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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bringing Fresh Eyes to Consumer Testing

We recently conducted a consumer usability study where one-on-one interviews and hands-on exercises were used to test a variety of preference centers. This was my first professional experience with consumer testing and I was hopeful that being on the "right" side of the looking glass would give me a sense of authority. I’m a crime show junkie and the experience was very much like watching a suspect be interrogated; albeit slightly less intimidating and without the handcuffs. I knew why the bright lights, hidden cameras and microphones were there. I was ready for three days of questions and answers, ready to connect the dots, solve the case. Lights, camera, action...research.

Eighteen persons of interest were lead one by one into the stark, yet brightly lit room; a lawyer, a stay at home mom, a retired Naval Officer, and a student, to name a few. They were a mix of vibrant, tame, interesting and out there personalities. Each took a seat in front of the lap top, participated in an interview, accomplished a given set of tasks on the computer, and was questioned again. Some seemed suspicious of the process. Several were endearing as they shared stories of their hardships, accomplishments, and hopes. Most were open and confident, full of good information. All were interesting.

The lineup consisted of a cross section of our city. Age, income, and ethnicity were equally represented. I carefully observed as each individual settled into the designated spot.  I was on the edge of my seat, watching body language evolve as the “investigator” shared pleasantries to put the subject at ease. Finally, it was time for the questioning to begin. I was loving this!
A few of the more compelling things I witnessed:
  • The younger respondents, ages 18-35, were very comfortable with the tasks. Most were trusting with the information they were willing to provide or what could be obtained by signing into a site with Facebook.
  • Older respondents were less likely to sign in with a Facebook or Twitter option. Some simply didn’t participate in social media; while others were skeptical of signing in via a third party, unsure of what personal information might be revealed.
  • Some respondents were guarded with their answers, sharing very little. One appeared to answer the way she felt the researcher wanted her to answer. That occurs occasionally during a customer study, but as an observer it’s disappointing.
There were a couple of observations specifically related to preference management:
  • One participant was a lawyer who estimated he received more than 700 emails per day. Hopefully, he walked away from this experience with some tools to help manage that considerable amount of communication.
  • Another participant did not own a cell phone because she didn’t want to "be tracked".  My guess is that when given the chance, she opts out of everything.
As an undergraduate studying psychology at Michigan State University, I often played the role of guinea pig for graduate student projects. I found myself on the participant side of the mirror more than once, which was unnerving, to say the least. It was good to see that most of our study participants seemed relaxed and eager to give us feedback. In the end, I decided it’s much more appealing to be on the observer’s side of the glass studying others than it is to be the one in the hot seat.

About the Author: 
Darci Bullard is the Project Coordinator for PossibleNOW's Preference Management Consulting group.

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