What 100 Calls with Customers Taught Me About UX Research

Let’s say you have built a product that you believe is truly great. But is that how your users feel too? How often do you hear from your users about what they liked or didn’t like about your latest feature release? Not every user is vocal about how they feel about your product. If you are serious about building a great product that people will use, you need to work closely with your users. That’s why UX (User Experience) research is an important investment in any design process. It helps you understand how people navigate your product, perform tasks, and achieve goals that are important to them. With this information, you will be in able to take better decisions and offer great design solutions.

As a UX researcher for Freshdesk, I‘ve spoken to more than 100 customers from Alaska to Australia in the last ten months.  Most of these conversations were with the core segment of Freshdesk customers — small and medium businesses. And everyone I spoke to had one thing in common — they shared the same drive to make their customers happy.

Here’s what I learned from these conversations and how you can use them in your UX research.

Getting Started

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Wanting to learn more about Freshdesk customers, Shankar (from the product team) and I started reaching out to our customers. Both of us wanted to find out who exactly the Freshdesk customer is. Data was telling us very little about them. Our numbers only told us how much our customers are paying us, how big their team is, and how long they’ve been doing business with us. And their conversations with our support team only told us about very specific problems they were having. We wanted to know more about the problems they were firefighting everyday, what their roles looked like, and what mattered the most to them.

Just like pair programmers, we became pair user researchers. We got together to do everything needed to get started — starting from crafting emails, to scheduling calls and following up with questions customers had. We reminded each other to keep ourselves going when we felt lazy.

At one point when we were speaking to close to 15 customers in a week (and got into a bit of a tizzy), product managers and engineers from different squads volunteered to be a part of the calls and pitched in with inputs and solutions. Folks from different teams helped resolve customer questions as early as possible, sometimes during the course of the calls or pointing them in a direction where they could get the best help.

For product managers, designers, and developers who joined in on these calls, it was an opportunity for them to learn more about our customers and understand what they liked and wanted to see improved in Freshdesk.

The Importance of Personal Connect

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When we started out, we reached out to users who we thought represented the ideal Freshdesk customer persona — a small business with less than a dozen people running support. Instead of sending out a campaign to these users which would surely taken us to the Promotions tab, we used a simple Google Sheets based mail merge to reach directly into their primary inboxes. We kept it plain text; we kept it simple. By using their names in the subject, we were able to make a personal connection and get their attention ?

Customers felt like a real human was getting in touch and they didn’t ignore us like they would ignore a promotional email. If you’re curious as to how I reached out, here is a sample template we used to email customers asking for permission to talk to us.

Hi [First name],

I’m Ram from the Freshdesk user research team. I’m reaching out to some key customers to get feedback on their experience with our product.

What I’m looking for is honest feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly – so we can go back, work with the team and improve how Freshdesk works for you every day.

If you’re willing to have the conversation, can you give me around 30 minutes over the next couple of weeks that would work for you?

It’d be awesome if your team members who use Freshdesk can join the call as well. Looking forward to hearing from you!



Be a Better Listener

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Calls with customers generally kick off with them giving an overview of their role, their business and how their team is structured. While we do check out their products and try to get a grasp of their business, it’s always nice to hear from customers themselves on what they’re doing. This helps us get a better understanding of who we’re serving.

We never kick off by talking about us. Putting the focus on knowing their team not just helps us break the ice, but also paints a picture of a typical support team using Freshdesk. Slowly, we go on to talk about how they found Freshdesk and use the product on a day-to-day basis. Now comes the interesting moment — some customers have told us the exact keywords they used when they were looking for a better way to do customer service.

In these calls, it might be exciting for you to ask the questions you have in your mind right away, or talk about how you’re dreaming the next big thing, but you need to try hard and just listen. It is critical to be patient, give customers the space to express themselves, and allow them to complete their train of thought.

At one point, these conversations veer towards wants and asks about what they would like to see improved or introduced in Freshdesk or about things they aren’t able to figure out on their own. Even if you don’t have an immediate solution for the things they’re bringing up, or if a feature they request was going to take some time to build, it was important to make them feel heard.

One such example was a conversation with a customer who had written to us with his thoughts about our new interface. I had reached out to him along with a product manager to learn more about what he had to say.

“I was honestly, really surprised that you guys reached out so quickly and wanted to hear what I had to say. I’m not even a paid user at this point. I’m actually pretty impressed!”

And this pattern just kept repeating in many of the calls that I was a part of. Customers love the fact that someone from the team is actually reaching out proactively to ask how things are going.

“This kind of outreach is really great and we can’t really say enough, we appreciate it! We’re trying to have a relationship where we can exchange ideas, see what works and what doesn’t. It’s great to have this kind of talk!”

Share Learnings Throughout the Organization

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Shankar and I also started a series called ‘Tsaheylu with Customers’, which was a compilation of customer stories from calls we had done. We took a cue from MailChimp but shared hard copies of the transcripts and highlights from our conversations every week. Every edition of ‘Tsaheylu with Customers’ had a list of customers we spoke to, key takeaways, and learnings. We shared this throughout Freshworks to inform everyone about who our typical users were and how they felt about the product.

While sharing these customer stories, we started with something tangible — a printed version, that was easier to read and distributed on a specific day of the week. We shared these hardcopy reports with senior leaders in the company. We wanted the Tsaheylu reports to stand out and preferred not to go the digital route. We didn’t want it to be another Google Doc that gets lost in everyone’s inboxes. Tsaheylu reports were eagerly anticipated on the the day they were expected to arrive and soon became a talking point among employees in the company over a relatively short period of time.

UX Research Tsaheylu

Additionally, I also presented some of the common themes emerging from calls for consideration to the product team and created and presented personas that painted a picture of a typical person who leads the support team that uses Freshdesk.

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I also learnt that attention span is short and it is important to present the key findings in a succinct manner yet keep it interesting. To this end, the format of these customer stories evolved over a period of time and I started sharing short video snippets from customer conversations within our internal workplace platform. These videos highlighted important learnings in the customer’s own language.

Follow up and Close the Loop

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Conversations with customers often ended with open questions that could not be resolved during the call or some action items that we had to get back to our customers on.  

Almost always, I never had the answers to all the questions and I reached out to the team or the person who could best address the customer question or be made aware of a type of behavior or issue that was discovered during the call. Customers appreciated the fact that we closed the loop on their questions, and did not leave them in the lurch.

Engage Continuously to Build and Win Trust

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The calls also helped me understand that engagement with customers is an ongoing relationship and not a transactional effort that ends with one call. Several customers who I reached out to expressed willingness to give feedback again and also wrote to me if they needed help or had more questions.

“Thanks a lot Ram! Hope you guys have a great day! 🙂 Feel free to reach out if you want to conduct user testing or demos for upcoming features. I will try and give as much inputs as I can.”

“If you ever need to test anything, we are happy to give feedback whenever asked”

There have been occasions when customers who I have spoken with regularly reach out to me when they have questions with the genuine hope that they would get resolved.

“Hi Ram,

I know you might not be the main person to talk to about this, but I’m hoping you might be able to help or to help us escalate an issue that we are having.”

Another customer who was impressed by our customer-first approach wanted to join Freshworks and was interested in opportunities available at the organization where his skills could be a good fit.

Customer Love and Improving Discoverability within Freshdesk

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One of the common themes that emerged from the conversations with customers was their unyielding love and loyalty for Freshdesk. Customers constantly expressed how Freshdesk had made their lives easier over the years.

… the interface was easy to use, it had all that features by default what I needed, it had an API integration, and the pricing was very good with the day passes because for example most of our engineers login for using the support or replying to the support tickets once in a month…”

“It’s a SaaS desk that basically just works. I love that it just works. That I don’t have to maintain it.”

“ I really appreciate and a lot of my colleagues do too is the extensive amount of documentation that’s available online which I found to be mostly very well written and simple enough in an easy to understand manner which is quite a rarity. So, kudos for that.”

Another key takeaway from calls was the need to help our customers learn about features that were already available in Freshdesk. We needed to surface these features at the right moment and nudge the customers to try them out proactively. Related to this learning was the push to help customers discover product updates and new features that we constantly build to make Freshdesk more relevant and useful for them.

Document and Build a Beta List

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In the course of reaching out to many customers, and involving different stakeholders, emerged the need to properly document conversations we had for ready access in future. The calls were scheduled using Zoom and the recordings were available and uploaded either on our internal Google Drive repository or on Zoom’s cloud platform.

We started maintaining a spreadsheet that had a list of all completed calls that included information about the customers I spoke with, the plan they were in, their monthly revenue, recent tickets and notes and recordings from the call.

Another idea that emerged from the conversations was to build a beta list of customers who we could reach out to for continuous feedback. A win-win situation where customers get to know early on some of the features we were working on and get to try it before it reached the general public. On the other hand, we at Freshdesk got an opportunity to fine tune the features based on feedback from users before developing and launching it for a wider audience. Some of the big ticket features we launched in the past months benefitted from this approach.

Bonus: If you’re curious to know what it takes to successfully schedule and run remote conversations with customers, take a look at this checklist I compiled based on learnings from scheduling and running a number of customer calls.

If you want to sign up to be a part of the Freshdesk Beta list and get early access to what’s in store, drop a comment!