Guy Redwood on the value of customer behaviour knowledge

22 October 2019 8 min. read
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Guy Redwood, founder of SimpleUsability, a user experience and behavioural research consultancy, sat with to explore how knowledge of customer behaviour is key to sustainable business growth.

Founded in 2001, SimpleUsability helps organisations build better customer experiences – improving websites, apps and services by providing an in-depth understanding of natural customer behaviour.

Founder Guy Redwood is particularly interested in how neuroscience can be applied to user experience and market research. Over the last 19 years, he has led the SimpleUsability team to create a user research methodology, incorporating proven psychology principles and innovative technology to observe customers’ natural behaviour.

What has been the most significant moment of your career so far?

Twelve years ago we used eye tracking equipment for the first time, and through this we discovered people didn’t actually know how they were making decisions. This was a pivotal moment in my career. From that day forward, I stopped listening to people’s opinions and started observing their natural behaviours instead.

At that same time, Fortnum & Mason and Pfizer simultaneously agreed to two very different projects that enabled us to hire expensive eye tracking equipment. Due to the high costs of a week’s rental, I remember learning how to use the tech late one night in a hotel bedroom in London, in preparation for a week of research in various locations. It was a late night and fortunately everything went smoothly, as we know that’s not always the case with technology.

Guy Redwood on the value of customer behaviour knowledge

The insights we gained from these projects were contentious to the stakeholders, but the strong evidence was persuasive and gave both clients a huge uplift in all metrics. This paved the way for us taking out a bank loan to buy our own eye tracking system, which allowed us to truly understand human behaviour. Something we’ve been doing as business, ever since.

I remember negotiating the loan with the bank. They were making me jump through hoops, until I stated I was buying the eye tracker and would just put the £20,000 across my credit cards if they didn’t agree. Their attitude suddenly changed and they bent over backwards to provide the loan facility. Sometimes it’s best to be bold and truly believe you know what’s right for your business.

After over 20 years in behavioural testing, what's the most interesting thing you've learnt about people?

People are not aware of how they actually make decisions. We think we know ourselves well, but how our brains actually make decisions is usually very different to what we think. When you ask a person to tell you about their behaviour, they will tell you what they think they did or give you an answer that supports their view of how they’d like to be perceived.

People are very good at spotting patterns and filling in the gaps when reading information. We’ve observed research participants quickly scanning over words and pictures, making it easy to misinterpret things or unintentionally recall bad emotions based on the smallest of things. The subconscious part of the brain is making decisions far faster than the conscious part, and this is predominantly based on our memories of similar things.

Why should firms invest in behavioural research and testing?

There are three reasons. Firstly, the ROI is huge. I’ve always scratched my head when people ask what’s the value in understanding your customers’ behaviours. Why wouldn’t you want to know how your customers think and what they expect from you? Here’s a good example: we changed one thing on EE’s website and they got an extra £1 million pounds in revenue through a sim card sign registration form.

The second reason is customers are changing so fast it’s impossible to stay ahead without knowing them inside and out. Regular research with your customers lets you stay aligned with them. They will tell you about new stuff they have just started to use or you’ll see shifts in attitude that are driven from external influences.

Finally, there’s an age-old expectation that senior people in the business should know the answer to most problems. They’re successful, that’s why they hold the position of CEO or CMO. Up until recently it’s been quite reasonable to expect your senior team to make the right decisions based on their experience and ideas. But in a world where everything is made better and performs better, we’ve found the best senior people refuse to make decisions and encourage a culture of test and evolve with real customers. We’ve replaced the ‘I know what we need to do’ with ‘let’s ask and then try a few things and continually improve’.

“Technologies will become the prominent within UX. Voice UX like Alexa, Siri and Cortana, and augmented reality are all really exciting digital innovations.”

UX researchers need a unique skill set, what do you look for when recruiting?

They need an insatiable appetite for listening and observing. It’s all about the person participating in the research, not the opinion of the person conducting the research. They need to be able to relax people and build empathy with participants, and they also need to be very good with spoken English. I mention this as it is very easy to unintentionally change the behaviour of somebody with just a few words. Derren Brown intentionally uses language to get people to do things out of character, like hand over a wallet to a stranger. Humans are really easy to manipulate! Being hyper aware of the power of language is really important.

We find it easier to take a person that’s got a formal psychology background and then train them into a good researcher that observes natural behaviour. Sometimes you find people that don’t have the formal knowledge, but are naturally inquisitive and have an aptitude for observing. For example, people that have experience working behind a bar can be very good listeners.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of market researchers and UX researchers that are very good at getting people to say what the stakeholder wants to hear. We can struggle to re-train people into listening if they’ve spent years directing research participants to do conform to their hypothesis.

You've worked with global brands, is there a project you are most proud of?

Coca Cola is, I believe, one of the most beautiful and strongest brands in the world. We are all so proud to have worked with them and we’ve done some incredible work this year that’s having a huge impact throughout their business. They came to us to with a range of projects, asking us to unpick certain customer behaviours and our team got stuck in.

Very few companies in our industry understand the relationship between UX and brand. We see a lot of research that is based on the opinion of customers and this leads to short term gains at the expense of a brand. Humans are emotional creatures that make decisions far quicker than we’re aware of. A lot of the metrics prevalent in UX research, like ‘speed of purchase’ or ‘time on page’ are of little use. As long as the app/website is working well, the speed of using a website bears little correlation as to how it left you feeling. People always remember how you made them feel, and this is equally important to brands. Brand is the new battleground of UX. Making things easier to use, whilst building strong and considered relationships, is key.

What digital innovation or technologies do you feel will become the most prominent within UX in the next 5 years?

Voice UX like Alexa, Siri and Cortana are hugely exciting. Almost everything we engage with day to day is being voice-enabled. It’s very early days, but we see it infiltrating almost everything and there’s so much we’ve yet to learn. It’s a totally new way of controlling devices but once people get used to it, they will adopt it very quickly. I turn my shed lights on using voice control! It’s really simple: as I walk down the garden path I just say “Hey Siri, turn the shed lights on”.

I’m of a generation that’s learning how to use these voice commands and it rarely feels natural. But the younger generation just expect everything to work through voice as that’s been their first way of playing music or controlling the central heating or answering the high-tech doorbell.

Augmented reality is also a really exciting technology where we have so much to learn. There are so many different ways of using AR to help and entertain people. It’s amazing to think that we can overlay information on everything you look at just with some simple glasses. The team at Magic Leap are the people to follow to get an insight into the possibilities of AR. It’s like a SciFi movie, but it’s here today and really working.