[Don’t] Listen to your Customers
Today’s product and design leaders often rely heavily on the word of their customers when building their product road maps; whether it’s a customer survey or a phone interview, loads of qualitative data through these methods is being collected and used to dictate how to design and develop products. Seems like a foolproof plan, right? Actually, no—a sole reliance on customer input and feedback is built on an antiquated model of human decision making that assumes humans are rational. Let’s take a look at why. The standard advice for getting inside users’ brains is, “talk with them directly.” As the Ideo.org design guide says: “There’s no better way to understand the hopes, desires, and aspirations of those you’re designing for than by talking with them directly.” In some cases, this works. In many others, however, it fails fantastically. Why? Much of our behavior, as proven time and time again in psychological research, is shaped by mental gymnastics we’re not even aware of. In order to truly understand user motivation, we need to often go beyond the interview and dig deep into observation and environment. Imagine you’re a researcher at a company. You’ve been tasked with increasing employee participation in retirement savings programs. Your company already tried doing in-depth financial education to no avail; only 47% of their employees are signing up for sponsored retirement plans, which is a big deal when you consider similar companies boast 90% participation. Your company wants to do away with this disparity, and it’s your job to figure out what’s causing it. If you’re following the typical PM and researcher script, you’d start with the customer. You’d ask people why they are or are not saving for retirement. We did this. We asked over 900 people nationwide why they were or weren’t saving for retirement.¹ We asked in different ways to make sure we represented how a typical research would ask the question.. For example, we gave some participants multiple-choice questions (a quantitative, survey-based research method) and others open-ended text responses (a qualitative, interview-based method). Surprisingly, regardless of how we asked the question, their answers did not reflect reality. The answers were not only misleading, they completely missed the core insight on what actually drove them to save or not save for retirement. What people said: 86%² of people who were saving for retirement cited how important it was to have money for the future, saying things like “I want to be able to have something to fall back on” and “I want to be prepared and live comfortably.” Whereas people who were not saving for retirement said things like: “I can barely afford to pay bills.” 64% of this group blamed not having enough money. These seem like reasonable, intuitive responses. However, they are false. The real reason: The real reason people save for retirement or (don’t save) is because they’ve been defaulted into a savings plan. Companies who automatically enroll employees in a retirement savings plan increase savings rates by 50 percentage points.³ It has nothing to do with a preference for the future or not having enough money. But some people probably got it correct, right? Right?! Not really. How many employees were able to articulate why they choose to save or not save for retirement? Across all conditions, only 6.2% of participants mentioned anything close to enrollment form design or default enrollment. Getting granular, while 12.3% of multiple choice respondents cited default enrollment as the reason they’re saving, » Read More
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