The Critical Role of User Research

Akhil Sharma

Senior Product Manager at Expedia



Years ago, when the Internet was taking off in India, I joined an auspicious company with a product likely to develop into a very successful one. Most of the companies back then were exploring new ways to engage users through database apps. My company was interested in increasing customer engagement by having people consume music from their mobile app. However, how to do that was a challenge any product leader would eagerly embrace.

Actions taken

Having abundant experience, I knew what type of onboarding was the most suitable for different user types. Therefore, I created different user onboarding plans based on different high-value actions users needed to perform, such as creating playlists, listening to a number of songs, etc. We tracked their liking of particular songs, engaging with the tool and returning on a daily basis.

After obtaining the data, we started to develop a set of features that responded to certain user habits. We also discovered through our user research who were the people more attuned to listen to music when engaging in other activities, like commuting or jogging.

We automated a playlist generation, which was identified as a high pain point and high investment area for a user. This feature eliminated the hassle of creating a playlist; a user could add their preferences, and the list would be automatically created. Furthermore, people creating playlists would also embark on a user journey that would include information about the next song, recommendations, etc.

Many of the ideas I presented to top management were backed by evidence from user research I conducted by talking to customers and learning about their problems. I also invested significant time learning about and investigating comments left on the Google Play store. I heavily relied on user feedback left on forums and elsewhere to identify areas of improvement. Being equipped with solid data provided me with compelling arguments to convince top management, whose support enabled me to execute on my roadmap.

As a result, our app was ranked first on the Google Play store in India six or seven months after being launched.

Lessons learned

  • Never take for granted your assumptions about a user. Instead, let the user speak by performing certain actions on the app. Track and analyze their actions and let the data debunk your assumptions if you had any.
  • Understand the data. Analytics is exceedingly vital in understanding user behavior. Regularly conduct user surveys but take them with a pinch of salt because users are frequently unaware of what features they need. Rather than hearing them talking about solutions, have them talk about problems. It is your job to figure out how you can develop solutions that will address their problems most efficiently.

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Akhil Sharma

Senior Product Manager at Expedia

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