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In this series, we’re introducing you to the authors of The Customer Onboarding Handbook, our ebook on how to create experiences that lead to meaningful long-term engagement with a product or service, available to download for free. 

In this instalment, we’re getting to know Lauren Isaacson, a market and user experience research consultant from Vancouver, British Columbia. A researcher for almost 20 years, Lauren has been consulting independently since 2016. She’s also a board member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association and a co-chair of their Pacific Northwest Chapter. 

Lauren is a big proponent of developing community within the research field on a national and local level by hosting research meetups in her home city and accepting leadership positions with professional organizations for researchers. She gives back to the community and environment by doing volunteer work and making donations as a member of 1% for the Planet.

Here Lauren tells us about the role customer research plays in creating an engaging customer experience and how you conduct it in a way that’s more inclusive. 

How important is customer research for the onboarding process?

Understanding your customers and their needs is very important because you don't want to rely solely on assumptions. Otherwise you tend to base things on stereotypes and a lot of unknowns. Very often you could be wrong, so it's crucial to talk to potential customers. 

Talk to people going through the onboarding process about where your company is succeeding, where your company is falling short, and how you can level those areas out. The first interactions are critical to the customer experience. They help you understand what your customer thinks of you and whether or not they are going to be a short-term customer who tries you out and leaves—or a long-term customer who sticks with you through every iteration of your product.

That's where the research comes in: Figure out how you can help lift people up and make sure that their success is your success.

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What kind of onboarding mistakes do you see organizations make and how do you avoid them?

It can be very simple usability issues with how people come to your product, create accounts, and learn how to use it. Or it can be very complex where you're just not getting their needs, or what they want to get out of your product, or what information they need surfaced immediately in order to begin using your product or service. That can happen a lot and very easily when you don't know enough about who is using your product and why they are coming to you. 

Onboarding can be internal as well, such as how you onboard new employees and new team members. Then it’s about how you get people to be able to manage themselves and their social interactions to really embed and attach themselves within your organization. If that's difficult for them, if they feel lost within the organization, then they're probably not going to stick around or be as effective as they could be. 

What’s your chapter in The Customer Onboarding Handbook about?

Being a researcher, of course, my chapter is on research. I wrote about journey mapping, which is definitely something that a lot of organizations should undertake. It helps you really understand the points you need to hit, how people go through the process, how you can best manage it and the levels of engagement within that process that can really kick things up a notch and make it a really great experience for them. 

My take adds personas to the mix. You may have different opinions on personas and whether or not they're useful, but when it comes to journey mapping, it's essential to understand your customer personas because they act as lenses that you can observe the customer experience through. 

Personas tend to be very flat but someone with a novice persona who comes into a customer journey is going to have a very different experience and very different needs than someone who could be labeled as having an expert persona. So you’re going to need to talk to them and serve them very differently to effectively get them through to the end point.

How do you conduct customer research that's more inclusive?

When I developed my work around inclusive research, I talked to a lot of people in the digital accessibility space. I relied very much on them and their expertise in order to influence my thinking on how we as researchers can do that as well. A lot of it came down to universal design, which is about giving people options. 

A really great example are inclusive playgrounds that feature equipment that people can climb up but that also have gentle ramps for kids in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. They enable them to get up to the same point and have the same play experience as someone who has full mobility and can climb a ladder. 

So how can we as researchers provide that as well? How do we provide those same kinds of options and make things very basic and simple, so that customers can get the information that they need? 

On survey platforms, for example, it’s very popular to have drag-and-drop questions. Those are fun and very visually engaging but they exclude people who aren't able to use a trackpad or a mouse and only use the keyboard for web navigation. We have to take that into account when we carry out our research either in person or online. We need to identify people who may have a different need and think about what we can do to make sure they have the same level experience as everybody else, so they are able to participate fully in the interview or the focus group. 

If we can make those adjustments, we can be that same kind of playground that has both a ladder and a gentle ramp, so that everybody has a full participatory experience in what you are trying to accomplish.

Are there any tools you'd like to recommend?

From a research perspective, nothing is better than just talking to your customers. You can do that in multiple different ways: Interview your customers via a video call using tools like Zoom or Google Meet, over the phone, or talk to them face to face. When you are conducting research with real people, however, it’s really important that you handle personally identifying information with great care. 

If you are going to collect, store, and utilize that information, you need to be very aware of the legal liabilities that go along with it. Be very careful about how you manage people's personally identifying information. It can be a video or voice recording, their name, their address—all that information is very sensitive. 

So, have a nice structured interview and make sure you hit your main points but be aware of how you handle your customers’ private information. As you are using this information in a professional context, you also need to handle the information professionally.

Learn more about all our authors and download The Customer Onboarding Handbook for free!

Hannah Clark
By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The CX Lead. After serving over 12 years working in front-line customer experience for major brands, Hannah pivoted to a career in digital publishing and media production. Having gained a holistic view of the challenges and intricacies of delivering exceptional experiences, Hannah aims to help CX practitioners 'level up' their skills by amplifying the voices of today's thought leaders in the space.