How to use research to make improvements to your service

Research methods and techniques that you can use to help design and improve a service. 

Doing research throughout the lifecycle of a project allows you to understand your users’ needs and check that you are meeting the requirements of the business and users.

Research also helps to make sure that products and services that are already being used stay relevant and optimised. 

This guide is also available as a presentation:

Getting started

Ideally, you would work with a user researcher to better understand:

We know that this isn’t always possible, but there are ways that you can still use research to help design services.

Before you start, work with your team to write and define 3 to 5 objectives for what you want to learn from your research. You can then choose the best research to help you meet your objectives. 

Read more about writing research objectives

Secondary research

Secondary research is the practice of gathering and synthesising data and information that already exists.

It’s important to learn and gain understanding from existing knowledge before doing new research (doing new research is also called primary research).

This will help you to make sure that you’re not duplicating information that already exists. 

Here are some methods and techniques for doing secondary research.

Literature review

A literature review is an important part of research. It gives you a solid grounding in the topic. Doing this can give you insights into:

This literature can include blog posts, white papers, articles, manuals, or books. 

In academia, at the start of every research project, there is a literature review. You would read, survey, critique, analyse and summarise everything already written about the topic you are researching.

The University of Edinburgh’s Institute of Academic Development has a general guide on how to conduct and write a literature review.

The Royal Literary Fund has written a great article outlining ‘what is a literature review?’.

Reviewing existing products

If there are existing products or services that are similar to the one you are working on, you can review their concepts, interactions, language, and experiences.

Look at similar products and services that are offered internally (within your organisation) and externally (from competitors, partners, or independent bodies). Both are equally valuable.

Reviewing analytics

Before deciding on the analytics you want to analyse, it is important to know what you’re trying to achieve. This is to that the data aligns with your project and helps you to understand the work. For example, if you’re working on a survey, the number of surveys started and completed may be useful data to look at.

There are many different analytics platforms available, with different ways of presenting data. Google Analytics is a common analytics platform, they offer a free Google Analytics course for beginners to get started. 

However, when selecting a tool, be careful that you do not use vanity metrics that may look good but do not necessarily help you to meet your goals. 

Using boolean search 

A Boolean search is a formula to search the web which allows you to refine your search by combining keywords to produce more relevant results. For example, a Boolean search could be:

“Pub” AND “London”

This would limit the search results to only items with those two keywords.

Boolean search works on

Our guide to conducting a Boolean search will tell you more about how to do this.

Keyword analysis

The most popular keyword search tool is Google AdWords.

This would tell you what the most popular keywords people use in online searches which relate to your topic.

This method is especially valuable when reviewing your content and understanding:

Customer reviews

Look at customer reviews on your website, on forums, or on social media. These will help with your desk research. 

Accessibility review

An accessibility review can give you some quick insights into your project if there is existing content.

You can do it quickly, on your own, from your desk.

Checking the readability of your content using

Look at your content’s accessibility using an online colour contrast checker tool, or using online accessibility websites to assess your content. 

Content audit

A content audit gives you a clear view of the content that already exists on a website, platform or service. 

You can find out what a content audit is and how to do one, by reading How to Conduct a Content Audit on the UX Mastery blog.

Social media review

Social media is often where customers or citizens go to make a complaint or to talk candidly about a service they have used.

Search for your organisation or a specific topic on channels such as Twitter and YouTube to find their unfiltered insights about a certain topic.  

Primary research

Primary research is the practice of collecting and generating data and insight. Primary research should be used when you have unanswered questions or assumptions about your service or product.

If you don’t have access to a user researcher but have access to a sample of your users, you could conduct some primary research by sending them a short survey. This will give you better insights into these users’ needs. 

You could design the survey on a tool such as Microsoft Forms or Google Forms. You could then share it using your organisation’s

This is also a common method to use if your audience is internal.

Here are some other techniques and methods to use for primary research.

Internal knowledge

Network, research and ask questions within your own organisation.

There may be some old folders on a shared drive that you can access. There may be people in your customer contact centre that have dealt with similar enquiries (customer service data and customer enquiries are a great source of data for desk research). There may also be other teams who have worked on similar projects. 

Tap into the experiences inside your organisation to gather better insights into your own project.

Collecting primary data

Here are a few ways to run your own primary research:

Never use only one source of data

There’s an old saying of “two sides to every coin” and this is the same for any data you collect. Whether this is qualitative or quantitative data, there is always more to find out.

See each piece of data as part of a jigsaw puzzle, it doesn’t need to be complete to see the picture but you do need more than a single piece to start understanding its significance.

Bounce rates are examples of a single piece of data that could be interpreted in many ways. A high bounce rate can show that someone:

Using other data to build a narrative will help you learn which one it is. 

Using multiple research methods will give you well-rounded evidence, and help your team to feel more confident to make decisions about your service or product.