When people think of user research, the first thing that probably comes to mind is conducting surveys on the usability of a product. Yet user research is much more than that.

To find out what user research really means for the IT business and how it can be beneficial for your work, I spoke to Uwe Betzin, a user experience (UX) design expert at SAP.

From Development to UX Design

Betzin is someone you would describe as a change maker. When he first joined SAP in 2003, he began his career as a developer. For the next 12 years, he worked in development and was always looking for guidelines or best practices on how to get things done because he felt like he lacked the same “that’s the way to do it!” spirit his colleagues seemed to have.

When asked to create a user interface (UI), Betzin came across a UX basics training. With it, he was not only introduced to user experience but as a result decided to become a UX advocate, dedicating half of his working time to that role. As a UX advocate for his development team, he brought together team, domain, and UX knowledge.

Betzin soon realized his true passion wasn’t development but UX design, which is why he decided to do a six-month fellowship in the SAP Business Suite UX team. Eventually, this led him to change his user research career path. Ever since, his vision has been to get customers excited about using application software because it gets their job done easily.

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User Research with the Help of a Customer Council

To create software that meets customer requirements, it is key to consider what end users really need. And what better way is there than to interact with them directly?

One way to do so would be to establish a customer council led by an area product owner. A customer council allows an area product owner, product owner, developers, UX designers, etc. to be in constant contact with selected customers and to test a product while instantly receiving feedback from them.

Betzin is part of such a customer council, comprised of 80 members from 40 different customers — most of them primary end users.

There are regular Microsoft Teams calls, yearly workshops, and the typical usability tests. More importantly, there is on-site user research as well as one week of customer testing for each release. So far, this format has paid off for both parties, with customer feedback like “It’s great to see our feedback implemented” and “This software feels like it’s tailored to my needs.”

Being part of a customer council is a great opportunity to see how customers work. “It requires minimal planning to do a customer visit and there are no formalities involved,” Betzin explained. According to him, this is the way to go for creating good software. Not only does it save costs, but it is also easier than developing software, delivering it to customers, and then dealing with customer incidents because something does not perform well. “Who’s going to change all the code afterwards?” he asked rhetorically.

To avoid such a scenario, Betzin suggests product owners get user research done and include it in their road map. This is a key step that allows them to properly organize it, evaluate the results, work on designs, and finally validate the results, before delivering the product to the customer.

Product owners being the interface between the development team and the customer will not only help ensure that the software turns out great, they will also benefit from it because they will need less capacity for development and more likely have less issues and customer incidents.

Importance of User Research

Many people are not aware of what a user researcher or a visual/interaction designer can do for them and how they can benefit from conducting user research. According to Betzin, user research is important for anyone involved in software development — from product management to support. They all should have at least basic knowledge about what user research is, what it encompasses, and what kind of benefits it has.

There seems to be a common misconception that software just needs to work. But when does it really work? “A developer takes care of how something should work, whereas a designer takes care of how a person works with it,” Betzin shared.

To sum up, it is not enough to develop software or features just for the sake of somehow making it work. It’s important to improve people’s lives, and for that you need to listen to end users. To understand your users’ expectations, working processes, and routines, selecting the right research method is key. Learn more about user research, including the 14 most used user research methods at SAP, and download the new user research method card deck here.