White Paper: International Research

Anecdotes and best practices for conducting global studies.


Advocating for global research on the ground.

User Experience Research (UXR) in global markets is essential to understanding the distinct needs, use cases, and experiences of different user groups around the world. As as firm, EchoUser is uniquely positioned to dive into individual markets around the world to gather these findings authentically before bringing them back to decision-makers in a concise, compelling deliverable that empowers leaders to take action.

In today’s world, technology instantly allows us access to some of the most remote parts of the globe. In mere milliseconds, we can be engaging with a colleague on the opposite side of the world through a video chat, or having a crystal clear cellular call with someone in the middle of the desert. Technology, however, can be deceptive. It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of comfort that, simply because we can instantly see and hear all parts of the world, we can truly understand them. Immersion through contextual inquiry remains the most powerful and honest way to not only ask people about their lives, but to walk alongside them to better grasp the experiences they face on a daily basis.

EchoUser has completed several large, global contextual inquiry projects in recent months. The findings from these projects continue to reiterate just how critical observation is in the process of gaining insight and making confident business decisions with regard to product specs, marketing, and data analytics.

Katie Johnson

March 6, 2018

International Research: a Case Study

Exploring global call center management.

In a six-month international research project with a Fortune 10 company, we advocated the inclusion of on-the-ground research in six global locations in the project scope. The client felt confident that their call center operations in Europe were run identically to those in the United States. They believed that information was always typed into the proprietary in-house system in English allowing for back-end data analysis. The client and their partners reassured us that all the agents in Europe were fully bilingual, allowing them to converse with frustrated customers in one language while typing case notes into the system in English simultaneously.

In spite of our client’s confidence in their own operations, we insisted that we travel to Ireland and Germany to see these agents in action. Immediately upon arrival, we confirmed indeed that many agents — in fact, most — were not able to speak English at all. Instead, it became clear that the English data being entered into the client’s digital tools was poorly translated through online search engines. In just a few hours, we were able to observe and capture the broken components of what was thought to be a flawless system: our client was making business decisions based on badly translated data and their product information was being compromised on a minute-by-minute basis.

This finding led to a painful yet pivotal discussion about the importance of localization and access to correct, actionable information from the front lines. By understanding how agents were working, we empowered our client to more thoughtfully develop digital tools and resources to support the team they had hired.

Starting with Global Research

Setting up a research foundation with practice.

By now, you may be sold on the appeal of international research, but what methods are the most efficient? With years of experience conducting global studies like this, EchoUser has established several best practices to optimize large expenditures like travel while still getting the deep understanding that so critically informs business decisions.

The best way to get started is to practice first in a low-risk environment. By practicing your international research plan first in your country of origin or establishment, you can get a much better sense of the true experiences that gathering insights entails. You can test-drive your protocol to see if the timing is realistic, or experiment with orders and work out the bugs in your plan without having to risk a repeat trip to a far-away land.

In the most recent global study conducted by EchoUser, we scheduled the North America study segment first for this very reason. We worked with the client to ascertain whether the information we were gathering would address the research questions they had asked at the beginning of the study. It quickly became apparent that there was a pain point for our users that consumed a large portion of the time we spent with them. Furthermore, our client shared with us that, while they understood and sympathized with the pain point in mention, the ability to change it was out of their control completely. By practicing our methodology in a low-risk environment, we were able empathize with both our client team and the end users, leading to a focused research effort on tools and work practices to which our client could bring meaningful change.

Running the North America visits first afforded us the flexibility to restructure the remaining meetings to gather the insights we needed. As a result, we were able to recommend shorter, more laser-focused visits to international locations in order to more efficiently gather parallel information at other sites. This shortened each site visit by 40 percent, leading to significant savings on per diem expenses for the client.

Leveraging Technology to Deepen Insights

Building and iterating a strategy around process and outcomes.

Although technology is not a replacement for on-the-ground observation, it can be used to strategically conduct preliminary international visits and acquire a better understanding of localization requirements of such visits.

At the conclusion of the North America visits in the aforementioned study, we scheduled eight remote observation sessions with participants in Japan to more holistically understand language barriers, as well as translation requirements associated with our upcoming international sessions. We engaged another firm to help with translation during these sessions, which were to entail screen-sharing observations followed by a brief interview.

During the observation portion of the sessions, we were able to get everything we needed in exactly the same timeframe as the North America sessions because the translation company could share translations with us remotely through a running chat in the web conference. The interview portion, however, took significantly more time than we expected because translation occurred at every step of the way, and unplanned follow-up questions had to be translated before they could be asked. This insightful finding led to a restructure of the interview questions and helped us prepare likely follow-up questions to be translated and integrated into the script in advance of our onsite visits, allowing a more streamlined discussion once we were on the ground in Japan. It also helped us to optimize the use of and partnership with the translation company to support our efforts during international travel.

Lessons Learned

Growing from every project that we take on.

As a firm that values growth and continuous improvement of our research practices, we take time at the conclusion of each study to reflect on the methodologies and the final outcome. This practice encourages us to iterate on scope development, leading to better, more strategic projects going forward.

In the case study above, our practice and meticulous planning led to incredibly successful international visits to Ireland, Germany, and Japan. We were able to glean many critical, previously unknown insights to share with our client about their global locations and get a true reading of on-the-ground daily behaviors.

As is always the case, we still came away from the international visits recognizing that there were things we could have done differently to get the most out of our time abroad. Cultural nuances surrounding international visitors led to an unnecessarily formal tone around our arrival. We also relied on our client partners to communicate the overall purpose of our visit ahead of time to the people we would observe. Upon reflection, we realized that by meeting these individuals in advance via phone, we would have been able to more tightly control the messaging around the purpose of our visit, and even begin building a rapport with participants that would have then carried through the in person meeting and observation. This is a practice that we will implement into international research visits going forward.

Synthesis: Get the Client Involved

Keeping clients engaged throughout the process.

Empathy is at the forefront of everything that we do at EchoUser; naturally, we want to empathize with and engage our clients throughout the process. Understanding what our client is trying to achieve at the beginning of an engagement helps us to craft an immediately actionable and permanently usable deliverable.

In the case of this most recent project, we scheduled a two-day immersive workshop with the client a mere 10 days after returning from our international observation sessions. This immediate turnaround forced us to do rapid, lightweight analysis throughout the visits and sessions themselves so we could identify high-level findings worth discussing during the workshop. The goal of the two-day session with our client was to identify and prioritize next steps for their team based on our findings.

Instead of beginning the workshop by sharing findings, we began by asking the client team to come prepared to share assumptions about what they expected us to have found. By getting these out on the table in the first hour of the time we had together, we were able to identify trends in expectations and differences among the client team members’ opinions. This activity also gave us an enormous amount of context and awareness as to which of our findings would be challenging orthodoxies that our clients held dear.

As we got into sharing our top-level findings, we asked the client team to track which assumptions were challenged, proven, or disproven during our presentation. After, we invited them to share with us what they learned and where they were still skeptical. This methodology helped the client meaningfully share with us any concerns or outstanding questions that they had. We were able to push back if we felt it appropriate and, more importantly, we could agree to dig deeper into areas where they still felt skepticism in the remaining weeks of the study. The most powerful aspect of this process, though, was that at the conclusion of the morning session, the client shared ownership of the findings and was ready to dig in and ideate on some actionable next steps.

To begin the ideation process, we brought in a series of How Might We prompts that we could share with the client team, which were broken down to match the high-level findings in the presentation that we shared. Through careful facilitation and a powerful marriage of our fresh perspective, as well as the client’s internal expertise, we generated hundreds of ideas together. The expansive thinking was invigorating, but the ideas were so vastly different from each other that they could not be compared in any meaningful way, so we used an affinity mapping exercise to distill the ideas into 22 idea areas that could be evaluated simultaneously.

We leveraged the client’s deep understanding of not only the products they make but also the organizational factors at work inside the corporation to quickly and effectively force rank these ideas in importance and difficulty, leading to a fully prioritized landscape of exploration for consideration and immediate action. By the end of the process, the client felt such ownership over and mastery of the research findings that they presented our deck in its entirety as well as the next steps to the global head of the tech support vertical. Three of the strategic ideas were recommended and immediately implemented across teams in the organization.


Making EchoUser a strategic partner in your global study.

As a strategic partner in your next global study, we will leverage modern research methodologies, which give us unique, cost-effective approaches to gaining invaluable user empathy. We will lean on our experience completing studies across continents both in-person and remotely to meet your needs on budget, timeline, and study objectives. Finally, we will work with you to deliver clear, compelling insights that empower leaders to take action immediately based on findings.


Image by Dominic Alves.

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