“Research is almost always necessary. The question is – what type of research do we need?”
Andy Hugelier believes it’s easier when you start by acknowledging this. The Senior Director of Design at Opal – an enterprise software platform for marketers at companies like Microsoft, Target, and State Farm – leads a lean but mighty team responsible for product management, product design, and research.
“We have a very small team that's accomplishing a lot and trying to make research core to what we do, and Great Question is critical to that. It's made research much more inclusive and transparent at our company.”
Today, Great Question is the central hub that unites customer research at Opal, maximizing cross-functional visibility and minimizing time lost searching for the right Zoom recording, Calendly link, or Google Doc. The end-to-end platform helps people easily find what they need without switching systems and inspires confidence in the team’s research efforts.
“I personally consider Great Question to be a one-stop-shop for our research needs. It’s a platform that helps combine all of the logistical needs of running research programs with a valuable set of templates and integrations with the tools we already use to do our work and be able to share it with the rest of the company,” said Hugelier.
But it hasn’t always been that way for Opal.
In search of a broad qualitative data set to inform their most important product decisions, Andy and his team decided to embrace a continuous discovery model for their customer research needs. Several challenges stood in their way.
It’s easy for customer feedback and requests to get lost in translation when the right systems aren’t in place – especially for smaller teams with limited bandwidth. Despite everyone’s best efforts and intentions, it’s something Hugelier said Opal’s Design, Product Management, and Customer Success teams struggled with.
“The Customer Success team would end up being the conduit by which we would receive that feedback,” said Hugelier. “But there's translation that naturally happens there. There are signals that get lost in that transfer of knowledge. I think it was sometimes difficult for us to parse out what is really important or where the problem really lay, as opposed to the request that we would get.”
Hugelier knew that in order for customer research to make a meaningful impact at Opal, they had to find the right people to talk to in addition to the feedback that was coming in naturally.
But he quickly learned that Opal’s customer base – time-crunched marketers with their own respective problems to solve and numbers to hit – wasn’t as available to engage in deeper research as he had hoped.
“We struggled to get direct relationships and interactions with customers, because it was a lot of logistical work, it was a lot of effort,” said Hugelier.
Research recruitment became a burden at Opal, making it difficult to put the customer’s voice at the center of pivotal product decisions.
It became clear to Hugelier their research efforts were being held back by logistics. The tedious, manual parts of the process. Busy work.
“It was slow and inefficient and very difficult. It was just not a very easy path to get to the answers that we needed. Every time that we wanted to initiate research, we were starting from scratch to build a list of participants that would want to engage in something, which means that it would just push the timeline way back in terms of when we would actually get the data that we needed.”
Athough it wasn’t all bad – insights were uncovered, and product decisions were made as a result of their efforts – the status quo wasn’t sustainable, let alone scaleable. Hugelier describes a common situation at Opal as one where a designer and product manager would be responsible for:
He estimates this could take a combined effort of roughly a week's worth of time — say, 40 hours — spread across three individuals over the course of 2-3 weeks just to get to the point of having interviews. That's time that all of those parties aren't focused on the core tasks that truly add value during product development.
“When we would do research, we would get tons of great feedback and validation from within the company like, ‘this is fantastic — really happy that we did this, but we need to move faster.'”
This friction led to an increasingly familiar frustration – having to argue for the value of customer research.
Hugelier had tried other customer research tools at Opal before, but none had helped them overcome the blockers they were facing once and for all. The more tools they added, the more stress they felt at the seams of their research operations. They needed a single, seamless solution to tie everything together. They needed Great Question.
“The combination of the calendaring and scheduling with the templates and the repository solves all of our biggest pain points when it comes to research. So for us, it’s our hub for research.”
Before Great Question, research at Opal required juggling countless Google Docs, Zoom recordings, Calendly links, and more. They lost valuable time leafing through it all. Now, research lives under one roof, helping to boost visibility and streamline operations.
“With Great Question, we can set up the project in a matter of a couple hours — minutes if we're reusing templates and reaching out to users for the same engagement. Once it's live, it takes almost no effort and we can simply look for the invites to show on our calendar for when we can meet with users.”
To Hugelier and his team, it’s not just about the time saved; it’s also about the quality of research and the impact it has on pivotal product decisions.
“The opportunity cost of losing 2-3 weeks during the development lifecycle can mean the difference between getting something right the first time or having to move forward on incomplete evidence.”
While Great Question’s scheduling tool has proven to be a major time-saver, Hugelier credits its Slack integration for helping enable a research culture of transparency and inclusivity.
“We've revived the #user-research channel in our Slack instance as somewhere the majority of the Opal team is visiting and engaging. GQ is a big piece of that. We combine updates on research studies with sessions from FullStory in that channel to start conversations with the team about what our customers are seeing, feeling, and where they are getting value from our product.”
Having the tools they need to overcome all of their research blockers in one place is great. So is the heightened collaboration and enthusiasm in their continuous discovery efforts. But Hugelier believes these are pieces of something bigger at Opal.
“Great Question has been part of the connective tissue that's made it possible for us to lean on research to continuously improve how we put the user’s experience at the center of our work. And that's huge. It's helped us walk the walk when it comes to really showing up and representing our users in the best way possible.”
As for having to argue for the value of research? Nowadays, they have everything they need to just do it: quickly and at scale.
Jack is the Senior Content Lead at Great Question, the end-to-end research platform for customer-centric teams. Previously, he led content marketing and strategy as the first hire at two insurtech startups, Breeze and LeverageRx. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska.