collect feedback from users.

This video from UserTesting shows people experiencing a VR application for the first time. As you’ll see, parts of it are delightful, and parts are confusing.

People explore a VR app

Here’s a classic video from YouTube showing what happened when a user had trouble communicating with a smart speaker (we took the liberty of adding subtitles so you can follow the action). In this sort of situation, people often resort to speaking slower and louder. It’s the spoken equivalent of rage clicking.

Communicating with a smart speaker

Why is it important?

As we have seen in a number of recent examples, when not tested thoroughly, experiences on new interfaces can go horribly and frighteningly wrong. Companies that prioritize speed over quality without incorporating human feedback into their design decisions are at risk of launching experiences that frustrate or even frighten users. 

7. Follow your customers “into the wild” to understand the real world they live in

Many companies struggle to understand how their products and messages interact with the clutter and distractions of the real world. How well does your message play when it’s surrounded by other content online or on a streaming service? How do customers feel using your mobile app when walking down a busy street? What do they think about their lives and daily tasks? Traditional research on these subjects is extremely expensive and slow, and often involves sending researchers and film crews into the field. As a result, it’s rarely done.

Human insight systems make it easy and quick to observe your customers within their native environment, giving you and your team a deeper understanding of their behaviors, the challenges that they face, and the tools and solutions they use to overcome them.

For example: 

  • A product manager working on new features in a fitness app can remotely observe customers using those features during the course of their normal fitness routines, to better understand how they get incorporated (or not) and what those features enhance about the overall workout experience.
  • A designer working on features for a car’s touchscreen computer can observe a user interacting those features in the actual vehicle.
  • A team working on a grocery ordering app can observe the omnichannel journey that may start on a mobile application and end with picking up groceries in-store.
  • A designer creating a voice interactive experience to control a home appliance like a stove can remotely observe home cooks engaging with voice features in their actual home kitchens making an actual meal (see the section above on new interfaces).

This video shows how a human insight system can help you perfect even a complex omnichannel journey.

The online recipe journey

Why is this important?

How people think they will use products in a hypothetical environment will often be different from how they actually use the same products in real-world situations. The same thing goes for opinions and perceptions. Observing your customers in their natural environment will help your team identify how solutions may or may not be integrated, and may uncover additional opportunities to design new features that help your customers overcome additional unexpected challenges.

Next steps

The main limitation on what you can do with human insight is your own imagination. If you think of human insight as a way to do usability research, you’ll limit it to traditional UX usability tests. We encourage you to think of human insight as a way to collect fast feedback and insights on anything, anywhere, at any time. Once you look at it that way, you’ll be on the road to optimizing everything your company does for customers, and beyond.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of UserTesting or its affiliates.