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3 Approaches to Studying the Omnichannel User Experience

The digital world is a dynamic space, with a seemingly untrackable amount of potential product entry points. Your users toggle between the products you build and a bevy of other tasks—messages, lists, phone calls, and to-dos. This landscape poses a challenge for researchers looking to understand the full context of their users’ digital experience. Increasingly, getting that full-context requires leaving the lab, and leaving behind the constraints of traditional usability testing.

Here are a few methods that can benefit from an omnichannel approach:

  • Shopper journeys, including inspiration, research, price comparison, and purchase options—See which sites are trusted and the pathways folks take from start to finish.
  • Concept tests, especially when mobile vs. desktop differences are expected—Does functionality perform better in one channel compared to another? Benchmark it!
  • Experience optimization, which helps ensure stable performance across modalities—Maybe a mobile app doesn't need to "do" everything the desktop does?

However it's used, adding an omnichannel frame to experience research creates a more valid design, matching the world most users find themselves: jumping from device-to-device, screen-to-screen, and across modes. Expanding the data capture lens only offers an opportunity for a more complete picture, regardless of the study's goal or aim.

Sample study design 1: The fact-finder

Whether you’re launching a new digital experience, new to the world of qualitative research, or just trying to figure out what questions to ask, this design allows you to quickly glean insights about your digital spaces by letting participants explore and determine what's meaningful to them. I find that this leads to new avenues and makes experiences better.

The key aspect of this design is letting go of ultimate control. You want your participants to do the driving (with guidance from your prompts, of course).

This design uses an inventory approach, where participants "Show us all the blank..." and describe each blank a bit. For example, "Tell us about your social media toolkit. Show us all the platforms you use."

In the first part of the study, ask participants to show you the top three websites they utilize to complete a goal your product helps them complete (i.e. communicate with friends). Have them follow up by showing the top three mobile apps that they use for the same purpose.

Keep the number of questions at a minimum. Lean on your participants to share what feels pertinent to them. When writing fact-finding studies, it can be helpful to show restraint.

Sample questions:

What's the name of this app/website?

How often do you visit it in a typical day/week? [closed-ended]
In a selfie video, describe why you visit it and why you like it.
Tell us how you learned about this app or website.

Next ask participants to submit moments based on a set “trigger” or “anchor”—aka the moment when you want participants take their phone out of their pocket to describe their experience.

Since we tend to remember the beginning and the end of an experience, it’s often helpful to tightly define these triggers to capture your users digital engagement as they happen. Ask yourself: what must be true of this participant’s digital experience in order for them to engage with this study?

Sample trigger:
Tell us every time you experience a particularly positive or negative moment on social media over a 5-day period.

Lastly, you might ask your participants ideate on the future, as it relates to your product or service.

Sample prompt:
Submit a breakup letter sent to a social media company that is no longer meeting your needs. Take a picture of their letter and read it to us in a selfie video.

This type of ideation is a great way to further empower participants to tell us what matters the most to them. When you’re in the initial phases of a research project, this type of exploratory research can be a helpful benchmark to see if you’re on the right track, or if there are whitespaces for change that you weren’t even aware of.

Sample study design 2: The digital hub

This type of design is best if you have multiple spokes in the digital wheel.

Say you want to investigate job seekers' journey, exploring the multitude of entry points where they search and engage digitally.

First, in this case, you might set participants up for success with an introductory question. Searching for a job is a personal thing. Plus, an easy ask at the beginning of a project can help participants feel comfortable and set the stage for strong and detailed responses moving forward.

An intro question will give you a window into participants’ emotions outside of the digital space. How are they feeling about their job search overall?

Next, have participants show all of the digital tools they use to help them complete their task. Make sure to avoid priming as it’ll limit your responses. For example, instead of asking, “What sites do you use while you job search?” ask: “What tools do you use?” You’ll then get a broader collection of websites, mobile apps, email lists, and other resources.

Afterwards, ask participants to submit a moment every time they complete pivotal task. For example: “Submit a video every time you receive or send an email related to your job search.”

(A heads up: if you’re working with sensitive information, it might be best to avoid asking for a screenshot. A selfie-video will go a long way!)

At this point, you should have quite a bit of data to work with, and you can drill down further into specifics. In the example case, the next step is to ask more specific questions about the online job search tool being explored—specifically, asking participants to sign up for a service on a website devoted to helping them find a job. You want to be taken along for the journey within the journey of signing up for a specific service, including the setup process.

Finally, have participants reflect on their experiences throughout the course of the study, and share what progress they had made. By bookending this study with an introductory and reflection activity that wasn’t focused on a digital experience—you're able to see to the physical, emotional, and digital lives of these job seekers.

Sample study design 3: The digital deep dive

This design is great to learn more about a specific app. Specifically, it’s useful for gleaning a participants' brand perception, their feelings about the app content, and how easy the app is to use.

Due to the mobile nature of this research, you’ll benefit from leveraging different types of media.

Begin by asking participants to show the set-up process of the app.

Sample questions

What are your initial impressions of the process?
How do you feel about the set-up process overall?
Take a screenshot of the most painful part of the set-up process.
Describe to us how this moment could have been improved.

These follow-ups are imperative! When asking participants to record their screen, it can be helpful to keep in mind that a little goes a long way. A 60-second screen recording will generate a boatload of data during analysis, so it can be helpful to include subsequent multi-select questions to drill down on the features of your mobile app that scouts were interacting with during their screen recording.

Close your study by requesting “Hits, misses, and wishes for the future” of this app. Said another way: ask for the highs, the lows, and the things they want most to be improved.

From there, it might be time to go back to the drawing board—but be sure to keep your participants close. After hearing how first-time users were engaging with the tool, iterate on the app design based on their feedback. Once you’re ready to release the associated changes, re-engage with participants in a follow-up study to hear their thoughts on the new design.

Designing omnichannel research on dcsout

On dscout, the desktop version of Diary mirrors that of the mobile experience—making in-context, omnichannel research easy.

Program all the same kinds of questions across both mediums—open-ends, scale, ranking, screen shares, video prompts, photo prompts—which participants complete via an extension in their Chrome browser.

In order to better support desktop-focused experience capture, the screen recording question has been expanded to five minutes. With this, record anything on a participant's desktop screen, both inside and outside of the browser. Designating a research activity for completion on desktop is as simple as a click during the building phase of your work.

Learn more about building desktop and mobile research on dscout here.

Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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