A Step-By-Step Guide to Get Started with User Research

Too many startups fail to listen to their audience and do the proper research. There are ways to save time when launching a business, but taking shortcuts with your customers will only hurt you in the long run. 

At this point in history, nearly every service in almost every industry is delivered via technology. And when that technology is hard to use, people bail. They will gladly pay another provider more if that product places less demand on their time or effort.

It’s less about tricks and more about taking time to get to know your audience and develop a solid strategy in the beginning so that you have product/market fit.


Great strategy starts with customer research.
Tweet thisTweet:

Why? 

Because we don’t know everything there is to know about any given problem, or industry, or the people that we’re hopefully trying to reach. No matter how long you may have worked in a particular industry, I can assure you there are plenty of critical moments that you don’t know.

Strategy is all about making choices. Choices that are made on the strategy plane, have a massive ripple effect all the way up the chain.


If you mess up during strategy phase, you’ll be paying for it repeatedly over the life of the project.
Tweet this Tweet:

Today, I want to share with you how I approach the customer discovery phase at the beginning of each project. The process that I use is a mash-up of different methods from Strategyzer, IDEO as well as frameworks I studied at Harvard Business School.

By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of how to do a proper user research, how to prioritize ideas, and learn how to write a user statement on how you’re going to create viable solutions to user problems, and clearly communicate your value.

How to get started

  1. Define 2-3 customer segments and write a short brief on the each segment.

  2. Brainstorm the ‘Jobs’ that customers are trying to get done and define the most critical ones.

  3. Understand the ‘Pains’ and prioritize them.

  4. Describe the ‘Gains’, the outcomes and benefits your customers want. Prioritize per completion.

  5. Write a ‘User statement.’

  6. Test your assumptions and re-iterate.

1. Segment your audience

30kstrategy-user-research-customer-jobs

Start by asking a question: “Who is my customer?”

Create a quick overview like the one above, but don’t include everything you know, you won’t memorize it.

You only need a handful amount of facts that can help you make decisions later.

Best Practices

  • Run the process for the each customer segment. If you sell to companies, ask yourself if you have different types of customers within each company.

Common mistakes

  • Avoid mixing multiple customer segments into one profile. Do customer canvas individually for the each profile instead.

2. Customer Jobs

30kstrategy-user-research-customer-jobs

Jobs describe the things your customers are trying to get done in their work or in their life. A customer job could be:

  • The tasks they are trying to perform and complete

  • The problems they are trying to solve

  • Or the needs they are trying to satisfy


If you understand the job that the customer is trying to do it becomes clear how to improve the product.
— Professor Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business School

Knowing the "Job" a customer is trying to get done allows you to improve the product in ways that are important to the customer.

There are 3 main types of customer Jobs-To-Be-Done:

  • Functional jobs (Tasks people want to perform, problems they want to solve)

    • When your customers try to perform or complete a specific task or solve a specific problem, for example, mow the lawn, eat healthy as a consumer, write a report, or help clients as a professional.

  • Social jobs (How do people want to be perceived by others)

    • When your customers want to look good or gain power or status. These jobs describe how customers want to be perceived by others, for example, look trendy as a consumer or be perceived as competent as a professional.

  • Emotional jobs (How do they want to feel)

    • When your customers seek a specific emotional state, such as feeling good or secure, for example, seeking peace of mind regarding one’s investments as a consumer or achieving the feeling of job security at one’s workplace.

Job importance

Not all jobs have the same importance to your customer. Some matter more in a customer’s work or life because failing to get them done could have serious ramifications.

Some are insignificant because the customer cares about other things more. Sometimes a customer will deem a job crucial because it occurs frequently or because it will result in a desired or unwanted outcome.

Download trigger questions

Best Practices

  • Sometimes Social or Emotional jobs are even more important than the Functional jobs. “Looking good in front of others” might be more important than finding a solution that helps complete the job.

  • When you map your customer, you should “forget” what you are offering. Go beyond the jobs, pains, and gains you intend or hope to address with your product.

  • The more sticky notes you have on a customer profile the better. Try to map out all your (potential) customers’ jobs, pains, and gains.

  • Ask “Why” several times (ideally 5) until you really understand your customers’ jobs to be done.

Common mistakes 

  • Focusing on Functional jobs only and forgetting Social and Emotional jobs can lead you to loosing some competitive advantages. This is a very important step that many strategy practitioners skip!

  • Don’t mix Jobs and Outcomes (Outcomes are the gains, the results).

  • Listing Jobs with your of your product’s value proposition in mind.


3. Customer Pains

30kstrategy-user-research-customer-pains

Pains describe anything that annoys your customers before, during, and after trying to get a job done or simply prevents them from getting a job done. Pains also describe risks, potential bad outcomes, related to getting a job done badly or not at all.

  • Undesired outcomes, problems, and dislikes

  • Obstacles preventing customers from getting a job done (well)

  • Risks and fears of what could go wrong (undesired potential outcomes)

Pain severity

A customer pain can be extreme or moderate, similar to how jobs can be important or insignificant to the customer.

Download trigger questions

Best Practices

  • While thinking of pains and gains, make them tangible and concrete, don’t use broad brush strokes for it. For example, rather than just writing “Sales increase” in gains, specify how much of an increase a person is looking for. 


Common mistakes 

  • Listing Pains with your of your product’s value proposition in mind.

  • Identifying too few jobs, pains, and gains.

  • Being too vague in descriptions of pains and gains.

4. Customer Gains

30kstrategy-user-research-customer-gains

Gains describe the outcomes and benefits your customers want.

How your customer measures success of a job well done?

Rank which gains customer perceives as essentials and which ones as nice-to-have

  • Required (Without this, the solution won’t work)

  • Expected (It could work even without this gain)

  • Desired (Go beyond what you expect from a solution)

  • Unexpected (Go way beyond customer expectations and desires)

Gain relevance

A customer gain can feel essential or nice to have, just like pains can feel extreme or moderate to them.

Download trigger questions

Best Practices

  • Rather than writing “takes too long,” indicate how long “too long” actually is. This will allow you to understand how exactly customers measure success and failure.


Common mistakes 

  • Listing Gains with your of your product’s value proposition in mind.

5. Developing a user statement

Once you’ve completed the Customer Profile, the final step would be to create a User statement that will guide throughout the course of product development.

Consider the following pyramid:

Click to enlarge

The pyramid above has four categories:

  1. Articulating the job to be done

  2. Defining the experiences that the customer needs to have to nail the job perfectly

  3. Determining how to integrate the organization to deliver the job to be done

  4. Creating a purpose brand

Here is an example of Minute Clinic(a division of CVS Health) of how the user statement could be written:

  1. Help me to quickly and conveniently, get the healthcare I need without seeing a doctor.

  2. Every aspect of the service must allow the patient to get their job done in a "quick" and "convenient" way.

    1. The clinic shouldn't take long to get to.

    2. Filling prescriptions should be simple.

    3. The healthcare provided should still match the healthcare that one would receive from a doctor.

  3. Minute Clinic should:

    1. put their clinics in city centers where patients go often,

    2. place clinics be near pharmacies, 

    3. hire nurse practitioners who can give "doctor-level" service for simple illnesses.

  4. The name "Minute Clinic" will resonate with anyone wishing for quick healthcare.

If you want to learn more about ‘User Jobs’ framework that I use, checkout Strategyzer’s Value proposition book. I find it perfect to do a user research + I combine it with my own techniques to expand on the value even more.


**Bonus**

Download for FREE my User Research template that I use in UX strategy sessions.

If you have any questions about this topic or need help, leave a comment below with your question and I’ll answer it.

If you liked the post, I would appreciate that as well, share with friends, subscribe to my newsletter.

Thank you for reading!


Alex Gilev

I help SaaS companies get a competitive advantage through UX Strategy to attract, retain and delight their customers.