This is part of our guide to help UX research teams drive a human insight transformation inside a company.

When you arrive at the Culture of Human Insight phase, all the hard work you’ve done in the previous phases has paid off. Your UX research team is focused on high-level strategic work while also offering support to others who collect customer feedback and human insight. Teams across the organization seek human insight, apply them to important decisions, and share their learnings.

You and your colleagues have created a company-wide, shared understanding of who your customers are as human beings, not data points, so you can make better, more empathetic decisions. The customer-centric culture you’ve helped to build enables everyone to create true and meaningful connections with the customers they serve so they can build the best experiences possible.

Sounds amazing, right? The important caveat here is that very few companies have truly reached this phase. Some are nearly there, and many more are striving for it.

With that in mind, we’ve framed the content of this chapter to support those of you whose companies are close to embracing a Culture of Human Insight but may need a few more shifts or tweaks to get there.

Key attributes of the Culture of Human Insight phase

  • UX research team serves as Center of Excellence, either formally or informally, that continues to activate teams, support socialization of key learnings, and evangelize human insight
  • Human insight is programmatically built into key processes and decisions
  • Key learnings and resulting actions from human insight are tied to business impact
  • Human insight proliferates through the company and is built into the DNA; learnings are shared and socialized across all levels of the organization
  • Anyone can easily empathize with customers directly or indirectly

Companies in the Culture of Human Insight phase have replaced the practice of guessing with the habit of asking.

Companies in the Culture of Human Insight phase have replaced the practice of guessing with the habit of asking. And although you’ve built systems and processes that support the work, reaching this phase requires a company-wide change in mindset and behavior. 

The Culture of Human Insight mindset is cultivated in one of two ways:

  1. It’s built into a company from day one.
  2. It’s part of a company transformation.

Building human insight into a company from day one: The companies that embrace a Culture of Human Insight almost always evolved with human insight embedded in their business practices from day one. A great example of this is Canva; they’ve been investing in human insight as they’ve built and grown their company.

One of their strategic applications of human insight was when they tested their first-time user experience and realized that potential users were held back because they didn’t believe they could create graphics on their own. 

In response, Canva added onboarding that emphasized the ease and simplicity of their tool and assured new users they’d succeed. They even created a short introductory video to help new users see how easy it is to use Canva and to eliminate the preconceived notion that design is hard to learn. These important changes helped Canva get off to a fast start. 

And the company continues to use human insight throughout its growth. Today the company has a valuation of $26 billion and has collected more than 16,000 human insights to inform the way its employees build and scale its platform. 

Human insight is used regularly across the company in engineering, design, product management, and marketing. It’s used for a broad range of tasks, including onboarding, pricing, and improving advertising.

Making human insight part of a company transformation: A Culture of Human Insight can also be created in existing companies that are transforming themselves. Typically this involves not just adopting a human insight tool or product, but also changing existing business practices and culture.

The dedicated UX research team—your team—can be the group that is pushing this agenda forward and getting executives, other teams, and the entire company on board. In fact, this is a great opportunity to evolve your work and your role within the company. Spearheading an effort to build a Culture of Human Insight elevates the practice of UX research and positions you and your teammates as strategic leaders.

This type of transformation requires a huge amount of work, and very few companies would tell you they have completed the journey today. But many are making amazing progress.

Whether you’re a startup or existing business, whether you’re living out the Culture of Human Insight now or still evolving toward it, here are some strategies you can use to continue moving in the right direction.

A Culture of Human insight helps people at your company act with more urgency and with the needs of the customer infusing every discussion, activity, and decision. Everyone has a shared understanding of the customer, as well as a shared desire to augment that understanding so the business can continually learn about and improve upon the experiences it provides.

With that in mind, here are practices to help cement and support your Culture of Human Insight.

Secure executive buy-in

Before you dive into revising old processes or creating new ones, make sure you’ve got visible and vocal support from executive leadership. No matter how compelling and exciting the new processes are, they also require support and enforcement or they won’t take hold. Here’s why:

  • It’s always easier in the short term for people to guess what customers want than it is to truly understand their needs and solve for those. No matter how simple you’ve made it to gather human insight, guessing is always more convenient in the moment. Guessing takes no time or effort. Running a user test takes, at minimum, a few hours. 
  • Many designers, product managers, and marketers are super busy and will take any shortcut they can get. You are asking them to move a little bit slower in order to make the process more reliable and efficient. The pain is immediate and personal; the benefits are delayed and diffuse. 
  • We hire people who have high levels of confidence in themselves and their work, and so of course they think their guesses are correct. 

All of this means that your new or revised protocols will need enforcement. Start by making sure the news comes down as a CEO mandate. Can you imagine undertaking a digital transformation without CEO support? It just wouldn’t work. The same applies when you’re evolving the company toward a Culture of Human Insight. Get multiple key members of the C-suite bought in to ensure sustainable success.

Then recruit an executive sponsor, and make it part of their routine to review and evangelize human insight, related decisions, and how those decisions impacted the business. Make sure that part of the sponsor’s role is to amplify insights broadly and frequently. And make it easy for them to access results so they don’t have to go searching. Help people who collect human insight get into the habit of sharing their results as a matter of course so your sponsor can spread the word.

Consider creating a center of excellence (COE)

If you are a startup planning to incorporate human insight into your culture from scratch, you can bypass this strategy. Your whole company will naturally become a center of excellence. 

But if you’re undertaking a transformation within an existing company, you’ll need a team that supervises and supports the cultural shift to human insight. Usually the UX research team takes this role, but it can also be taken by research experts drawn from other areas of the company. 

Note that the group that is running point on driving the Culture for Human Insight forward doesn’t not need to formally be called a Center of Excellence. Sure, it may help the cause, but it’s not a requirement. And if the term “center of excellence” doesn’t mesh with your company culture, feel free to give this working unit another name. But whatever you do, establish it.

In order for this transformation oversight team to evolve into a permanent and effective COE, either formally or informally, they must be able to work full-time on overseeing the internal transformation. This work cannot be treated as a hobby or a temporary assignment. 

The roles of COE members include:

Avoid folding technology and licensing negotiations into the list of COE responsibilities. The COE is about improving productivity, not nickel-and-diming your teams. The cost savings from broad deployment of human insight are orders of magnitude greater than saving a few thousand dollars by squeezing the suppliers. The COE can’t be financial cops and evangelists at the same time. Those roles contradict each other. 

Allow this group to pour their expertise and energy into directing the transformation, and moving the company toward a sustainable Culture of Human Insight.

Codify where and when human insight is used by each department

Although you’ve empowered other teams to collect and consider human insight on their own, your UX research team can now help those teams take their work to the next level. 

At this phase, you should be consulting with teams and business units on how to use insight strategically, suggesting where else they can be gathering feedback, and advising them on how to turn insight into meaningful action. You are partnering with these teams to add tremendous value to their work by helping them see where and when they should be leveraging human insight to make the best possible business decisions.

You also want to collaborate with these teams to ensure that human insight is a critical and unavoidable part of their work processes. If they collect customer feedback sporadically and are struggling to incorporate it more holistically, start by facilitating a conversation with members of the department. Ask them:

  • Who are your customers?
  • How do you currently determine their needs or preferences?
  • Where do you want more input from them?

Then help them determine what types of feedback they need to collect, where to do it within their process, and ways to incorporate their findings back into their work continuously. Again, make this as simple and unavoidable as possible. Create reusable testing assets so they can get to meaning as quickly as possible. Wherever you can, make it a check-box or requirement so no one will bypass the incorporation of human insight.

This work can also encompass reviewing and rewriting human insight processes to describe exactly which types of user tests will be required when. For example, maybe you create a new policy stating that no prototype can get approved unless there’s a highlight reel of test results supporting its ease of use. Or you make a rule saying no product can complete the discovery stage without an accompanying video of discovery interviews clearly articulating the problem you’re trying to solve. 

Build human insight into the milestones and stage gates, especially if those are managed within a tech stack, and bake it in so it must be done.

Your human insight solution should:

  1. Allow you to create reusable assets, such as test plan templates and audience profiles, and assign them to specific workspaces.
  2. Have integrations into technologies where teams collaborate today, including Slack, Figma, Confluence, SharePoint, etc.

UserTesting resources

Create an empathy feed

Recently, we asked a VP-level product executive how she knows if her company is creating good experiences for her customers. She said that whenever she has a few minutes to spare, she reads customer comments on the company’s Instagram account. We found this disturbing for two reasons.

First, the executive felt so out of touch with her company’s customers that she needed to seek an ad hoc feedback mechanism.

And second, the mechanism she chose was not truly representative of the company’s typical customers. Social network comments on corporate social media feeds are dominated by a subset of extremely vocal customers, usually with a bone to pick. Marketing teams are forced to engage with them because they are noisy and obstreperous, but treating them as a representative sample of your entire customer base isn’t just unwise, it’s dangerous.

To prevent this sad and common scenario, we recommend creating an empathy feed that compiles direct customer feedback from many sources and provides an ongoing stream of customer videos and insight. 

Let people subscribe to this feed; make sure the entire company has easy access to it. Structure it to be engaging, simple, and fun for anyone in the company to learn whenever they have a few free minutes. (It’s a much better alternative than absorbing the latest outrage from Twitter.)  

How to build an empathy feed:

  • Collect content from multiple sources: In addition to sharing videos from user tests, pull in customer video from other sources, like customer calls recorded through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Chorus, Gong, or another service.
  • Build content generators for the feed: You can create some regularly scheduled studies that run automatically and ask key questions. These shouldn’t be the majority of the empathy feed content, but they can augment other contributions.
  • Create a mechanism to collect and organize compelling moments: Train people to tag video using consistent tags that will flag them for the feed. Make sure they do this any time they run studies to collect human insight.
  • Recruit wunderkinds as curators: Ask folks who know how to create social video content to curate and maintain the feed. You’re looking for YouTube- or TikTok-style short clips with punchy messages.

Wrap everything up in a channel people can subscribe to, and make sure it will notify them proactively when new information is posted. Extra points if people can up-vote their favorites. Make your empathy feed dynamic and interactive.

Your human insight solution should:

  1. Allow you to establish a standard set of tags to make human insight easy to find and consume. 
  2. Provide search capabilities to quickly locate themes or findings by the established set of tags.
  3. Allow you to put together a compelling group of videos, often called a highlight reel, to share with others in your organization. 

UserTesting resources

Make “ask, don’t guess” your motto 

Ensuring that human insight informs all business decisions requires a commitment to continually asking questions. Any time anyone is preparing to make a decision that will impact customers, those customers should be consulted. No more guessing or bypassing insight-gathering. Always check.

FamilySearch took this advice to heart when they were planning to expand their market reach. After serving North America for decades, the company was excited at the prospect of opening up its service to China, home to 20% of the world’s population. But the product and design team knew the expansion would be a huge undertaking—one that needed to go smoothly to provide the best experience possible for new users in a foreign language.

FamilySearch knew they had built an enduring and popular platform experience. But they also knew it was based on decades of Western cultural assumptions, and that they needed to re-examine their assumptions about how to provide the search experience in a part of the world with very different cultural norms. The team needed fresh perspectives from real users. 

They searched for and connected with dozens of target test contributors, including people with bilingual fluency in Chinese and English and a number of other specific requirements. FamilySearch used both live and self-guided testing approaches to capture human insight.   

And the tests were absolutely priceless. The company learned firsthand about how different Chinese customer expectations were compared to Americans. As Eric Leach, Senior Product Manager, says, “I think everyone gets excited when they find a family record for the first time. But for our Chinese users, they generally don’t find just one record at a time. The way the Chinese genealogical system works, it’s like a family tree in reverse where instead of starting with yourself and going backward in time, you start with a family name from a single individual who may have lived hundreds of years ago and then search through an entire book with a thousand people stemming from that one person. So when you make that kind of discovery, it’s like taking your feelings and multiplying them by a thousand.”

Today, FamilySearch product and design managers don’t just get statistics and analytic data, they can see the non-verbal cues and emotion behind what causes problems for real users, and, better yet, what success looks like in the eyes of the customer with a clear understanding of why. All because they made “ask, don’t guess” their motto.

Consider enforcing your new motto with a policy around “empathy hours” or “exposure hours,” required monthly time during which people across the company meet and interact with customers or review recorded human insight. A practice like this ensures your colleagues never lose sight of their customers’ perspectives and needs, with the added bonus of serving as a success metric.

Consider a “customer connect” program

Some companies are attempting to remedy their lack of customer empathy through “customer connect” programs in which they proactively arrange regularly scheduled conversations between customers and employees. 

Tesco Bank’s design team did this by creating Customer Wednesdays, a program in which they brought in live customers for face-to-face interviews.

“About four years ago, we introduced Customer Wednesdays, a day dedicated to spending time with our customers face-to-face,” says Catherine Richards, head of customer design at Tesco Bank. “Bringing customers into the building, having them sit in front of staff… This was something that was quite new. But what we wanted to do was lower the barrier to our customers and really connect with them.” 

Customer Wednesdays led to some significant internal changes at Tesco Bank. For starters, the role of the design team shifted. This group was once seen as an add-on to other business functions, but once customer input began to infuse the company at large, design became central to the creation of new propositions, products, and physical spaces. 

The actual customer-facing sessions reached ninety per year in 2020, the equivalent of spending eighteen days face-to-face with Tesco Bank customers. Work done during Customer Wednesdays includes many approaches to user testing, and the company reports gaining around 50 new insights each year that directly support business cases.

Post-COVID, it can be difficult to coordinate safe in-person interviews but remote video interviews often work just as well. We’re aware of a top ten consumer goods company that is doing this with hundreds of mid-level managers globally. 

If you’d like to pursue a customer connect program for your own company, here are our tips for success:

  • Evangelize the program. Get leaders and executives to talk about it, why it’s important, and how team members can get involved.
  • Make it easy to get involved. Give your colleagues an easy way to engage or sign up. 
  • Provide guidance. Support them with mentoring, training, and plenty of resources. They may feel nervous about the process or worry about asking the right questions. Put them at ease, walk them through the process, and make sure they know how to troubleshoot. For example, give them a list of potential questions to ask to get them started but allow them to add their own.
  • Share interesting moments broadly. Mine recorded customer connect sessions for the empathy feed

If your company isn’t ready to invest in human insight software or tools, use your company’s video conferencing program to schedule and record customer interviews. Starting with software your colleagues already understand helps make the process less daunting.

And here’s a short but very necessary list of what NOT to do: 

  • Do not try to transform your colleagues into professional interviewers. That will turn them off and create barriers to adoption. Don’t set up a long training program or require them to spend hours practicing. Instead, help them feel excited about chatting directly with customers, and encourage them to build good habits. Focus on the positive instead of hounding them about minutiae. 
  • Don’t make customer connect interviews performative. People who work in behind-the-scenes roles will benefit tremendously from talking directly to customers on their own; they’ll benefit far less from observing you interview someone while they watch behind a two-way mirror. Adding internal pressure to an already stressful or new practice will not help. If people ask for guidance, by all means, give it to them, but don’t hover around them to catch mistakes or wrongdoings. 

Your human insight solution should:

  1. Connect you with your target audience, both prospects and existing customers, in any location.
  2. Allow you to schedule live interviews to be completed within 24 hours.
  3. Allow others to join and observe.

UserTesting resources

Create a culture of one-to-many sharing of human insight

In addition to creating and curating an empathy feed, you should make it routine for employees to share human insight as part of their daily work. Make, “When you see it, share it,” your mantra. This can be done in email, through messaging apps like Slack, or via other internal communications. 

Related to this, many companies that have reached the Culture of Human Insight phase will host watch parties. These are usually a casual affair where employees are asked to join at lunch time, watch some customer videos together, then discuss what they learned afterwards. Watch parties are a great way for teams to build a shared understanding of their customers. This strategy works great when people are together in the office, but you can also do it remotely and ask participants to react to the videos via chat comments.

Meal kit service HelloFresh has evolved their watch parties into a company-wide 30-minute ”Insights Show” in which everyone watches customer videos together, stopping them from time to time for comments and to guess what will happen next. The group setting and creative presentation has made these meetings highly popular in the company.

Your human insight solution should:

  1. Provide sharing capabilities of videos, visualizations, and other data.

UserTesting resources

Turn your customer-facing practices inward

Every department in your organization has a customer or stakeholder that they serve. When we speak of human insight we tend to think of departments that face external customers, but many companies also have internal-facing departments like tech support and HR. Employee-facing teams can also benefit from collecting and/or consuming human insight. 

UserTesting models this strategy. In recent years, the company planned to purchase a new array of benefits for its employees. However, the organization’s People department needed to understand the right mix of benefits that employees would actually want. The team also needed to ensure that once the company rolled out these new benefits, every employee would understand how to choose the best options and access information about their benefits going forward.

The People Team tested their annual benefits survey with a small group of employees and adjusted it based on the feedback they received. Then, they launched the benefits survey to the larger employee population to learn which types of benefits appealed to them most, and why. Through clarity from employee preferences, the People Team deployed additional tests in which employees evaluated the information provided about UserTesting’s new benefits and perks in the enrollment platform and the mobile app.

Based on the insights they received, UserTesting was able to offer the most comprehensive employee benefits package in its history while staying within budget. Knowing that these new benefits addressed the broader needs and wants of all employees—like a greater focus on mental health and child/elder care—the insights gained gave the team a much higher degree of confidence in their decision making process.

And the revised messaging in their benefits deployment, also based on testing, helped the employees understand how to more easily and accurately select their packages, and use their benefits going forward. 

Your human insight solution should:

  1. Allow you to get feedback from any target audience, including company employees.

UserTesting resources

You’re on your way

That’s it! By championing the importance of human insight and helping shift your company’s culture, you are moving your entire organization toward happier customers and higher productivity.

Even if you find yourself squarely in the Culture of Human Insight phase, remember that UX researchers can never truly stop advocating for more and broader incorporation of human insight. 

Wherever you are on the journey, remember these three points:

  • Get support from your C-level. Because you’re making changes to processes and responsibilities, you need senior management support and enforcement. You won’t get there without enthusiastic executive advocacy.
  • Focus on building instant feedback into your culture and business processes. That is the simplest—and in many ways, the most important—goal you have as you work to fold in more human insight. How do you show up where people already gather so they can talk to customers regularly?
  • Do not try to turn people into researchers. Teach them how to get feedback for their decisions and create systems so they don’t have to learn research techniques to get insights. 

Photo by Håkon Grimstad 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.