Authentically Understanding the User
Philosophy & Practice
At Dive, our firm belief is that insurance agents, like all end users, are the true experts of their experiences (because they’re the only ones that actually experience them). All we do as researchers is learn from what they say and do and then articulate what’s learned in a meaningful way to the enterprise. Constantly learning about agents’ contexts, behaviors, and values has made us their voice when decisions are made.
Investigating users takes considerable time and effort, especially when they’re as diverse and widespread as insurance agents are. Every effort brings with it the challenge of delivering relevant, timely, and applicable knowledge without delaying progress (too much). On top of that, research is typically carried out after business objectives or even a product roadmap have been initiated. To address these challenges, we approach each effort under four guiding principles:
These principles have served as the standard under which we plan, conduct, analyze, and share user research. Without applying them, we wouldn’t generate authentic, value-driven insights or the insurance experiences derived from them.
Strategy 2 — Treat Users Like the Experts
Gather data directly from users in order to produce a more reliable, evidence-based understanding of their behaviors, values, expectations, motivations, and contexts.
Strategy 3 — Set Standards
Promote consistent practices and results by writing guidelines for planning, conducting, and sharing research.
Early Efforts: Laying a Foundation
In our experience with insurance, early research efforts were a lot like training to be an agent, minus the job interview. When we engaged new topics or user types, we acted like new hires at each insurance agency we visited and participated in a sort-of onboarding process. This mainly entailed sitting with agents at their desks, watching them do their normal daily tasks, and asking questions about their approach to sales, customer service, and using digital insurance tools. We took advantage of our outsider’s perspective (i.e. ignorance) to learn as much as possible about the jobs agents fulfill for their customers, their businesses, and themselves.
Embracing an outsider’s perspective was very intentional for us. Since we weren’t employed by the enterprise and didn’t have a real stake in the company, we didn’t bring much bias about what we wanted to learn, nor were we offended by negative feedback (and man, were agents brutal). On top of that, our ignorance starting off allowed us to learn a lot very quickly. Within only a few sessions, we already had a general understanding of who agents were and what low-hanging opportunities existed for improving their experiences. Our initial discovery laid the foundational understanding we needed to tactically conduct research and design in the future.
Strategy 4 — Encourage Learning Velocity
Ensure that research achieves constant progress by tailoring efforts to uncover new information or validate existing. Remember that maximum uncertainty typically exists at the beginning of a project, so a lot can be rapidly learned early on.
Strategy 5 — Embrace an Outsider’s Perspective
Don’t be apprehensive to challenge biases and assumptions, encourage honest feedback, or share the truths research reveals, even if people are offended. However, ensure that research can be correlated with the innovation goals it influences.
Regular Engagements: Assessing Usability & Desirability
As I said before, a comprehensive overhaul of insurance applications was out of the question. Vast swaths of changes would make it very difficult to pinpoint the impact of specific enhancements. Instead, the approach was to make progressive, targeted improvements based on the impact to the business and users, and the effort required to make the changes. This way — with small, successive changes — we could properly assess the value created for the user and the business.
Similarly, a comprehensive study of all agents’ experiences would take too much time, spend too much money, and violate our research principles, so we accompanied design with tailored research engagements. Each effort began with business goals which we adapted into hypotheses about the user experience that could be validated through research. Having a clear direction for what we wanted to learn, we applied the same general methodology of user observation and interviews to do the following:
- Assess usability and desirability of specific features/experiences
- Understand users’ tasks and processes pertaining to specific ways of doing business
- Determine how specific features/experiences align with agents’ ways of doing business
- Compare experiences to competitors
- Uncover what users need and value in experiences and how that can be realized
Through compounding research efforts, we became the voice of the agent within the corporate walls, the experts on user’s behaviors, needs, and expectations. We acted as advocates from the user’s perspective ensuring business goals and UX changes would be truly valuable to them.
Strategy 6 — Form Hypotheses
Before going out into the field, capture assumptions, ideas, or existing insights as hypotheses to be tested through research.
Strategy 7 — Translate Research Into User Advocacy
Use insights to channel the users’ perspective when business and design decisions are made. Help the enterprise evaluate whether or not decisions align with users’ values and motivations.