How are we going to listen to and stay customer-centric if we can’t interact with our customers?

We’re living in a time of immense change where problems that existed in ‘normal times’ are no longer relevant, and new problems have emerged. It’s a systemic crisis that has impacted each and every one of us, and our problems, behaviors, expectations and priorities have all changed. 


Businesses experience the impact of these changes, too. As digital consultants, we’re in the unique position of helping our clients navigate these changes. Multiple clients have approached us with the same question: ‘How are we going to listen to and stay customer-centric if we can’t interact with our customers?’ 


Interviews, user tests and co-creation workshops are all still possible in the current environment. In this post, we share three key learnings to keep in mind as you consider your methodology, approach and facilitation to make these customer touch-points a success, despite pandemic-related circumstances. 


1. Consider This an Opportunity to Explore Remote Testing Methods 

More than likely, all of your customer testing has gone remote and if you are accustomed to the more traditional methods (think in-person focus groups), this may be a new frontier. For others, online testing has always been the norm. Regardless of what camp you’re in, keep in mind that remote testing should always be seen as an opportunity to get in front of your customers. 

There are multiple avenues and established methods to test with your customers remotely. We’ve broken down some of the methods that can be used based on your goals and facilitation approach.



Customer Insight Ideation Validation
Moderated Virtual Focus Groups, Virtual Customer Interviews Concept Testing, Co-creation Sessions/Participatory Studies Usability Testing
Unmoderated Video & Audio Diaries Surveys, Tree Testing Surveys, UX Benchmarking Study, Tree Testing
Either Virtual Shop Alongs, Virtual Task Analysis, Card Sorting A/B Testing, Desirability study, IA/Card Sorting Virtual Task Analysis, Usability Testing


2. Don’t Be Shy About Addressing the Elephant in the Room 

There’s no denying these are times of great stress and uncertainty for many. With that in mind, customers may be leaning on your business more than ever to deliver a better experience. If there is an opportunity to ask questions around how they’re adapting to the current environment, do so; the feedback could be incredibly helpful


Don’t be shy about addressing the current situation and giving them an outlet to talk about their pandemic experience, from how they’re handling it to how it’s changed their day-to-day life. We’ve noticed through our own testing that customers are often eager to talk and share their perspective. 


Some questions you may consider using, depending on the goals of your test: 


  • How has COVID impacted your needs or your behaviors? 
  • How has COVID impacted how you engage with our brand or others in the same industry?
  • We’ve made some changes to our digital experience during COVID. How do these changes make you feel?
  • How do you feel we’ve responded to COVID? 


3. Remain Empathetic Through Facilitation 


Your customers are likely dealing with the cascading and complex effects of the pandemic, whether that means working from home, caring for a child or parent, or any number of things. They are still your customer and are willing to share their perspective on your product or service. 


When it comes to executing your test, it’s important that you not only remain empathetic in question development, but also through facilitation. Here are some ways we recommend doing that: 




  • For Your Customer:  If you’ve done customer testing before, you’ve likely kept a close eye on time, making sure that you have allotted just enough to get what you need without wasting anyone’s time. When determining test length today, it’s important to keep your customer’s current situation in mind. It’s okay to pad a little extra time to provide flexibility whether that means allowing them more time to share their perspective, or the wiggle room to start a few minutes late if something else pops up. 
  • For Your Team: Be flexible when recruiting and scheduling customer research. People are dealing with unforeseen challenges and changes to their schedule. Allow for and schedule more sessions than you typically would in case you get some no-shows. 




  • For Your Customer:  Some people who are participating in research studies might be doing so for the first time. We recommend sending them an email of what to expect ahead of time and if using any additional tools, make sure they have time for a ‘tech check’ at the beginning of your time together. 
  • For Your Team: This may be your first time doing remote testing or using a new platform. Make sure you carve out time for you to learn the tool inside and out so that you feel comfortable launching or moderating a test. We also recommend running a practice session with a team member prior to your first customer touch-point.



  • For Your Team: In more traditional settings, you may have had a plan down pat. You’d have one moderator conducting a test, with facilitators working behind the scenes to capture notes and begin synthesizing research. Now, with most people remote, take the time to rethink your team and how to make customer testing work in a remote-first environment. We’ve found that reassigning roles and rethinking session structure helps team members not to feel overwhelmed. Some ways you could do this: 
    • Invite someone from your team into the session to take notes. 
    • Create shorter workshops or break them out over multiple days. If time only allows for one longer workshop, consider breaking out the facilitation role to morning/afternoon facilitators.
    • Consider breakout rooms within your facilitation tool and have a facilitator for each. 
    • If possible, record sessions so you can go back and capture notes.


Now more than ever, customers are looking for good experiences with brands as they navigate their new reality, whatever that may look like. And for you, it’s more important than ever to understand how your customer’s expectations and behaviors are evolving so that you can pivot to meet the shifts. 


Whether you paused your customer research and/or testing and are picking it back up or are going into it for the first time since COVID-19 pandemic, we hope you keep these learnings in mind so as to remain customer-centric and empathetic during these times. 


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