“Understand your customers! Do research!” Anyone who has paid even a passing glance to the world of customer experience and user experience over the last decade has surely heard this mandate is one form or another. And while I’m happy that so many people are recognizing the value of research as a key to business success, I am also struck by how often statements like these lack specific advice about how to do it successfully. Unfortunately, this seems to result in many firms missing the mark with research — paying lip service to this critical practice but then failing to get the insights they need to improve and innovate experiences in impactful ways.

In reality, we do research for one core reason: to make better decisions as an organization. If you step back and take stock of all the decisions your organization makes that affect your customers’ experiences, you quickly realize they run the gamut — from basic visual design decisions (“What size should this text be?”) all the way up to high-level strategy (“What experiences should we create? What customers should we serve?”).

Smart companies recognize that if they want to create great customer experiences, all these decisions must have research inputs. Though it’s challenging to build and sustain a research practice that supports this, there are firms that are fundamentally integrating research into how and why decisions are made. But what are these companies doing differently? Over the past year, I’ve spoken to dozens of companies to answer that question.

What I found is that firms that use research to drive better decision making — that have research practices that are impactful — do some combination of six core things:

  • Structure their research practices to facilitate strong relationship building between researchers and decision makers.
  • Improve researcher hiring criteria to focus on other skills — such as storytelling, business acumen, and strategic thinking.
  • Democratize a research mindset to boost understanding of its purpose and application — so the organization can actually use research effectively.
  • Democratize research practices to overcome resourcing and velocity challenges.
  • Create a ReserachOps practice to free researchers to focus on research.
  • Modernize research tools and processes to achieve speed and quality.

You can learn about how to make these a reality at your firm — and more — in my new report, “High-Impact Research: The Ingredients For An Effective UX And Design Research Practice.”