Understanding customers is key to developing media for professional services

In the last two years we have worked closely with several key firms producing successful workflow tools for the professional services sector. In that time we’ve had many wonderful conversations with our partners, but again and again these discussions seem to orbit one central concern – in a digital age, how do our partners build products that are indispensable to their professional service clients?

The message that comes from these discussions is that at the heart of every process to product and content development should be an acute understanding of the user, the intricacies of their day-to-day work, and a fundamental grasp of their pain points. 

Last month, we looked at a couple of examples of excellent workflow tools from producers who really understand the problematic areas in their industries and have developed technologies to fill those gaps.

I thought it might now be useful to highlight some of the research techniques which publishers typically adopt to create such offerings.

One of many products being developed by a major STM publisher is a digital learning tool for dentistry. Working in collaboration with a leading London university, the firm used a piece of haptic technology to create ‘a rich learning environment’ education tool where users can move around a virtual mouth and receive feedback on their actions.

To understand the kind of techniques and knowledge a tool like this would seek to embed in a student, the research team partnered with key academics, and drew information from students and professionals on the common areas where they needed help with training.

From the very start, the approach was one of understanding what dentists needed to assist them, the issues that kept them awake at night, and what pressures were experienced as individual professionals and on the sector as a whole.

From asking these key questions at each major milestone of the development process,
the publisher was able to develop a tool that will become an fundamentally important bit of kit.

In order to study their customer, to understand who they are, their needs and workflows, the team at Wolters Kluwer, a leading legal/accounting publisher, undertook a series of ethnographic projects across the US and Europe.

Customer research used to mean a company presented a product and then asked users what they thought of it, but Wolters Kluwer realised a more effective way was to carry out a research task, to observe the behaviour of their customer’s employees, then ask questions about why they took particular actions.

As such, the firm set up a series of observational studies to better understand its customers.

One researcher told us about a typical day:

“I like to get in when they get in, watch as they get set up for the day; it’s a master-apprentice dynamic – with them as the master and us as the apprentice learning about the way they work”.

Instead of making a presumption about the kind of tools their customers needed, Wolters Kluwer took its research data, collated it, then developed a series of user personae that could be vetted both internally and externally to make sure they fairly represented the client organisation.

Once this set of personae had been approved, it could then be used as a reference tool at every step of the development process to help build tools that were more directly responsive to the needs of the customer.