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See Through Your Customers: Context Inquiry

In the fierce competition in the capital market nowadays, business owners could only wish their shops are filled with customers and their products pre-sold way before official launch. Shrewd sales personnel wish they could see through customers’ minds and know what they are thinking so they could earn handsome amount of commission fees. In this day and age, everyone wants to know what the customers think, what they want and how to get them to pay. In this article, I’ll introduce a research method that could have an insight into consumers’ real demands—context inquiry.
 

Context inquiry is a research method based on anthropology and ethnography, developed by Beyer and Holtzblatt. This method requires in-depth observation and first-hand experience in the subject’s living domain and has become one of the popular and essential user-centered design(UCD) methods. 

 
 
Context Inquiry—Inside Everyone’s Heart Lives a Detective
In simple terms, context inquiry is to turn yourself into an exceptional detective and observe target people and/or things in excruciating details. This way, you could spot the issue and find the logic behind the issue.
Before we begin the research, we need to confirm what the issue is. For example, are you creating brand new 3C product? Are you launching a brand new all-you-can-eat business model? Or are you providing a customized e-care service for seniors? After you decide the research topic, then you could select the research object. Based on your topic, your object could be engineers who are crazy about 3C products, or mature females who enjoy all-you-can-eat gourmet, or seniors who may suffer from chronicle diseases. The next step is to spend the budget and invite volunteers from different places for the research.
 
After sample recruiting and setting up the date with the interviewees, then you must carefully observe their behaviors in their living surroundings. The purpose of context inquiry aims to collect the integral behavior and interaction information, instead of documenting the objects’ opinions and thoughts. Therefore, researchers need to make full use of their cameras, notebooks or recording devices to document observation in great details. You should observe the items they carry around with, the setting of items in the environment and the route they take when moving etc.
 
Such user information is definitely massive and complicated. When you are organizing the information, you could try to write a sketch statement on the post-it note to simplify the compilation work. Or you could turn such information into easily readable, highly transferrable behavior model (Beyer & Holzblatt, 1998), so that researchers, designers, engineers and PM in the team could swiftly extract and digest such detailed context and exhaustive information. Finally, the development team could conduct several brainstorming sessions, figure out observed issues and phenomena and dig up the potential user demands and directions for future products or services. This way, they could develop the prototype for new product or new service model.
 
 
Case Sharing
 
Bank of America (BOA) launched “Keep the Change” account service and visa debit card in October 2005. This innovative service allowed BOA to attract more than 2.5 million newly-open accounts in the U.S. with the additional 700,000+ checking accounts and over 1 million savings accounts.
The launch of this successful product began with a decision made by the management of BOA. They thought that BOA must attract more customers to open new accounts to maintain profits. Therefore, BOA spent 2 months conducting customer research: they selected 12 families from several big cities and conducted context inquiry on the shopping and purchasing behaviors of family members. The result showed that when baby boomers conduct small amount purchase, they don’t like to keep the change, so they normally pay in full amount. However, these people usually don’t have sound financial management, causing them to spend more than they earn. When BOA launched “Keep the Change”, it enabled customers to continue their purchasing behavior which is to pay in full amount, the bank would return the change to the customers’ accounts. In addition, BOA would give cash reward of 5% of total transaction amount to these accounts. This innovative financial service not only catered to customer’s real demands but increased account opening amount and brought the bank stable profits.
 
 
Summary
 
To see through people’s hearts, in addition to super-power or psychic connection, you could use structured context inquiry to seek deeper understanding of consumers’ demands and subsequently develop better products, more considerate services and a consumption model that satisfies the customers. Context inquiry is sympathy applied in the capital market and also an essential research tool in contemporary UX field.
 
Reference
1. Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems
2. Field Study Manual for Gaining Customer Insight: Finding Business Opportunities Through Customer Behaviors and Create Innovative Service and Product.
 
 
 
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About Author
Gamania UI Designer Center / Shawn 
Adopting a User-Center Design approach, the Center seeks to improve upon Group initiated projects to promote Gamania self-produced products and give the players the best user experience.
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