identifying Experience and Market gaps

Part 2 of how I’ve introduced and helped to institutionalise UX strategy, research, and design at St John New Zealand

What do we think we know about first aid training and our customers?

After agreeing on our first aid training programme goals, I needed to begin validating these value propositions and identify exactly what our primary stakeholders (i.e. customers and internal staff) are trying to accomplish and why to ensure that what we think is valuable is actually valuable before anything is developed. After all, learning that we were wrong early will be infinitely more beneficial than after a failed release.

"The greatest teacher, failure is.” - Yoda (yes, I am in fact quoting Yoda on a portfolio)

The then-national marketing and brand manager was gearing up to lead their and the business’s first customer journey mapping workshop with the internal SMEs when I joined the team. I took their assumptions as an educational starting point for me to learn the basics of this first aid training service. After all, I needed to know what we think our customers are currently doing in order to write some of my initial user research questions that I would continuously refine as I delved into those largely one-on-one conversations.

In the first months-long research phase, we didn’t revist the current customer journeys as a group, however, I did keep the raw journey notes and posters on the wall which I marked and updated as I had gained validated or invalidated facts from my research. Subsequent customer journey mapping sessions have been more iterative in putting down our initial knowledge and assumptions, validating them, and then collaboratively updating it until we had a solid understanding of what our customers (and internal service users) have to go through.

An internal marketing poster of our first customer journey map to help explain to the wider organisation what new research and documentation methods we’re undertaking.


How are we currently providing this service?

The deeper dive began in learning the ins and outs of our current service journeys, pains, and gaps.

Bringing along our BAs, managers, and others to get exposure and practice in these new methods, we jumped right into our internal subject matter expert (SME) interviews in order to get a deeper, initial understanding of our current customer and service journeys. However, non-contextual interviews don’t lend well to learning the nuance in our day-to-day lives, which is often what builds up our frustration over time until it reaches a boiling point.

I didn’t want a high-level overview of our stakeholders’ needs in a perfect world; I wanted to hear about their gritty pains, their dirty workarounds, the things that they wouldn’t want to complain about to the executives but that they would wish was different. That is one of the keys I’ve learned to become a trusted voice across the organisation; a beacon of hope, if you will.

Taking a literal page out from one of my published articles on gaining richer user insights, especially around our internal business processes, I asked our participants to walk me through their tasks, step-by-step, as if I had to take over for their job tomorrow and they were responsible for my performance. Now that they understood that I was looking for something more detailed than they’ve ever been asked of before, I began to map out their tasks and needs on sticky notes in front of me as they taught me just what it honestly took to solve their problems.

Our first group interview with two of our first aid training administrators to understand the demands of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Contextual observations were still in order though to get the complete picture of how our first aid training service is provided behind-the-scenes, because if there’s anything we’re taught anything as UX practioners, trust what people do, not what they say.

This also allowed me to get an idea of the system usability issues our staff had learned to ignore or workaround over the years so that we can be sure to avoid making the same mistakes once we get into actual interface design. I was thoroughly shocked to realise how much muscle memory our staff had developed in using their existing training systems. For example, with every completed course, they needed to update the attendance records of about 20 students that took a flurry of required mouse movements and tabs between hundreds of fields and buttons with the precise flow yet simultanous grace reminiscent of professional ice skaters being forced to balance and spin on dull kitchen knives.

Sitting with our first aid training administrators for the day at their own desks to watch them in action, performing their daily duties as well as dealing with the intermittent interuptions from customers, tutors, and more.

Contextual observations with internal staff were also a great opportunity to start collecting quantitative data that I could later use to present and explain the targeted benefits of our digital transformation efforts to the business, from effort saved on Task X that could instead be invested in Task Y to the removal of printing and delivery costs of paper forms.

What could we do to reduce all of this manual paperwork currently used to run this first aid training service? What would be the effort and cost savings?


What’s motivating people to get first aid training in the first place?

And, how could I best create a shared understanding of their context of use and needs?

While the business analysts were also involved in interviewing and observing our training administrators as they took over the technical process mapping, it was up to me to lead and solo perform nearly all of the external customer research. This was fine for our B2C training customers, however I had run into a protective wall from our B2B account managers when it came to interviewing the heads of health & safety for our high profile contract clients as they were naturally worried of us promising new features and improvements.

In order to assure them my goals were strictly to understand why they need first aid training, how they go about booking it, paying for it, and managing it for their employees, I showed them my interview script and asked if I could come along while they lead the first one. It went off without a hitch. After just one session with one company, I had been given free reign to talk to any of their customers that I desired, to which I elected to keep them abreast of what had transpired in order to maintain that trust.

As for our original customer segment labels, I quickly realised that our team was talking about our B2C and B2B user groups too broadly as “Individuals” or “Organisations”. “What makes an individual’s training needs different from that of an organisation’s? Who within an organisation are we even talking about?” Our programme’s principles said that we would be intimately familiar with our customers’ feelings, issues, and needs, so I needed a way to disrupt 20 years worth of assumptions.

I created a hybrid, empathy map and persona template using Balsamiq Mockups to fill in from my research notes. I chose to make a template that looked structured yet sketched in order to reinforce the idea that these customer representations aren’t set in stone; if our future solutions are successful, we’ll have hopefully changed our customers’ needs, tasks, and pains and will need to reflect those changes in these ever-evolving personas. Unfortunately, I was still doing this research solo where as I would have wanted to have rotating team members come with me to observe, ask questions, and create these personas to gain that direct, empathetic perspective.

The first round of our first aid training personas that more granularly defined the three distinct needs within an organisation vs the individuals I’ve talked to.

Despite of learning loads from our training administrators as well as our customer supporter call centre, one of my early misteps was not giving an emphasis of these stakeholders in our persona maps so that our team could talk about them and their goals instead of holding onto their preconceived notions of those in these roles. I had later quickly together thrown together leaner personas for our internal staff, but it was too late; the external names of Lena, David, and the like had already successfully entered the lexicon around the programme, but these new introductions weren’t remembered or adopted. Luckily though, due to our close proximity to some of these representatives, we routinely bring them into our face-to-face conversations instead of being relegated to a poster on the wall.


What innovative opportunites are there in the first aid training market?

Researching our direct, indirect, and influencing competitors to determine which ventures are worth persuing and finding inspired ways to become the most recognised and trusted first aid training offering in New Zealand and beyond

After I wrapped up my initial phase of customer and service research which had taken a couple of months amid other design preparation tasks, I then moved into a week of competitor research following Jaime Levy’s approach from her “UX Strategy” book. While the first aid training management team had some past market research data done by a third party a year or two before, it wasn’t down to the detail I was looking for in understanding just what our direct and indirect competitors offered and how they offered it. Once again, I dreamed of being able to collaborate with more researchers in our market analysis, but I had to perform within the scope of our resources, namely me, where otherwise this task wouldn’t have been followed up by anyone else to this extent.

Excel spreadsheets don’t get enough credit for being able to document, share, and simultaneously edit a large quantity of research notes such as in-depth investigations into our first aid training competitors, what they offer, how they offer it, and what we can learn from them. When you work in a non-profit, you need to be constantly looking for low to no-cost tool alternatives.

After analysing my notes, I presented my findings to the Director of Commerical (now called Director of Customers and Supporters, proof the culture is changing!) and our digital transformation leadership team. My goal was to begin stoking the creative fires in everyone’s minds around how to leverage the best digital experiences seen from our competitors and how we could more importantly fill the gaps with an “unwaveringly confident”, innovative training experience. In retrospect, an inspired Director has the positive benefit of championed and maintained programme funding, yet the eagerness downside in wanting the ultimate training experience released as soon as possible when we still hadn’t even begun to ideate on what that meant. However, keeping them informed and involved in these activities helped to prove that we were on the right track.

A slide from my competitor research and analysis presentation to the Director of Commercial and digital transformation leadership team