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December 21, 2022

How to Optimize Your Research Program to Do More and Better Tactical Research

User Research

Tactical research is critical. It sometimes doesn’t get enough credit — the strategic projects are often viewed as shinier and higher level. But tactical research is what informs the work happening today that can shift results in your product near-term. It’s directly tied to business outcomes and clear, visible impact.

What’s going on with this one specific piece of a flow that needs to be optimized?

Why isn’t our upgrade option working?

How can we increase conversion rates by 20%?

By answering these specific tactical questions, research helps everyone stay close to the customer’s nitty gritty experience and keeps research top of mind throughout the product development lifecycle. It builds credibility and momentum for the projects that your designers and product managers prioritize, while also giving them the information they need to make decisions before building.

Why You Need to Optimize Tactical Research

But here’s the issue. Tactical research can feel like a never-ending pile of tasks, particularly as roadmap cycles shorten. With new features being released monthly, weekly, or even daily, and product teams under pressure to deliver results quickly, everyone needs an easy solution to address ad hoc requests quickly and efficiently. One way to do that is by reaching users in-product to conduct fast, iterative tactical research.

Diagram showing Agile v. Waterfall Comparison

By optimizing how your team conducts tactical research, you’ll be able to answer more questions and service more research requests, maintain a high quality bar for insights and create more space to answer strategic, forward-looking projects.

Sounds great, right? So how do you do it?

3 Ways to Optimize Tactical Research

Tactical research can be conducted by methods including conducting rolling qualitative sessions or launching unmoderated testing. With qualitative sessions, set a regular interview schedule of sessions with targeted users to answer tactical questions. It’s effective at providing specific and deep insights to build conviction in decision making, but scheduling can be difficult and a small sample size is practically inevitable. Unmoderated testing allows for larger scale, but there is the risk of losing participants if they get lost in the study and you miss out on a real-time connection.

In-product surveys, however, are fast and efficient, and solve for the issues of scheduling constraints and small sample sizes. By targeting surveys in-context, you’re able to ask open-ended questions to generate qualitative insights that answer important tactical questions, at scale. You’re optimizing your time without sacrificing insights.

Plus, because of how easy it is to launch in-product surveys, researchers can delegate (or, a non-researcher can step in if there’s not a research team yet). And product managers and designers can launch in-product surveys when they have immediate questions that need to be answered before or while building, giving researchers the time to focus on bigger or strategic initiatives.

Here are three specific cases where it often makes sense to leverage in-product surveys to answer tactical questions:

  1. To understand how existing features or flows could be improved by targeting surveys to specific users at specific points in their journey.

  2. To prioritize and inform roadmap initiatives, and validate why certain projects and updates are moving to the top of the line by asking specific and open-ended questions.

  3. To evaluate the user experience pre- and post-launch, and stay connected to the customer by continuing to measure the customer’s in-app experience in real time.

Now, let’s shift over to what optimizing tactical research looks like in practice.

Use Case: Tactical Research to Troubleshoot Drop-off and Increase Onboarding Completion

Invoice2go, a company that recently expanded from solely an invoice platform to a more full-service solution, had just launched a new product called Invoice2go Money. This included a banking offering, which required a third-party security integration with Plaid to communicate between the app and the bank.

This was supposed to make Invoice2go customers’ lives easier…yet the team saw drop-off after signup. And, with additional Invoice2go Money features planned, they needed reliable answers, fast. If customers didn’t start using these new features, they didn’t even have a shot at healthy, long-term engagement.

They went into tactical research mode to solve the onboarding drop-off issue. The team, led by Pranav Piyush, VP, Product & Customer Marketing, launched an in-product survey to determine exactly where the obstacle was. They had a hypothesis — that a Plaid integration step was presenting an issue for users — but they needed the data to back it up. Asking questions to specific users could help get those answers efficiently.

Additionally, by launching the survey themselves, the team was able to get the study up and running without monopolizing resources from other teams.

Here’s how this project played out. The survey asked a simple question of users who applied for the product, but didn’t actually start using the app: “How easy or difficult is the process?” Then, they dug in deeper with an open-ended question about the experience. They asked users why they hadn’t linked their accounts and let them share open-text answers on what specifically could be improved to lead them towards feature adoption.

in-product survey questions

Tactical insights via in-product surveys quickly demonstrated that customers were unfamiliar with Plaid and were not eager to provide their banking details was correct. 30% (the highest percentage) of users said, “I didn’t know what Plaid was so I didn’t provide my bank account details.” Additionally, from a usability and awareness perspective, linking a bank account to start accepting card payments was not a natural process for many of Invoice2Go’s users.

These tactical answers helped the team prioritize their roadmap and focus specifically on the two metrics they set out to impact — decrease onboarding drop-off and increase completion. With the changes they made as a result of this in-product survey, they were able to increase completion by 25%.

Plus, with the tactical research being conducted by Pranav’s team, the research team was able to focus on bigger strategic projects.

Want to learn more about how Invoice2go’s tactical research and the specific changes they made? Check out the case study here.

Best Practices to Use In-Product Surveys for Tactical Answers

To optimize tactical research, you need to uncover specific answers to your most pressing questions, fast. And in-product surveys can help achieve that by asking the right questions, to the right users, at the right time, right in the product experience.

Ultimately, you’ll have more time for pie-in-the-sky research projects, get more high quality insights more quickly, and be able to do more research overall.

With that in mind, here are four best practices to put into place to optimize in-product surveys and get the tactical insights you need.

  1. Have a clear understanding of the customer and the issues they may be facing so you understand the questions you want to ask

  2. Create simple custom templates for research that can be used across the organization to launch targeted surveys

  3. Build a framework for continuous research in-product that monitors and answers the most common tactical questions

  4. Don’t stop there! Look at the bigger picture and realize where tactical research could open up more questions than answers and lead to strategic research initiatives

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