Conversations at Qual 360 North America

June 20, 2022

After attending Qual 360 North America (NA)—which took place in Washington DC, in March 2022, and at which I was a speaker—I would like to share my key takeaways from the conference with UXmatters readers.

My fellow UX and CX (Customer Experience) professionals, as well as qualitative researchers from a variety of global brands—including TikTok, Reddit, Microsoft, Mars, Marriott, Indeed, Pinterest, and PepsiCo—joined me at this event, where we discussed recent trends and changes in the practice of qualitative research.

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Building Empathy by Humanizing Data

A key theme at Qual 360 NA 2022 was building empathy by developing human insights. UX and CX professionals now have the necessary technology to humanize the data that they collect during consumers’ interactions with their company’s brands.

Companies can no longer think of consumers merely as data points from which they can assimilate knowledge about their products. Consumers now interact with brands across numerous touchpoints. A company can then use that data to personalize consumers’ overall customer experience. As a result, companies are meeting their consumers' needs better than ever, while also increasing their margins and brand loyalty. Both the companies and consumers benefit from these rapid, all-encompassing, digital experiences. The biggest advantage of humanizing data and building empathy is that great consumer experiences drive consumer loyalty.

Notable author Simon Sinek recently tweeted, “We don’t do business with companies. We do business with people. Business is always human.” Through their real-time engagements with their consumers, many companies are now immersed in a very human world. These companies are seeing a clear correlation between their superior digital experiences and increased profit margins.

Another takeaway from Qual 360 NA 2022 is the increasing number of companies that now have a Director of Human Insights. This trend marks an important milestone in the history of User Experience. Companies are now acknowledging that UX and CX are core business functions rather than nonessential expenditures. More and more organizations are hiring C-suite leadership for these business verticals because of their direct impact on their organizations’ bottom line.

Impact of COVID-19: Transforming Qualitative Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the landscape of qualitative research.

Qualitative researchers have rapidly learned some profound lessons from the worldwide pandemic. In fact, these learnings have led to tectonic shifts in the way we conduct our research. We’ve never before seen such an accelerated pace in getting from research to insights. The pandemic’s legacy is the evolution of drastic changes in the way we now conduct qualitative research and the likelihood that these shifts will persist into the future.

Many qualitative researchers are astounded by the speed at which we’re now gaining insights by incorporating data from various qualitative methods. Some lasting benefits that are dictating organizations’ demand for future qualitative research include the faster pace, access to broader geographic demographics, the pivot toward conducting user interviews asynchronously, and lower costs. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve moved user interviews to video platforms, instead of conducting them face to face with participants, as we have traditionally. These changes have actually led to our gathering more nuanced data because we’ve been able to conduct UX research with broader populations and explore the data more quickly. The days when we could expect or even demand that testing protocols would rely on in-depth interviews (IDI) are now a thing of the past. Asynchronous interviews now enable participants to answer questions in their own time, leading to better informed and more thoughtful insights.

COVID-19 has also changed the traditional focus-group approach, in which we asked a handful of consumers to share their thoughts with us. No longer is it possible to bring them together in the same room and hear all their voices at once or gather all of their feedback during a single focus-group session. Researchers have had to change their methods, resulting in more intimate interview sessions. The result? When participants have more time to think about their answers, this adds depth to their responses and improves the quality of researchers’ qualitative data.

These benefits, together with the fact that remote interviews are cheaper than paying for participants to meet in a single location, have shifted qualitative researchers’ thinking about their interview methods for the future. Our research now has greater breadth, as well as depth. The best-in-class approach to user research remains a mixed-method approach that lets us tell the story around people’s attitudes and decision-making behaviors.

Being Strategic Is Always Key

The global COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how quickly marketplaces can suddenly transform. Almost overnight, we all became digital consumers, with the pace of digital change immediately accelerating. Consumers’ mental models regarding spending took a new direction. Consequently, businesses have had to think strategically about maintaining their competitive edge.

Companies must constantly reassess their target audiences. Only in this way can they consistently meet their audiences’ needs and expectations. Gaining a foundational understanding of their target audiences is paramount to a company’s achieving success in today’s digital age.

However, addressing consumers’ current needs cannot inform us about their future needs. Companies must invest in innovation and manage User Experience and Customer Experience effectively—just as they do any other corporate function whose objective is to identify and attempt to predict consumers’ behaviors and future needs. Only by making this strategic commitment can companies monitor the pulse of today’s industry disruptors, identify opportunities to invest in first-to-market products, embrace the ability to pivot, reprioritize their efforts within a changing marketplace, and attract new consumers.

Introducing new products, features, and services into marketplaces that don’t yet even know what they need can be tough! But, by remaining thoughtful and taking a strategic business approach to improving your products, understanding new features and functionality, and fostering innovation, you can ensure that your efforts will pay dividends in the future. 

Strategic Consultant at UserZoom

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Ryan CummingsRyan has extensive experience in building and leading UX teams and delivering large-scale projects in the retail, ecommerce, and healthcare sectors. He is an expert in design and research and has led human-centered and design-thinking efforts at scale. Ryan holds a PhD in Community Engagement from Point Park University, as well as a Master Certification in User Experience Design from Rutgers University.  Read More

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