For digital teams to be successful, they must ‘get in the customer’s head’ and build deep insights into the intentions, motives and behavior that lead to the sale. This episode explains four ways to collect valuable data about your customers: how they interact with your store, what they’re thinking and why it’s crucial to build true customer empathy.


[Usability Research Firm] Nielsen Norman Group -

[Usability Research Firm] Baymard Institute -

Jakob Nielsen Wikipedia page

[Article] User Interviews: How, When, and Why to Conduct Them


Note: this text transcript was not edited for spelling and grammar.

Joshua Enders: [00:00:16] Today we're going to discuss how to create a Customer Insights Platform. And this episode is going to be part one of a two part series. I'm going to create two podcasts on this subject matter because this topic can be quite lengthy, so I want to break it up into two episodes. Part one is going to be about data and how we feed data into our insights platform, and how we analyze the data to form hypotheses which we later can test and learn from. Part two will be about using the Customer Insights Platform to test our hypotheses draw conclusions that feed into our design decisions and our investment priorities and so forth.  

Joshua Enders: [00:01:20] So let's start by asking ourselves 'What is a Customer Insights Platform?" For an e-commerce organization, the insights platform consists of the methods and the tools we use to build insights into the customer intentions, motives and behavior that drives a commercial transaction. When we say commercial transaction what we mean in the context of e-commerce... there's usually three types of primary conversions that we're concerned about. Leads, quotes and orders. When I say commercial transactions that's what I'm referring to leads, quotes and orders.

Joshua Enders: [00:02:00] If you're running a direct to consumer site you're probably most interested in new registrations which should be viewed as a lead and orders. If you're a B2B company and you have internal sales organization and your sales process involves closing deals and opportunities offline, which oftentimes is the case in large industries, the conversion that your site generates could very well be an online quote that feeds into your offline sales process.

Joshua Enders: [00:02:34] So what does a Customer Insights Platform do? What's its purpose? Digital teams create insights platforms in order to establish a shared understanding of what drives customer behavior. We want to "get inside the heads" of our customers and we want to know what they're thinking and what they're doing when they're on our e-commerce site and we want to understand what motivates them to fill out a form, register to create a new account, request a quote or place an order. We want to understand what leads up to those transactions.

Joshua Enders: [00:03:14] Digital teams accountable for the commercial performance of an e-commerce channel use the information and the data collected by the platform to test and optimize different value propositions, marketing communications and UI designs. Its purpose is to establish that shared understanding and then its used to optimize the messages and the designs that we create in order to convert at the highest rates.

Joshua Enders: [00:03:48] Next I'll explain four ways that digital teams can create a Customer Insights Platform to collect the data about customers that feeds into this platform. The first is usability testing... and usability testing is a big discipline. There's a lot of different methods, and ways and strategies to conduct usability testing. And I'm not going to cover everything on this podcast because it's beyond the scope of a single episode. But I do want to zoom in on one particular method that I think is effective when looking to gather customer insights and it's called the 'Think Aloud' method.

Joshua Enders: [00:04:32] Usability testing involves watching real customers interact with your interface with the objective of collecting behavioral information. We can use the information to inform our design decisions and lead to design insights. The goal of usability testing for e-commerce team is to develop interfaces that are intuitive, usable and ultimately convert and reduce site abandonment.

Joshua Enders: [00:05:02] There's many ways to conduct usability testing, but the method I want to highlight is 'Think Aloud' method... and the reasons why I'm an advocate for the 'Think Aloud' approach is because we use it at our agency, with our clients and it's proven to be highly effective... especially for creating customer personas or customer agendas or whatever you call that research asset inside of your organization.

Joshua Enders: [00:05:32] The 'Think Aloud' protocol involves participants thinking aloud as they use your site to perform a set of specific tasks. The participant (test subject) says whatever comes into their mind as they are working on a task or they complete a task and the facilitator prompts the user with questions that keep them talking. Because what you'll see if you ever conduct this type of usability testing is it's not natural to have an ongoing dialogue as you work a task on an interface. So we can help our test subjects by prompting them with questions.

Joshua Enders: [00:06:16] We want to know what they're looking at and what they're thinking. We can observe what they're doing and there's software that can facilitate that. But we also want to tap into what they are feeling, and we want to start to build empathy for the customer plight. And as the observer, we collect these insights into the participants thought processes as they work the task and it's an effective way to pinpoint sources of friction, frustration and missed expectations. This is precisely the type of data that we want to our insights platform to collect and we use this to inform our personas, customer agendas and other UX research assets.

Joshua Enders: [00:07:02] The 'Think Aloud' method has stood the test of time. So there is a quote from Jacob Nielsen where he says "Thinking aloud may be the single most valuable usability engineering method.".

Joshua Enders: [00:07:15] And who is Jacob Nielsen you may ask? He's an expert and a luminary on usability and he's been doing it for a long time. Internet magazine dubbed him "the king of usability." He has a Ph.D. and co-founded the Nielsen Norman Group which offers educational content for UX practitioners. He's invented several usability methods himself and he holds 79 United States patents; mainly on ways that make the Internet easier to use. He's dedicated his whole life to usability and that quote was from a book that was published in 1993. So it really shows that what he said back then has stood the test of time. And the 'Think Aloud' methodology has stood the test of time. We use it when we create new informational products. We use it with our clients and I like it for many reasons.

Joshua Enders: [00:08:23] First of all it's cheap. You can collect insights for a low cost and you don't really need any special equipment. You need a computer, the test subject and the observer. That's really all you need. And the ability to record the session or take notes. But yeah... it's really cheap to get started. And also, this one is my favorite reason for using 'Think Aloud', developers, designers and even team leaders and executives, people that can be stubborn and dig their heels in on what they believe customers want... you will see them soften up and they usually will let go of their preconceived notions and positions when they're exposed to how real life customers think. When this happens it's absolutely amazing to see. It's very powerful and it can unlock a path to real, meaningful change... and our site designs and our marketing messages can improve.

Joshua Enders: [00:09:23] I also know this to be true because I've been that person. I've been that stubborn executive, but I've learned over time not to trust my instincts... and not to lean on my past experiences when it comes to things like interface design and messaging. Direct feedback from users and customers have shown me that I oftentimes have been wrong, even when I was convinced that I was 100% right. Data kills bias. 

Joshua Enders: [00:09:52] When you can collect the data directly from the customer and you're really getting into their head and building true empathy, that's going to kill any form of preconceived bias... and that a big reason why I'm an advocate for the 'Think Aloud' approach.

Joshua Enders: [00:10:10] Next, another way way to collect data for your insights platform is Customer Interviews. Customer Interviews are another UX research method, and they provide insights into what a user is thinking which is important to building empathy which is key. So Customer Interviews can be valuable for exploratory research because they often involve open ended questions. And they're usually done as one-to-one sessions. And what I like about Customer Interviews is that they involve verbal engagement. Yes. You actually have to talk to someone. It's surprising to me how oftentimes the organizations I speak to don't have any form of verbal communication with their in-market customers. This is oversight. Verbal engagement is the key to collecting actionable insights.

Joshua Enders: [00:11:03] A few tips on how to best approach your Customer Interviews used to create your personas and customer agenda. I know these seem like no brainers and are commonsense, but I think they're worth saying anyways. First tip #1 is you must recruit your interviewees from your customer base. It's important that you talk to actual customers, and again why this may seem like a no brainer, it's worth reminding ourselves that we need to do this if we want to get customer insights. We must talk to customers, and you also want to pay attention to your customer segments, and selecting participants that are representative of the different segments that you serve.

Joshua Enders: [00:11:51] The second tip is to prepare questions that help the participant find answers that are useful for constructing a specific UX asset, a specific UX research asset. For example, if we're creating customer persona, we want to ask questions that are useful for creating a customer persona. We don't want to just ask any ol' questions. They need to be purposeful and connect to the asset that we're creating.

Joshua Enders: [00:12:19] In our agency, we don't call them customer personas. We call them customer agendas. And the definition of a customer agenda at our agency is "the underlying intentions and motives of a single customer leading up to a commercial transaction." In our Customer Interviews, where we want to create this customer agenda asset, we design our questions to reveal intentions ties back to the definition of that asset. So their intentions are what the customer hopes to accomplish. Next, we design our questions to reveal motive. This is why they want to accomplish it. And then third is the scope of the questions should be leading up to the commercial transaction, as the other part of the definition of that asset is "leading up to the commercial transaction." So we want to ask questions not about after the transaction, not about after they registered or after they place an order, but leading up to that commercial transaction. So that's an important nuance.

Joshua Enders: [00:13:26] And then I would also add Context here. And what we mean by that is we want to understand the environment and the circumstances that are driving the customer's intentions and motives. One example of context is location. For example mobile customers. Another example of context is, let's say you want to procure services on demand... that's a circumstance where the customer requires immediate fulfillment. So understanding context and asking questions about context is very important as well. So again we want to prepare questions that help the participant find the answers that are useful to the asset, the research asset, that we're creating.

Joshua Enders: [00:14:09] The third way to collect data to leverage your Customer Insights Platform to create data to gather data is online surveys. So we all know what a survey is. We've all filled out one whether it be online, over the phone or in person. An online survey can be an effective way to collect both qualitative and quantitative data about your customers and you can do it at scale especially with online surveys.

Joshua Enders: [00:14:36] But the key point that I want to make about online surveys is high response rates are essential. You must have a high response rate otherwise you risk the data is just not representative of your entire customer base or a customer segment. If only your most committed customers, those that are already highly engaged with you, if only those most committed customers are the ones that complete the survey the data won't be trustworthy. It needs to be representative of the broader customer base or customer segment so high response rates in online surveys are very important.

Joshua Enders: [00:15:15] What are some of the strategies to generate high response rates. First, keep your survey short. You want to limit your surveys to only a few questions. There's one school of thought where there's only one question and that's NPR or Net Promoter Score. I think there's some merit to that but oftentimes we want to know more. We have more than one question to ask, but in the business they refer to lengthy surveys as 'survey bloat' and we want to avoid survey bloat. If you can't keep it short, the next tip is to split your surveys up. I you have many questions that you must ask, then submit three survers, or two... whatever it needs to be in order to reduce the number of questions that an individual respondent is asked to respond to. So that's online surveys.

Joshua Enders: [00:16:10] And then the next way to collect customer data as part of your Customer Insights Platform is web analytics. This is the next tool that you want in your insights platform. Web analytics software makes it possible to collect quantitative and behavioral data at scale. Web analytics software is going to collect and report on the data about how your visitors are interacting with your e-commerce site and that data can reveal insights that feed into your research assets like your personas and your customer agenda. And the great feature about web analytics is that data is collected continuously. Unlike usability testing, interviews and surveys which are an event, web analytics data is a feed. It's actively collected. It's alive. It's always happening. In fact, it's happening right now as we speak on our sites.

Joshua Enders: [00:17:06] Setting up web analytics software correctly is very important so it's aligned with your objectives and goals. Doing this is not trivial. That's the point I want to make here is setting up web analytics software is not trivial and it's inherently technical. It's very technical actually. And the setup and the funnel building and the report building... this should be done by a specialist with proven experience. But once it's set up, the data that it collects can be very powerful in its ability to reveal what drives customer behavior on your e-commerce site. That's the core purpose of creating UX research assets such as your personas and your customer agenda. But aside from the well-known metrics like visits, sessions, unique visitors, exit pages... for most organizations these out of the box metrics aren't really that useful. But the Web analytics software can be configured to measure conversions and behavioral funnels and can be used to test marketing communications and page designs. They integrate with digital marketing software. They integrate with many of the popular advertising platforms. Effective use web analytics data does require domain knowledge and if you don't have the skill set and knowledge in house already, I recommend working with an agency that is a certified partner on the analytics platform that you choose. And to start off with an expert initially and then to work to train and acquire those skills and to develop your internal resources to manage it over the long term. But initially if you don't have those skills in-house, I definitely recommend working with a partner that does.

Joshua Enders: [00:19:08] So quick recap here on ways to collect and feed data into your Customer Insights Platform. First is usability research and testing. And I'm advocating for using the 'Think Aloud' methodology. Next is Customer Interviews. This is where we learn what our customers are thinking and that's the pathway to building true empathy, customer empathy. Next is online surveys, which can be an effective way to collect both qualitative and quantitative data at scale. I think they're better for quantitative data to be honest because asking open ended questions in a survey kind of defeats the purpose of keeping things short. So I think they're better for collecting quantitative data at scale. But again the key point here is you want to be sure that your response rates are high and high enough such that the data is truly representative of your customer base or a specific customer segment. Not just your most engaged customers. Next is web analytics software which is going to track how visitors interact with your site. And how it continuously feeds data into your insights platform.

Joshua Enders: [00:20:17] There's more information... and I post some interesting and informative resources about building your Customer Insights Platform of my website at