INFormatics 281 - User Needs analysis

In this course, I conducted a 10 week ethnographic research study on a small business in Oakland, California named Viscera. Over the 10 weeks I performed different contextual inquiry research methodologies to address the following project focus:

How is the social/technical/physical space conducive or not conducive to collaboration and communication internally among employees and between customers and employees and how might new technologies or new uses of space improve the conduciveness of collaboration and communication?

Below is my final report, written to my client, the Owner and Creative Director of Viscera, Ari Takata-Vasquez.

Client: Ari Takata-Vasquez, Owner and Creative Director of Viscera

Executive Summary

I conducted a 10 week ethnographic research study on your retail space in Oakland, Viscera. My project focus for this research study was: How is the social/technical/physical space conducive or not conducive to collaboration and communication internally among employees and between customers and employees and how might new technologies or new uses of space improve the conduciveness of collaboration and communication? Over the course of the research study, I performed various research methodologies including observations, semi-structured interviews, and data analysis & modeling, to uncover insights about Viscera. Through these activities I discovered the following insights regarding collaboration and communication among employees and between customers and employees:

  • Repeat customers receive improved customer service

  • The physical layout of the store limits the customer and employee collaboration and communication

  • You (Ari) act as the central communication hub for internal projects and all shop-related matters

 

Based off of these findings, I recommend the following improvements to enhance the collaboration and communication within the shop:

  • Continue providing the personalized customer service to repeat customers and extend that service to new customer interactions

  • Optimize the physical space by getting rid of the electrical room

  • Adopt a multipurpose messaging tool, like Slack, to aid in professional and personal collaboration and communication

 

The remainder of this report will cover the methods I used to acquire the data, insights I found about Viscera, and recommendations to improve collaboration and communication in the shop.

 

Methods Used To Acquire Data

Over the 10 week study, I performed various contextual inquiry methodologies in order to acquire the data regarding the collaboration and communication within Viscera:

 

Observation

On three different occasions for one hour each, I sat inside the Viscera store and performed active observation. These three observation periods helped develop my initial impressions of Viscera and revealed invaluable insights about customer and employee collaboration that would help shape the next steps of my research process.

Interviewing

On three different occasions for one hour each, I interviewed three different Viscera employees: Ari, the Shop Owner and Creative Director of Viscera, Karis, a part-time Sales Associate, and Brittany, a Merchandise and Marketing Intern. The interviewing process allowed me to probe deeper into things I noticed during my observations.

Data Analysis & Modeling

I used an analysis methodology by Loftland & Loftland to analyze customer interactions within Viscera. Additionally, I created three different models (physical model, artifact model, and cultural model) to represent abstract ideas that affect collaboration and communication in Viscera.

 

Key Insights

These key insights represent the most interesting findings from the research I performed.

 

1. Repeat customers receive improved customer service

During my three observation sessions, I was able to observe how you interacted with a number of new and repeat customers. There were multiple instances where a repeat customer came into the shop and you followed a repeatable process: hug the customer or identify her by name, inquire about her daily/personal life, and identify an item that might be of interest to her. New customers still received a very cordial welcome to the shop, but the experience was not as personalized as a repeat customers interaction. Through analysis of my observation data, the following insights surfaced about repeat customer interactions:

  • Out of three observed repeat customer interactions, one interaction resulted in a purchase

  • Out of 10+ new customer interactions, no purchase was made

  • Repeat customers tended to walk deeper into the shop and stay longer than new customers

 

Additional insights about customer interactions that surfaced during our interview are listed below:

  • Regarding interpersonal relationships with customers, you stated that a fair amount of your customers “are regulars, so I kind of know what their deal is.” This allows you to customize repeat customers shopping experiences based off of what you know about them.

  • You stated you are “from Hawaii so people are overly chatty there” to describe your approach to talking to new and repeat customers. This makes it easier for you to strike up a conversation with both new and repeat customers.

  • You also described the negative stereotypes of typical boutique setting spaces and how it encourages you to have a shop that is different: “...I think most of the time when you go into a store, especially in a boutique setting, you’re kind of worried that the sales team is judging you, secretly. That’s a common thing. “Oh they’re so snotty.” And I don’t want that here.”

All these insights contribute to the conditions that make improved customer service possible within Viscera.

 

2. The physical layout of the store limits the customer and employee collaboration and communication

During my observations, interviews, and data modeling, I immediately noticed how the physical layout of the shop affected the customer and employee experience:

  • New customers tended to stay near the front of the shop and walked in a U-shaped pattern to look at clothes as displayed in the physical model below

  • Ari or the sales associate have to be upbeat and attentive to engage customers who enter the shop, since the counter is far and partially hidden behind the electrical room

  • Passing by the counter to look at clothes that are located in the back of the shop seemed intimidating for new customers

  • There is not enough space behind the counter for more than two employees to comfortably work at the same time, due to factors like the size of the shop

  • The electrical room obscures parts of the shop that contribute to a positive customer experience, like the counter and dressing rooms

 

3. You (Ari) act as the central communication hub for internal projects and all shop-related matters.

During my observations, interviews, and data modeling, I discovered that you play a central role in the communication and collaboration with all Viscera matters. Additionally:

  • Employees who are working on the same internal projects have neither met nor collaborated in person. This was articulated by Karis who stated, “I feel like we collaborate a lot but not face to face. We all come in at different times… We never really see each other” and Brittany who said “I really haven’t even met Kaitlin or Karis. We know we exist. We just have never interacted.”

  • You are responsible for updating Basecamp, your internal project management software, with what everyone is working on. However, you stated you are “probably the one who is the worst at using it now. I haven’t updated it in a while.”

  • Viscera has a culture that blurs personal and professional lines of communication. You stated that “if they’re not working, they’ll text me. I know what’s going on in their lives.”

  • Karis views all communication and collaboration at Viscera as positive. She stated that it is coordinated “all really through Ari. Which is good because she is a good manager in that sense. She kind of knows what’s going and delegating tasks as needed.”

 

Recommendations

I recommend the following improvements to enhance the collaboration and communication within the shop:

Continue providing the personalized customer service to repeat customers and extend that service to new customer interactions

The personalized customer service that is provided to repeat customers is unique to Viscera. It is the manifestation of your culture and values and you should continue to provide this service to repeat customers. In terms of new customers, use sales tactics that you currently use in addition to others. On one occasion I noticed that you gave a 30 second elevator pitch about the shop to a new customer. This was a great engagement tool and made the new customer stick around the store longer than other new customers. Another tactic you could use is asking new customers about their style preferences. This may seem odd to any new customer, but you could use your knowledge about your typical customer (65% female, between 23 and 42, college graduate) to target customers this tactic might work with.

Optimize the physical space by getting rid of the electrical room

You have expressed to me that you have “given up on this electrical room ever going away”, but I still believe it is a worthy pursuit! Removing the electrical room will have a domino effect on various aspects of the shop. First, there will be more space to merchandise your inventory. You will be able to open up the front of the store more and add more clothing racks for customers to peruse. Second, the counter will not be obscured by the electrical room wall so you will be able to greet customers as they enter the store and not have to lean over the counter to show your face to the customers. Third, you could move the counter closer to the front of the store which will make the greeting process a lot easier. This way, you can engage the customer earlier and start your sales process faster. Finally, the extra space you will get back by removing the electrical room, can be used to add more counter space or work space for your employees. This will allow more than two employees to collaborate comfortably inside the shop.

Adopt a multipurpose messaging tool, like Slack, to aid in professional and personal collaboration and communication

Although the Viscera team is relatively small, consolidating your digital communication channels will vastly improve your internal communication. I recommend the messaging tool Slack which allows two or more people to chat synchronously. There is also a feature to create “channels” which can help organize your teams communication lines. Adopting a messaging tool like Slack will improve your collaboration and communication tremendously. First, employees who are working on the same internal projects will have ability to collaborate in real time. They can start their own private message, and update each other on their daily progression. Second, Slack and Basecamp have an integration that would allow you to send Basecamp updates to Slack every day. This will allow you to limit the amount of application toggling you have to do, so you can see everything that is going on in the shop in one place. Third, Slack is not only made for professional communication, it can be used for personal as well! It has a bunch of features like emoticons and gifs that make it fun to use and better than a typical text message.

 

Conclusion

Overall, the current collaboration and communication within Viscera is great. By implementing the recommendations suggested above, your shop will immensely improve its collaboration and communication, which will positively affect the customer and employee experience. I look forward to seeing all the great things Viscera will do in the future. Keep up the great work!