If you have no idea what user research is, you are definitely not alone. User Research focuses on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies. Coupled with user interviews and surveys, social media is one of these many methodologies that companies use to iterate their product and ensure customer satisfaction.
For the last 8 months, I’ve been working for a startup that specializes in UX Research. Campus Insights helps companies that are targeting college students get feedback on their website or app so that they can build awesome products. We are able to get this feedback for companies by conducting user testing, which usually consist of remote interviews with students from all over the country. During these interviews, we will usually have students download the app we are testing, and then walk through the onboarding process with them, analyzing both their face and their phone screen to deduce confusing parts of the interface flow. We’ll also look for conceptualization errors, making sure the user can understand why they would use the app.
While Campus Insights is a resource for companies to outsource their user testing, many companies actually conduct user research in-house. I worked on the User Research team at Rent the Runway this past summer, and all of their interviews and other methods of user research were conducted by a Senior User Researcher. While RTR has hired a specific person for user testing, many companies do not, and that’s where Campus Insights becomes very valuable for a lot of companies.
Rent the Runway’s Voice of the Customer
Research that is done in-house is a bit different from what user testing with Campus Insights looks like. In the case of Rent the Runway, most of our interviews were held in the New York office, so all of our interviewees were from NYC. The interviewee was questioned by the user researcher as he/she navigated through the RTR app or website, and the interviewer would have cameras on both the interviewee’s face and phone, so that the Product Team could watch the interviews later. Sometimes the Research Team would travel out into the city to customer’s apartments and go through their closets with them, trying to better understand their fashion needs. These off-site interviews were particularly helpful in getting a better idea of who our users were and what they wanted from Rent the Runway.
While interviews are a huge part of User Research within a company, it’s not the only method of getting feedback from users. Rent the Runway utilizes several different channels of feedback, including surveys, satisfaction ratings, and of course, social media. All of these channels provide a different type of feedback for the company, which is all presented in a “Voice of the Customer” biweekly report to the entire company. As an intern, I was delegated to collect feedback from a few of these channels on a weekly basis, with one of my largest tasks being monitoring RTR’s social media presence.
RTR on Social Media
Rent the Runway has a presence on almost every social media site. However, just as we use Facebook differently than we use Yelp, users post different types of feedback based on what social media platform they are using. RTR’s Facebook presence consists of two channels: the actual public Facebook company page, and a private Facebook group composed of RTR’s most loyal customers. The public Facebook page often has postings from customers about their orders, which contains both pictures of happy women in their dresses, and also some unhappy women with wrinkly and dirty dresses. Overall, the Facebook page is a mix of product reviews that are made public to anyone who likes the RTR page. The private group, while still used to gain feedback on the product, contains much different information. Since the group is composed of loyal and frequent users, many of the postings have to do with promotions or new features, rather than direct feedback or complaints about the product. The users in the group are so familiar with the product that most of the feedback ends up being deeper and more concerned with the future features RTR might consider incorporating.
Yelp is also a huge outlet for feedback. Though most people are familiar with RTR’s option to rent via USPS, many users also utilize the brick and mortar stores that are now in New York City, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, and Chicago. These retail locations sound like a great idea in theory, but because of RTR’s value proposition to provide a huge selection of styles and sizes, the Yelp feedback from the brick and mortar stores tends to be very negative. Many Yelp reviewers complain of long lines, too few sizes, and overall lack of organization within the stores. Rent the Runway prides itself on convenience, and thus far the feedback on Yelp communicates that the exact opposite is true of the in-store experience.
User Research & Social Media: Takeaways
Social media as a channel for feedback has brought up some major takeaways for user researchers:
A user’s experience is everything. If you’re part of a large company like Rent the Runway, you should expect that disgruntled users are prone to posting on social media about their experience, exposing your company to not only their network, but also anyone who follows the company’s social media page. If you’re part of a company with a terrible onboarding process, you should expect extremely high drop-off rates and very minimal growth. Worse than all of this, if you don’t have members of the team making sure users like your product, you will probably be out of business very soon.
Mistakes are out there for the whole world to see, and so is the company’s response. In the case of Rent the Runway, the majority of new renters hear about RTR from friends and family. That is a huge dependance on customer satisfaction – if customers are unhappy with their experience, they won’t refer their friends and family. Studies show that a satisfied customer will tell 2-3 people about his experience with your company. A dissatisfied consumer will share their lament with 8-10 people and some will push that number to twenty. Social media can be a disastrous tool for unhappy customers, but only if the company choses not to respond appropriately.
The voice of the customer is the greatest tool for company success. Companies that continually listen and research their customer tend to do very well. If user researchers go to a customer’s house, understand what’s in their closet and how they get dressed in the morning, it’s very likely they will understand the customer’s pain points, and therefore make a great product. User research bridges the product and the customer. Without understanding the customer, there is no way a company can make a viable product.
My experience in user research, both through Rent the Runway and Campus Insights, has made it very clear that feedback on the product is necessary for the success of a company. No matter the size of a company, social media poses as a vital channel for customer feedback that is needed for successful iteration on products.