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Field Reports

How TurboTax Used dscout to Complete Foundational Research on a Tight Timeline

TurboTax needed to study people who weren't using their product during tax season. Here's how they accomplished it on a short timeline.

Words by Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Maggie Moore

The team

Joanna Vodopivec is a Principal Design Researcher on Intuit's TurboTax team. Intuit is a customer-obsessed organization with a lot of appetite for ongoing research, with many functions engaging in various ways to collect feedback.

The small but mighty research team sits within the design org, which focuses on delivering some of Intuit's consumer products. Researchers are semi-embedded within TurboTax teams and initiatives they support, such as marketing, engagement and loyalty, and new offerings, including TurboTax Live and TurboTax Live Full Service. The nature of the work spans evaluative and iterative studies on the core product, new product and service definition, and even service design simulations.

The research team collaborates closely with design, product, devs and engineering, and many other cross-functional teams. It's also a team that knows the importance of collecting data during tax season for its long-term goals and innovation cycles. Their product is never more top-of-mind, which makes it a perfect time for conceptual work as well as a foundational understanding of the current experience.

Joanna and her teammates partnered with dscout during a recent tax season.

The opportunity

Joanna's group is building a new offering, TurboTax Live Full Service, that pairs the flexibility of TurboTax Software with the added benefit of working with a tax professional who prepares and files the return for the customer. This approach leads to the need for flexible, online qualitative research, as well as board stakeholder engagement with the project.

"We have to bring many stakeholders into the process, beyond the traditional design/PM/PD triad, and they have to be highly involved. This includes the customer success organization that hires the tax professionals, trains them, that works on the service design, as well as service delivery.

"And they need to be part of the process in order to understand, what is actually happening? What do we need to change? What are the high points and pain points? And how do we need to modify it in order to deliver the best customer experience?"

Joanna Vodopivec
Principal Design Researcher

A few months ago, Joanna was concurrently mentoring junior colleagues during a very hot tax season. She was running product-focused intercept interviews and diary studies when a critical stakeholder approached, asking about the broader tax preparation space. For folks who don't use TurboTax, what are they doing to complete their taxes—and how confident are they along their user journey?

"And I had this moment of panic, thinking, 'There is no way I could squeeze in another diary study into my workflow. And oh my gosh, who's going to work on this as we are all so busy?'

"So the stress just went through the roof...and then these bells started going off in my head. I never, ever want to say no to a discovery type research that's highly contextual, that can inform understanding of the broader space that we live in, as a consumer group.

"Somewhere in the depth of my brain, this idea of using a dscout came up. And I thought, their approach and method is one that I can use for this exact purpose.'"

Because Joanna had used dscout at another company and because other Intuit teams were using dscout, it was easier to get started. Moreover, Joanna had an immediate sense of the research design based on past experience—one that would match her stakeholder's needs around highly contextual feedback, all while keeping her head above water.

The approach

Joanna wanted to leverage dscout's Special Services team, who offer analysis and research design support. This gave her the space to direct the broader project and communicate with stakeholders, while also continuing to support her other, concurrent work. Special Services helped her identify early trends and how she could best use her limited time. They kept a close eye on the project so when it was time, Joanna could jump in and start processing.

“It was a truly collaborative and seamless process. dscout’s team became an extension of our team for the duration of the study. They helped manage the scouts and any of their questions, so I could trust that it would run smoothly even without daily check-ins. They asked what I needed help with in terms of analysis, and identified a few heroes that exemplified the emerging journeys.”

The research design was journey focused, with the goal of charting the effort and energy used by folks who work with a tax preparer. In short, Joanna and her team wanted a pulse-check on those folks TurboTax wasn't currently serving. This would help the team learn areas where they might innovate to attract interest and meet an outstanding need. Specifically, Joanna's stakeholders were curious what types of journeys exist, which high and low points are present, and how these shape peoples’ expectations.

The dscout team programmed some closed-ended questions assessing effort, confidence, communication, as well as rich media questions (like video) to get at the context of certain steps in the journey. In effect, this took Joanna and the TurboTax team to the home, car, or office with the participant. The study ran for the bulk of tax season, which gave participants the flexibility to experience (and share) their own tax journeys.

"Some people had started and finished their taxes in February and were done within two weeks or a week. For others, the process dragged on for several months. Whether they were just getting started and procrastinating to keep going, it took them longer than expected to actually find that tax preparer, or there were some additional documents they were waiting on.

“It was great also to be able to show the length and that process varies quite a bit, and to have a platform that allowed the flexibility for those who were finished quickly to just submit all the videos and be done. On the other hand, some people who wait until the last minute needed more time to capture the process and more ‘entries’ to respond to."

One of the goals was to surface the journey segments, where more collaboration could have reduced effort and increased confidence—a mix of variables important to Joanna's team.

The impact

For Joanna and team, it was the moments away from tax software that gave rich insights into this user base.

"In traditional tax prep where you go and visit an accountant—or you are in your home gathering your documents, take photos and maybe you upload them to someone—so much of that happens outside of software. That's not something that's easily captured just by recording your screen.

"This is why I loved using dscout. Because of the mobile app, it allows participants to walk around their space and show us exactly where they are storing their documents, without necessarily having to zoom in and show sensitive information. And of course, security is critical in this space, so we were able to make the participant comfortable enough by describing that we're not looking to see their personal, highly sensitive data."

The mobile-first, asynchronous format of dscout offered participants the flexibility to check it when a moment was important to them, giving Joanna and the team a window into their perspective. Some participants submitted moments from their cars, after just visiting with a tax professional.

"These contextual details are super relevant and paint a detailed picture of what happens in the process—and in terms of pain points, help us understand what works and what doesn't. Being able to hear the customer describe that great connection they make with a human as well as understand their mindset, the importance of trust, the complexity of feelings.

"Being able to collect the feedback the moment after the interaction just happened, it's very, very valuable and allows us to identify both tactical and strategic opportunities."

Beyond posters, immersion sessions, videos shared in employee all-hands meetings, and formal report readouts, one memorable outcome from this work was a series of workshops entitled "Tacos and Taxes.” Joanna brought together ambassadors from stakeholder teams like design, product, customer success, and engineering with the goal of co-consuming videos from the research (as well as tacos) and synthesizing themes.

Joanna provided guiding prompts before playing a few videos collected from the dscout platform. Discussion on product impacts and other learnings ensued. It not only aligned folks on the product design and innovation goals, but it reinforced some of the opportunities for empathy and expansion of access for their tools.

"All of that is really in the service of allowing people to reach their conclusions on their own terms, by watching the video and listening to the customers first hand. So ideally, by the time they read the deck or hear the report readout, they can make that connection because they see the context, they know which participant this is referring to. And that makes the insights stronger, makes them stickier and more digestible because, again, that person already has an understanding of what happened."

As Joanna and team prepare for what will surely be another busy tax season, she's encouraging collaborators and stakeholders to check out the project for themselves, watching videos she's tagged and coded. She's also recommending some of her research colleagues try dscout—its all-in-one combination of recruiting, fieldwork, analysis, video transcription, and incentives helps her stay organized and focused on what's next.

"You don't have to use a different tool for each aspect of your workflow. Again, that's very effortless to tie it back to the theme of this whole study.

"People should consider that solution. In moments of doubt and panic, this awesome platform is there, and also [the dscout] team is so highly supportive. And the analysis that was done was really at an excellent level, helping to jumpstart my synthesis, ultimately leading to deeper insights faster."

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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