Words by Trick Narvasa
During my stay at On-Off Group, I was given numerous opportunities to learn and grow as a UX Researcher, but nothing compares to having to lead your own research and take care of your own client. 1Export is a company that works with retailers and distributors to send their users’ products all over the world. In the quest of helping Filipinos send packages to either their customers or loved ones, they want to improve their services, specifically a website of theirs, ShipIt. In order to do this, they asked an important question:
What do Filipinos think about when shipping packages overseas?
Through conducting user interviews and analyzing key insights, I was able to uncover answers to the question and share opportunities for future work.
Here’s how I did it, and the things I learned along the way.
Identifying the problem and objectives
Simply answering the question “What do they need”, given different contexts and situations, would yield multiple answers. It is best to tackle the question and identify specifically what the stakeholder needs. To best do that, I had to equip myself with the proper knowledge when it comes to the exporting or shipping industry.
I first met with 1Export through an online interview via Google Meet and asked about their company and what they do. This allowed me to not only have a better understanding of the company but also know what motivates them in helping their customers. I made sure to ask questions and to clarify what exactly they need from this research. It was also the opportunity to ask about past research they’ve done to help me better understand where I would come in to help them. They provided me with enough information and brief explanations and were also kind enough to give me a demo of their website. This brought me to discovering their customer journey map which will be used as a framework for my analysis later on, as well as the option to use their website in my interviews.
After that, I tapped into my circle of friends and conducted a simple interview with someone who graduated with a degree of Export Management. This allowed me to better digest the terminologies people in the exporting industry would use.
With all of these, I was able to present to them a research plan containing three specific objectives that will help us answer their question.
Map out the experience of the two types of users they have: MSMEs and Individual Consumers. MSMEs refers to small business owners who are looking to expand their business by sending products abroad and Individual Consumers are users outside the previous persona, usually shipping for personal reasons like gifting or requirement submission. I figured that hearing their stories, frustrations, and opinions, first would better shed light on the things they need.
After finalizing these objectives, I was given time to write a comprehensive research plan containing the background I had going through this study and the steps I would have to take moving forward. I was also given the freedom to propose a timeline and the actions to be taken at each step. The project timeline was divided into five simple parts:
The approved research plan states that the deliverables of the study would include a written report of the findings, a presentation deck, a Miro board link containing the analysis that was done.
Drafting the Discussion Guide
A Discussion Guide contains a list of questions that you are supposed to ask your interviewees to go through their experiences. It acts as a rigid script for your user interviews, good to always keep in mind but should not be necessarily followed. For this particular research, I made sure that my questions are connected to one another, similar to how a natural conversation would progress. I didn’t want to simply jump topic to topic without considering how I’m going to introduce each section.
The way I drafted my discussion guide was based on how I thought I could best paint a picture on how the participants’ shipping process works. If I wanted to learn about someone’s day, I would first ask what they do when they wake up in the morning. Similar to that, I first made sure to write questions regarding their preparation process. Part of this process was also knowing what are the things that frustrates them so we may find opportunities to improve upon, and the good experiences that we might consider replicating for 1Export’s users.
When drafting the discussion guide, I learned that it’s best to put in some broad questions so you have room for personalized questions for each participant if you want them to elaborate on more details. Because as I mentioned, I learned that it’s best to conduct interviews that have similar vibes to having a normal conversation.
After the draft was finished, made sure 1Export is informed and updated before I proceeded with the interviews.
Conducting the User Interviews
The interviews were conducted via Zoom. There were a total of nine (9) participants, five (5) under the MSME persona and four (4) under the Individual Consumer persona. The interviews lasted only an hour. I first let them know about reminders. I asked them to “think out loud” and to make sure we keep a conversational atmosphere. I would also tell them that there is no such thing as right or wrong answers so they may freely express what they want to say. Lastly, I assured them that their personal data is safe and kept confidential so they may be reassured that their answers will only be used for this project exclusively.
After this I would formally begin the interview by telling them to treat me as just a curious friend. I found it important to almost blur the lines between being an interviewer and being someone they can share stories with.
I found during my stay at On-Off Group that the more comfortable participants are when talking, the more insights and ideas they present and more frustrations they can vent out.
Each participant brought something new to the table. It was already expected but no two participants had the same experience. This is good not only because it kept things fresh and interesting, but it provided a valuable lesson when doing interviews.
As I mentioned before, the Discussion Guide isn’t meant to be a rigid script that you have to follow. For example, one participant said that a particular process was “complicated”, if I simply accepted the answer and moved on to the next item, I would’ve missed out on the opportunity to deeper understand that pain point. So, I had to ask probing questions such as “How exactly was it ‘complicated’? ” or “What are the things that made it complicated?”
In the user interview, I also included a brief section in which I would let them use 1Export’s website: ShipIt. This was done for two reasons: First, we would like to directly evaluate the website and to check its usability.
The participants were given the time to explore its features and sections and give their thoughts and suggestions. Second, it is an important tool to help further probe their needs by letting them compare it to past experiences. One particular instance was when a participant was asked to comment on a section of a website, they simply answered “It’s alright”.
So reframing that question to “What are the things that you saw from our previous experience that you can’t see here?” brought out answers and made them remember pain points they encountered during their past experience. The answers to these questions can simultaneously bring out more pain points and get suggestions to improve the website.
After reliving their past experiences from shipping and having their frustrations and needs freshly come out their mouths, I thought it would be the perfect time to ask: “What are your thoughts about a mobile app for shipping instead?”. The answer would then stem, not just from a guess, but from reimagining their experiences with that said application. For example, those who were in favor generally felt that having a shipping app would make things easier for them, while those who were not were concerned about the risk and necessity of it. I then gathered their insights and suggestions should the project push through.
At that point, it was learning how to gather more insights as each participant gets interviewed. At the end of the interview process, I gathered quality data for my analysis.
Analyzing the Data
The bulk of this process was done in Miro, an online whiteboard where I could freely produce affinity maps by compiling all the key insights of the users. This process starts by having to review all of the interview recordings one by one. Then, I start notetaking. Note-taking is when I transfer their answers into sticky notes on my Miro board. These sticky notes would be color coded to provide more context and to make the process of clustering easier.
After color coding my sticky notes, they are then separated and spread out on a table I called my “Note-taking board”. The notetaking board I created had columns that represented a main idea. In doing this, it would be easier for me to find which sticky notes I would put in the analysis boards by considering a whole column instead.
The columns or main ideas are roughly based on the sections I wrote for the discussion guide such as the questions regarding their preparation, delivery experience, and thoughts about the ShipIt website. There were a total of eight (8) columns that had these general ideas that will be then used in my analysis boards.
The analysis board is where I would do my affinity mapping. These contain the main insights I would present to 1Export. In order for me to properly show the shipping process and needs of the participants, I made six (6) separate analysis boards that loosely use the stakeholder’s customer journey map as a framework. This was a choice to make sure that the stakeholders can easily understand the results I got from this research.
In order of the participants’ shipping process, these are the analysis boards I worked on. Instead of placing the stakeholders description on these boards, I decided to replace them with questions of my own. Questions that would directly answer.
Each board contains the name, a blurb of what I want to get out from that board, and the sections or columns to consider in my notetaking board. These are things I set so I can have a focus analysis per board, also trying to make sure I stay within the scope of that particular board. For example, if I were to work on my Consideration analysis board, I would only need to focus on finding the factors the users consider when picking a shipping site. I would prioritize looking at the sticky notes seen under the columns “Shipping Company” and “Shipping Preparation” because these are where I mostly saw these factors during note taking and it was the closest columns to consider.
Doing my analysis revealed a good picture overview of the current shipping experience both users have to go through. Other than that, it showed that there are significant differences when it comes to the process of MSMEs compared to Individual Consumers. They require more steps and consideration.
Both the MSMEs and the Individual Consumers prioritize knowing information such as the shipping rate, shipping time, and the overall process of a company. Knowing these reassures them or relieves them of the worries they have when shipping. They often would ask this to their friends, or for the MSMEs, some mentors that help them in their businesses. The differences lie mostly on their motivation as to why they are sending a package overseas.
Unlike Individual Consumers, the MSMEs work hand in hand with customers, making sure that the shipping fee does not intimidate them from purchasing their products. Also, MSMEs want to make sure that perishable products are delivered the soonest so that their customers would have more time to enjoy it. This is only true for Individual consumers if they are sending snacks or food for their relatives, otherwise, they only need to make sure there are no delays.
The MSMEs would also need to acquire more documents and certifications than the average Individual Consumers. This is to ensure that they follow the country’s law and regulations.
One participant even shared that “...in the US, when you do wrong stuff, they add you in a list”, and continuous offenses will have them banned from doing business there. Another participant even mentioned the hassle of going to Manila to fetch documents that can only be accessed there. This is a concern of theirs especially during this pandemic. Acquiring documents isn’t a particularly enjoyable process for these MSMEs, this is why they prefer shipping companies or consolidators that would make this task easier.
There were numerous pain points that were presented by both users. Some pain points are shared while other pain points are exclusive to one group’s experience. They provided their suggestions and wishes to improve the current shipping process not only exclusively for 1Export but for all current outlets and methods.
After compiling the user insights, I was then able to also give suggestions for their website. These suggestions come from my knowledge as someone who came from a Computer Science background and also backed up by what I observed during the interviews and what I have discovered during data analysis.
After finishing the written report and presentation deck, I delivered the results to 1Export through email and discussed it through a video call via Google Meets. They were pleased with the results and were surprised at the new discoveries they learned from their two users. They said they would take these results into consideration as they move forward with their internal projects.
Overall, I could only describe this experience as both memorable and valuable. Going into this project as an intern did make me nervous, but excited at the same time. It is definitely unheard of for a company to trust their interns to handle a full set project, but with a mindset for learning and the proper guidance of my mentors, I was able to push through. I couldn’t hide how proud I was hearing positive feedback from 1Export, this was truly an empowering experience especially for aspiring UX researchers such as myself.
Moving forward, I definitely need more practice when it comes to presenting and handling clients. It is a completely different experience from just simply presenting inside a classroom. It was also a pleasure seeing how I improved in each user interview through the recordings, but I have more to learn like how to make it more natural and free-flowing. During the interviews, I have the discussion guide open and would nervously keep track of it. For future interviews, I would like to try looking at it less and simply keep the objectives at heart.
Of course, these plans for improvements are nothing without the helpful feedback of my mentors. I would like to thank Ingrid and Sue for guiding me through this project and encouraging me every step of the way. This is definitely something I’ll carry over the next chapters of my UX career.
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