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A Guide To

Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX) Research

When it’s important to know the mind of the consumer – no matter the product or service – the best source for meaningful insights is the consumer themselves. The world of market research is a continual pursuit to gain meaningful windows into the daily lives of users with opportunities to inquire and listen to their thoughts and perspectives.

Great user experience and customer experience (UX/CX) studies also allow for observation of their actions, body language and general interactions and reactions to inform makers and innovators about how their features and benefits are perceived and received in the real world. It’s important to understand when a product or service is useful to the consumer and when it is more of a hassle than a help. A search for this knowledge is the foundation of the user experience industry.

Here we uncover the pillars of user and customer experience and how working with the right research facilitation, participant recruiter and focus group or venue partner can positively amplify the impact of your studies.


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Chapter 1: Exploring CX and UX Research

Consumer Insights

Consumer experience research is informed and carefully curated interpretations of actions, feelings and mindsets about a product or service. It is compiled with the aim to increase the effectiveness for the consumer while simultaneously increasing the profitability of the company or organization who owns the product or service. Consumer feedback can be needed at multiple stages from concept testing to iterative design; evaluation of a legacy product or service in the market or the hands-on testing of a prototype and more. Insights are compiled to provide meaningful information about which components are especially useful to consumers, and where pain points lie in the design and function. These insights allow businesses to fine-tune deliverables to better fit market needs and consumer preferences within a target audience to yield more sales and build customer loyalty.

User Experience

The world of user experience revolves heavily around obtaining consumer insights and applying the collected data to the design and interface of a product, also known as usability testing, UX testing, or user testing. The goal of usability testing is to identify issues, collect user feedback and determine the participant’s overall satisfaction with a product. The results can directly feed into an iterative development loop or can be a one-off proof of concept or design.

As an essential part of creating a successful product, UX testing is used throughout almost every vertical. For example, the healthcare industry is reliant on usability testing to ensure that life-saving products, such as glucose meters, or wearable devices work properly, perform reliably and have instructions which drive proper function and ease of use. Other businesses like banks, retailers, and food providers all take full advantage of usability testing to provide products and services that are easy to use, look great, taste good and more.

User Interface Testing

A smaller, yet equally important subset of the UX industry, is user interface (UI) testing. User interface testing is the process of observing how users interact with an online platform or software, or software as a service (SaaS) product and is usually focused on looks, design and measuring the level of ease in intuitive use. The goal of UI testing is to identify where users get stuck, lost, or confused when using a new app, website, or other digital media. From there, UX practitioners can rearrange the interface design to satisfy the needs and preferences of the users.

Hand in hand with UX/UI testing comes prototyping to bring new ideas to life after initial research and development. A prototype is a primitive version of a product in the design phase.

Prototyping is used to test the flow of a product design and receive feedback from users before constructing a new prototype based on user preferences.

Human Factors Testing

Another type of user experience is the field of human factors design, also known as human-centered design. Known in academia as “the science of people at work,” Human factors testing aims to isolate and study the psychological and physiological principles that influence the design of products, processes, and systems. A product created with human factors in mind can be used in a way that is most optimal for the human body and therefore creates a more positive user experience.

Human factors design plays a large role in the development of medical devices. The goal of human factors in medical device design is to minimize user-related hazards to increase the likelihood that a patient or caregiver will use the device safely and effectively. Some beneficial outcomes of designing medical devices with human factors in mind include:

  • Easy-to-use devices
  • Easy-to-read controls and displays
  • Clear instructions for set up and use
  • Better user understanding of the device’s status and operation
  • Better user understanding of a patient’s current medical condition
  • More effective alarm signals
  • Easier device maintenance and repair
  • Reduced need for user training and retraining
  • Reduced risk of user error
  • Reduced risk of adverse events
Cory Lebson

Because of this direct to consumer shift, hospitals, drug companies, healthcare device development companies and many other types of businesses in the medical periphery are looking for more feedback from the public. In these instances, the goals may include a large sample of respondents who are reasonably able to attend focus group meetings or personal interviews.

Cory Lebson, Lebsontech LLC

Joel Barr

We use discovery research to start the process and figure out what the problem is first. Talk to your user, uncover the problems, and solve them based on the user’s pain points within the experience.

Joel Barr, CDK Global

Jim Coyle

Monitoring the way people react psychologically and behaviorally is exciting. The way we visually process is an interesting behavior, and instead of relying on self-reports, we can observe how users process a task which is a huge advantage.

Jim Coyle, Miami University

Michelle Ronsen

When a project starts off, we aim to build a really great relationship with our stakeholders so that we can truly understand what we’re looking to learn and how those learnings will be applied. We also want to have a solid understanding of the relevant hypotheses that exist so that we can develop a very particular set of questions to explore.

Michelle Ronsen, Curiosity Tank

Zoë Glas

Data collection is such a small piece of what we do. It’s the storytelling, it’s the translation and it’s bringing people along. The sign of a great UX researcher is their ability to tell the story of the data rather than simply giving people data to react to.

Zoë Glas, Google

Chapter 2: Best Practices and the Range of Methodologies Within CX and UX Research

CX and UX research is conducted in a wide range of industries, and, depending on the trade, research practitioners have a variety of ways to target the needed data. In order to gain the most valuable insights, professionals within each industry have developed best practices and individual skills to uncover the deepest insights and feedback for the best business impact.

Researchers employ various methodologies depending on the goals of the study. Each research method has a way of extracting pertinent information and valuable user insights. A few methods prevalent for UX and CX research include:

  • User surveys
  • User interviews
  • A/B testing
  • Card sorting
  • Ethnographic studies
  • Brand tracking studies
  • Voice of Customer (VOC) studies
  • And yes, focus groups

Because of this wide range of research and employment of multiple methodologies, both interactive and observational environments are needed:

  • Multi-Location Synchronous
  • Multi-Location Asynchronous
  • Face-to-Face Focus Groups and In-depth-interviews, or IDIs
  • Virtual Focus Groups and In-depth-interviews, or IDIs
  • On-Site Testing
  • In-home usage testing (IHUT)

Different types of studies may also require shorter or longer commitments. Feedback for a product review can be done in as little as a one-time 45-minute engagement, but longitudinal research and development studies may require multiple feedback sessions from the same group of participants. Conversely, iterative studies for the same project may require that no participants are recycled as the research moves through the next phases.

Chapter 3: Finding the Right Participants for Your CX or UX Study

The Right Participants

As the need for CX and UX research continues to grow, so does the need for qualified research participants. Securing the most qualified and engaged research participants is an essential part of obtaining true insights to guide business next steps. Quality feedback directly impacts the quality of insights gained from service-oriented reviews, product usability, exploration of possible product updates, discoveries around product use, and especially user experience from web-based services or emerging technology.

Recruiting participants for CX and UX studies can be different from recruiting for other qualitative studies or focus groups. Understanding these nuances can be key to enlisting the right audience for participation.

TIP: When studying the usability of a new device for diabetics, you may want to take into consideration respondents’ past use of similar products and ensure they are willing and able to share their feedback on their experiences which may include personal medical histories.

Regardless of the use case, properly sourced and well-vetted research participants deliver the best quantitative and qualitative data necessary to produce actionable insights. But when it comes to recruiting the right people, having access to a large community of potential respondents and expertise on the recruiting team makes all the difference both for when a larger group is needed and when a very specific and small number of participants is warranted.

How Much Is Enough?

While an increase in technology is driving a need for a larger sample group for some studies, some research projects require participation from a very specific population, and often, the qualified respondent pool is lean. Even if in the preliminary phase of a study a general respondent is acceptable, the scope may be narrowed down to an extremely niche group in follow-up or iterative phases of the study. An expert recruiting team has appropriate tools to find your intended audience.

TIP: As research and development iterations proceed, the research participant pool may need to be slimmed down. At some point, the participant criteria may evolve. When this respondent field narrows, expert recruiters can adapt and manage logistics to efficiently deliver the right people to your study.

Database And Knowledge Base

While a qualitative participant recruiting firm who boasts a large proprietary database might seem to be irrelevant for a study requiring 12 participants, the truth is actually quite the opposite. Access to a properly maintained and active proprietary database can produce significantly higher respondents. It is also important to work with a knowledgeable recruiting team experienced in finding the right respondents who may not be in their database through channels like social media. Sourcing quality respondents for either qualitative and quantitative studies starts with properly maintained respondent databases. Any professional recruiting partner has a healthy mix of hyper-local, national and global research recruiting options. Additional recruiting or screening beyond this database is important, but starting with a well maintained database is key to saving clients both time and money.

Recruiters with definitive research experience know how to effectively use their resources to find specific participants by quickly expanding their reach beyond their databases and relying on carefully built networks within multiple communities. A successful respondent recruiting team has networks that include a wide variety of participants ranging from professionals to chief executive officers; high-tech users to pet lovers and more. When input is needed from a myriad of participants around a variety of fields, professional research recruiting is recommended to deliver qualified prospects in alignment with project targeted goals.

Security And Privacy

Successful CX and UX research recruiting requires a strong commitment to privacy and security protocols. The recruiting field is changing rapidly with security requirements, data tracking protocols, changes to HIPAA requirements, and other similar industry standards. Professional recruiters work hand-in-hand with researchers, moderators, and end-clients alike to ensure the precise study requirements are met, privacy is maintained and trade secrets are guarded.

Diversity And Accessibility

It is important to collect respondents from as many different backgrounds as possible in order to receive representatively diverse feedback. Participants in remote locations, or those with less experience with technology or disabilities, can offer insights that may otherwise be missed. Some studies will champion these more challenging populations and reaching a particular group of individuals may require targeted methods of recruitment. Engaging a range of diverse participants opens up studies to hard-to-reach populations and further advances the quality of insights and feedback received while conducting customer experience and usability research.

Quality research outcomes start with the quality of the recruit. We control the quality of our audience by pulling from our community and making sure that we’re speaking to folks that are qualified and ready to give their full attention to the actual user experience. Those are really the key criteria for high-quality data.

Dana Kim, Highlight

At MLN, we take a kid-centric approach to taste tests and UX research. We know how to get kids to open up, be honest, and talk about what they really think. Fieldwork shares our philosophy. When we work on projects with them, we really feel we’re all part of an enthusiastic team working together. Over the years they have built a great community of kids from all kinds of different backgrounds and with different perspectives.

Rebecca Pressler, MLN Research
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Chapter 4: How the Expert Team at Fieldwork Handles CX and UX Project Logistics

Often CX and UX research studies include clear desired outcomes and specific questions to be answered for business impact. Whether there is a linear plan for conducting this research or a more flexible iterative concept for moving through research phases , a practical plan is required for effective project execution. The more straightforward a study appears, the more DIY research recruiting efforts can be appealing at first glance. Without an experienced recruiting vendor, many small details of a research project go unnoticed until the last minute, causing disorganization, loss of time, and result in unforeseen costs and other poor outcomes.

Choosing a reliable qualitative recruiting partner to handle the organizational needs of the research study process is how the pros keep projects on time and within budget. They do this by: 

  • Managing participant incentives
  • Maintaining confidentiality
  • Establishing security protocols
  • Ensuring ongoing participation in future iterations

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Participant Incentives

Regardless of whether you are planning a traditional monetary incentive or creative incentive such as donation to a specific charity, brand-related discounts or actual products or services, the communication needs to be well managed. A proper incentive plan maximizes the chance that participants will follow through and stay engaged – increasing the likelihood of significant respondent data for insight and analysis.

Many research teams think of the organization of incentive disbursements as a final checklist item of a project. However, a significant part of recruiting for a research study involves providing participants with motivation to stay engaged throughout the entirety of the process. Clear and easily referenced guidelines for how and when incentives are achieved and received does a lot to not only keep a project organized, but maintains the focus on the issue at hand. In the case of multiple-phases of CX or UX focus groups, questionnaires, trials or tests, this can be especially true as the length of participation time extends.

Questions To Ask:

  • How and when will respondents be incentivized?
  • Who will handle tax-related documentation and necessary paperwork?
  • How is the incentive plan shared with the respondent?
  • How is respondent incentive information made readily available to all parties?
  • Who will be responsible for incentive distribution?
  • Will there be multiple incentive types for different phases or targets?
  • Who will be responsible for handling participant questions or troubleshooting payment logistics?
  • Within what timeframe will any incentive discrepancies be addressed?


Along with participant incentives comes the careful administration of confidentiality and/or non-disclosure agreements. Clear communication with respondents appropriately underscores the importance of confidentiality. Participation in the study should only be finalized upon verification of completed agreements.

Questions To Ask:

  • Who will manage the administration of necessary agreements?
  • Should the sponsor client name be withheld from participants or is it required to be disclosed?
  • How and for how long will project documentation be stored?
  • Are there specific requirements to be followed when destroying project documentation?
  • How will the research venue, in-person, remote or virtual, enforce confidentiality while testing is taking place?

Security Issues

Many research projects contain sensitive information on upcoming products and services, provide insight for competitive business discovery and more. Security standards are vital to project success, and in some cases, legal compliance.

Regardless of where the study takes place, proactive and properly matched security protocols deliver the expected standards with maximum efficiency. An added benefit of this approach offers additional peace of mind. A no-phone or electronic communication usage policy may need to be addressed for the duration of user interviews or focus groups to avoid the risk of participants sharing confidential information. Precautions include everything from delivery and return of prototypes, sealing testing rooms when not in use, security of each part of the facility used (kitchen, restrooms, breakrooms, lobbies, etc.) and more.

Questions To Ask:

  • What technical considerations should be included in planning?
  • How are security expectations communicated to respondents?
  • Who is responsible for addressing compliance requirements (security/privacy, legal, HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA, trade secrets, etc.)?
  • Who will manage physical security issues throughout the project?

Future Iterations And Participant Retention

As customer sentiment changes rapidly and technology continues to evolve, CX and UX testing often require multiple iterations to stay current. Economic shifts, brand disruptors and seasonal changes can drive a need to check-in with consumers more often. On the technology side, evolutions in artificial intelligence, innovative applications and user demands drive a fast pace for changes in user testing. CX and UX research has now become less of a single event and more of a longitudinal effort. Because of this, thoughtful preparation is needed to maintain relationships with participants so they can be relied upon for future iterations of a study.

Questions To Ask:

  • Does it make sense to revisit the same respondents or are fresh respondents required?
  • How long can project records be maintained for future needs while still being in compliance with legal document management requirements?
  • Who has the ability to recontact the same respondents should the need arise?
  • How can a study be set up so respondents can agree to be recontacted in the future?

Edge-first design starts with edge-first research. Consider the commonly-used paradigm of the 80-20 Rule – if we design for 80% of our customers or target market, then we’ll create something useful and usable to the majority of folks who may want or need to actually use what we’ve designed. The thinking being that eventually, in a later release or iteration, we’ll get around to designing inclusively for the other 20%. Anyone who has ever released a product to market – software, hardware, service, or otherwise – knows how much more expensive it is to re-tool and try to tack on “accessibility features” later on down the road. Yet we all keep marching to the beat of the 80-20 Rule’s drum, starting our work by focusing on that huge hump in the bell curve of users – the 80% in the middle. What if we start with the 20%, though? What if the research done at the beginning of a project, which helped the team see who or what those “outliers” are in the edges of the bell curve, was inverted, so that once those 20% of what we call edge cases is identified, that the team then leans into those edges, focusing on ensuring those folks’ needs are met. Logic follows that by meeting the needs of the edges first, then you will naturally design for that 80% majority, as well – all those folks who don’t have extreme or edge use cases, who are trying to use your product or service – gasp! – the way you intended them to, and under ideal conditions! This is why I advocate for edge-first design, and that starts with edge-first research.

Stacey Seronik, IBM

At Bold Insight, we do a lot of human factors testing on proprietary medical devices and equipment. It is extremely important for us and our clients to utilize trusted facilities and recruitment partners that will accommodate our unique asks, such as locking up test rooms at the end of the day so used client materials do not accidentally get thrown away. It is also important for us to work closely with the facility staff to understand the best ways to provide our team with project or recruit updates, so we have minimal disruptions in the backroom during sessions or discussions with our clients.

Jackie Ulaszek, Bold Insight

Very soon, I see the user well-equipped to easily build or customize a system to fit their personal needs. Because of this, the future of CX and UX research will be to bring the human lens to the data in order to interpret it. The promise is that people will communicate with machines seamlessly in the future, but right now, we talk to Siri differently than we talk to Google and Alexa. Creating that seamless future is then up to us. We would focus on the whole human more than their interactions on a particular web page. We would conduct research that doesn’t seek to agree with a user’s station in life, but to accept where and what is interacting with our system. We would solve for what we don’t know that we don’t know, instead of a specific string of language. Given the myriad of applications and options, we have an opportunity to put the interface in the passenger seat. I would be happy to see that. A future that allows machines to do the contorting, to accept the human, and not the other way around. The human will always persist and so out of a counter-culture of reels and fantasy will arrive a new culture of transparency and acceptance. The researcher would be at the helm of that revelation.

Ebony Kenney, SSA

Chapter 5: Finding Proper Venues for CX and UX Research in the US and Around the Globe

Location And Venue

Proper locations can run the gamut from casual environments, creative spaces, technology centers, living room feel scenarios or replicated restaurant or retail experiences. Medical environments and proper spaces for human factors testing can require further attention to detail. No matter what the proper venue is for a study, the professionalism and implied neutrality of the environment should be clear. 

No matter where in the world you conduct research, or how many focus group venues you need synchronously or asynchronously conducting your study, bringing qualified participants into a facility ready to professionally host is essential to project success. Ask yourself these questions when determining the right location for your research:

Ask yourself these questions when determining the right location for your research:

  • Does the environment create a bias for the respondent?
  • Can the space accommodate the technology we are testing?
  • What onsite services or equipment do I need?
  • What onsite experience do I want to give the participant?

There are certain circumstances when you want to be in a specific location, it’s important to identify a research partner who can support you. Experienced recruiters can do the legwork to source quality participants, handle NDAs, logistics, payment, and hosting.

The goal of a seasoned research partner is to ensure clients can execute a focused discussion free of distractions. Respondents should feel comfortable and relaxed, and yet be clear on expectations of providing candid responses and real-world feedback about the product, services, brands or devices they are reviewing. Regardless of the research location, the experience should be seamless for researchers, observers and participants alike.

Chapter 6: The Future of CX and UX Research

Go Fast, Adapt, Move Forward

Consumer opinion changes at a rapid pace. In order for brands to gain the highest quality of insights they need, they must leverage multiphase research combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Due to the precise goals for CX and UX research, a clear understanding of objectives allows you to apply the best methodology strategy.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

As technology continues to evolve, the CX and UX industries are quickly adapting to the most recent developments and upcoming opportunities. One of the hottest topics rising on the tech horizon is the rapid development of AI and how it is integrated into gathering insights at a massive scale. What was once a futuristic idea is now swiftly evolving into an exciting tool that will open new doors to major advancements in the realm of user and customer experience.

From the ability to process and synthesize large amounts of user data instantly, to more simple tasks like automated A/B testing, AI provides researchers with the opportunity to exponentially speed up the timeline to implement findings required for positive business impact.

Despite collecting large amounts of data, disjointed customer experience remains a widespread marketing pain point. For brands looking to deliver seamless user experiences, use of singular research approaches are coming up short. They point to a need for better strategy to deliver higher quality customer journey intelligence. Enter Natural Language Processing (NLP).

Brands are learning how people interact differently with devices like Siri, Google Home, Alexa and more, to understand human language. As a sub-discipline of AI that converts text into data, NLP teaches computers to recognize speech and text in order to provide the most accurate session transcription from a deep algorithm focused on understanding human intent. For example, consider Siri hearing the word, “serious” in the human language. Technically, the user invoked the trigger word for this device. And yet, in context, AI can understand this is not the intent of the user and knows how to proceed. This deep work can be used in many ways throughout qualitative studies on potential CX and UX issues.

While this is not the only AI emerging technology in use for research, it does provide an understanding that companies are not necessarily looking for more data, but specific and actionable data. No matter what technological advances are made, consideration in the CX and UX fields will always be made to keep the stories of the individual at the heart of the learnings.

The Global Opportunity

The continued rapid growth of new products, software, and services under the umbrella of technology fuels the global economy. Despite disruptions, both challenger and established brands willing to quickly pivot take advantage of opportunities created by changes in consumer behavior.

With Opportunity Comes Competition. But taking advantage of changes in the market with quick reactions requires intelligence about HOW customer sentiment is changing and what that could mean specific to a brand, product or service.

CX and UX professionals will continue to be in high demand as companies look to improve their offerings with insightful feedback from customers and potential customers. These opportunities create a robust demand for CX/UX research which is unlikely to diminish. Each new product, app, service, or customer experience should be subjected to advanced user testing, sometimes with multiple iterations. Even after a product goes to market, brands must stay “in-the know” with consumers to anticipate market changes and take a proactive approach to changing consumer sentiment and experience.

Choosing In-Person Or Virtual Venues For Research

Companies with a clear understanding of the benefits of both remote and in-person methodologies choose the right venue for the right research project. Virtual research has its benefits. Verticals like medical, critical care and some technology may require face-to-face interaction for research.  No matter what venue choice, the right partner can facilitate both in-person and virtual research and recruit effectively for both.  What’s more, partners experienced in both methodologies and multiple technologies will maximize the engagement from participants regardless of the location of the research.

Even with emerging technologies, no matter the pace of your research, qualitative and quantitative efforts are blended to produce the best CX and UX research results. Careful consideration of research needs brings companies to the right conclusions.

Benefits of in-person research include:

Benefits of virtual research include:

  • Increased energy in the room the is produced when people are together
  • Respondents’ ability to engage smell, taste and touch
  • Increased communication and understanding through body language and eye contact
  • Removal of outside distractions
  • Ceremonial preparation and brain signals upon physical arrival cue participants for increased engagement
  • Added layer of confidentiality
  • Accessibility to potentially greater number of respondents
  • Decreased time needed for respondents to participate can decease cost of incentive required
  • Potentially shorter timelines with no travel included
  • No travel requirement for moderators can facilitate quicker analysis and reporting
  • Access to niche targets who can’t participate in person (chronically ill, home-bound, or those with lack of transportation, etc.)

No matter what the future holds for CX or UX research in terms of technology and methodology, each project will still center around human insight. Researchers will answer the challenges and look for best practices to discover truly authentic human responses to guide critical business decisions.

Partnering With Fieldwork

From hyper-local to super-global, Fieldwork is a solid partner for CX and UX needs. Whether participant recruitment and/or premier research locations to carry out your consumer experience or user testing, Fieldwork provides planning, resources and expert project execution to attain the highest quality insights.

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