As companies recognize the need for more user-centric and evidence-based strategies, user experience (UX) research is becoming an increasingly integrated part of most modern product organizations’ development process. UX research can help teams ensure they’re solving for real needs, reduce risk by catching problems early, and spark creativity through increased empathy for customers. Yet, there are many challenges facing those who conduct UX research. In this series, Braze UX Researcher Sofia Linse tackles common issues and explores how companies can approach this essential work more effectively.
At Braze, our product development approach is built on a foundation of UX research. We often conduct research long before we start building anything, and we rarely launch a new feature without comprehensive usability testing. As a result, we often conduct several research sessions per day across our product teams—something that’s only possible thanks to a steady stream of willing participants. The research we conduct usually requires some familiarity with our existing user interface (UI). As a result, we can’t rely on paid user research panels, but have had to build processes that ensure frequent access to current customers.
Recruiting participants for studies can be a lot of work, and in some cases, even prevent product teams from conducting UX research at all out of fear that it will slow things down. While every business is unique, it’s our hope that sharing the methods we employ at Braze to source research participants can help to assist other companies—especially in the B2B sectors—as they grapple with similar challenges. So read on for six resources we lean on to keep our participant pipeline full:
One wonderful aspect of working at Braze is our engaged customer base, which includes more than 9,000 Braze users across 1,000 companies, representing 65+ industries and 50 countries. Many of these users—who include marketers, growth team members, product folks, and more—use Braze as their primary work tool and have developed a deep, nuanced understanding of the platform. To amplify this expertise, Braze launched Bonfire, a customer-focused Slack community where end users and other individuals at Braze customer companies can connect with each other to highlight industry trends, share best practices, and discuss the Braze product.
As the community has grown, Braze employees have begun to use this channel to connect directly with customers, and the rich conversations that Bonfire hosts have made it an incredibly valuable source for research participants. For one thing, it’s made it possible for us to recruit customers to participate in studies based on topics they’ve discussed in the forum—for instance, if a Braze user frequently shares best practices for SMS campaigns, they might be a great subject for discovery research on opportunities within that space. Bonfire also allows us to post an open request, asking interested customers to sign up for a research session, something that makes it possible for us to get participants within a day or two if the research criteria isn’t so specific.
However, while Bonfire is excellent for many research projects, it isn’t—and shouldn’t be—our only source for participants. The fact is that the individuals who are active within this community tend to represent a particularly engaged, skilled, and (often) satisfied subset of our customer base. That’s not intrinsically a bad thing, but over reliance on this group can introduce a level of bias that is problematic, depending on a given study’s scope.
Not every company is going to have a customer community like Bonfire at their disposal, but given the benefits that come from this sort of group, it can be worth it to explore options to reach out to individuals with a strong familiarity with your product or your industry. That could mean building your own community or just taking steps to draw on the insight and expertise within existing communities that aren’t specifically focused on your organization or its product (for instance, Slack communities for data scientists if your company provides data visualization software).
Another way that we leverage our engaged customer base is through our Braze Firebrands brand champions program. This program celebrates exceptional Braze users for their work determining best practices and serving as change agents within their given industries.
Firebrands are given the opportunity to take part in a range of activities that allow them to share their story, insights, and feedback, and are often asked to take part in research opportunities. However, the Firebrands program is arguably also made up of particularly engaged and satisfied customers. That makes them perfect participants for research that requires a lot of engagement, often early discovery projects where we’re looking for ideas and inspiration, rather than being concerned with broadly generalizable findings. Some of these studies may run for longer periods of time, making the interest in working closely with the Braze team more important than the exact representativity of the user group. As with the Firebrand community, we are mindful of the sampling bias and usually complement research with this engaged group of users with later stage testing with a more diverse set of customers.
At Braze, we use Productboard to help our Product and Engineering organization manage the Braze product roadmap and the feedback that informs it. This use includes an external portal where Braze customers can upvote or comment on items within the Braze roadmap, and an internal system where customer-facing employees can share feedback and requests they have received from clients with others in the organization.
Productboard is an invaluable source for research, since it directly connects us with customers who have already indicated that they’re interested in a given product or feature. We found that early conversations with these users can dig into the reasons that they want specific products or features. They are also often willing to act as early adopters and participate in beta programs. That being said, these customers are recruited based on their existing interest in a specific topic or feature, so we make a point of conducting complementary research with a more diverse customer profile in order to explore product/feature attractiveness within our broader customer base, and ensure that the product design is intuitive and easy to use even for less engaged or sophisticated customers.
Another effective way we’ve found to identify appropriate participants is by leveraging data visualization and analytics platform Looker. By querying Looker, teams are able to identify customers based on company characteristics (e.g. region, industry, contract value), behavior on the Braze platform (e.g. usage a feature we’re looking at redesigning, displaying certain behaviors we need additional context on), or a combination of these elements. Once we’ve identified ideal potential research participants, we usually reach out to them through their Customer Success Managers (CSMs) or directly through the Braze platform (more on those approaches later!).
The teams that directly interact with customers are another invaluable source when recruiting to research. We often consult with CSMs—who work with Braze customers on a daily basis to provide strategic support for their customer engagement programs—when we’re looking for customers that meet very specific criteria and/or have experience with a topic we’re researching. Our CSMs are extremely helpful and engaged when it comes to facilitating sessions with their accounts and we’ve heard that many of those accounts have come to see the frequent opportunities to voice feedback in research projects as a key perk for customers.
At Braze, we’re all about “drinking our own champagne” by using the Braze product, when appropriate, to support internal needs. And because our platform is built to support targeted communications (from triggered emails to in-browser messages), it happens to be a very convenient tool for a researcher seeking participants.
Our team has found a lot of success leveraging the Braze platform to target customers based on very narrow behavioral or demographic criteria and even automatically trigger research requests based on specific actions taken by users. For instance, we can send a request to customers while—or directly after—they use a feature we’re researching and then send a notification right within the product asking those users to provide feedback or take part in research.
Interestingly, we regularly hear from UX researchers working for customers who, like us, use Braze to recruit participants for their studies, which the UX team at Braze obviously finds very exciting. But even if you’re not a Braze customer, we strongly encourage you to reflect on what opportunities you have to target in context—that is, when they’re using your product/platform and their experiences are fresh in their minds.
Streamlining research recruiting is essential if you want to incorporate UX research into your product development process. To have the greatest impact, research insights need to reach the team as decisions are being taken...and lengthy processes can prevent that from happening. Hopefully learning a little bit about how we secure access from the right users at the right time can help you in your research recruiting efforts.
Want to learn more about how we automated parts of our user testing process at Braze? Check out “How Braze Tests Product Design At Scale With Maze.”
Sofia Linse is a Senior UX Researcher based out of our NYC headquarters. When she’s not digging into customer needs and problems, you can find her hunting out the next Chinese restaurant to add to her favorites list or debating which park has the prettiest view of the New York skyline.
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