How well do you really know your service user needs? Why you should take some time to spice things up!

Three reasons why your service may not be hitting the mark, prevention methods and 5 benefits of discovering user needs.

How well do you really know your service user needs? Why you should take some time to spice things up!

Three reasons why your service may not be hitting the mark, prevention methods and 5 benefits of discovering user needs.


Meet the author

Sarah Kingham

Managing Consultant

Lots of us pride ourselves on how well we know our customers/stakeholders/users. And so we should; a service’s success is largely dependent on the extent to which it meets (if not exceeds) the end-user needs.

It’s why organisations invest in stakeholder engagement teams or business relationship managers, to ensure there is a continuous dialogue between the end-users and the business.

So why is it so often that we see user needs not met or failing services and initiatives?

Well, it’s like any relationship really: 

1. Relationships can stagnate

It’s often easy to assume that once you’ve been working together for a long time you know users/stakeholders/customers inside out, which means we stop asking the right questions. 

When we stop asking the right questions and validating our understanding of others, it results in decisions being made based on what we think others want, rather than what they really want. 

This form of confirmation bias ultimately means time and money is not being invested in the things that are most important, that will make the biggest impact or give the biggest return on investment. 

2. User needs change

It’s a fact of life; people change. It is the same for our political and commercial landscapes, which have changed even more dramatically over the past couple of years. 

Therefore it’s no surprise that users and their individual or organisational priorities are changing at a similar pace. The result? Changes to their expectations of the service or product you’re providing. 

It’s easy to see what else is “on the market” and with technological advancements and increasing competition, what people expect today may be different to what they expect tomorrow. We cannot simply assume because people liked what you were doing before, they will keep liking it!

3. We are creatures of habit

Once we’ve established a relationship with a user, whether that be a friendly face or a change champion network, it’s easy to keep going back to them. 

Whilst this is undoubtedly a great source of information and feedback, it’s not immune to biases. Not only will these people become more familiar with the service/ product and therefore have a closer experience and knowledge of it, they have their own individual agendas and experiences and likely only represent a subsection of the user group you’re targeting. 

What can you do to prevent this?

None of the above is a challenge to having a dedicated engagement team. There is huge value in having an internal “voice” of the user with regular catch-ups

However, you should consider the following:

  • Factor in some dedicated 1-2-1 time to properly check back in with users to re-ignite your understanding of them and focus your business. This doesn’t have to be hard – it can be as scaled up or down as your time and purse strings allow.
  • Reach out to your wider contacts across the organisation, or ask your current contacts to put you in touch with people you don’t regularly talk to. Make sure they collectively form a representative sample of users/stakeholders/customers.

    Your normal contacts can form part of this sample, but we also recommend for this exercise actively seeking out those most likely to be resistant to change.
  • Ensure you are being impartial, by designing your interviews/workshops with no assumed knowledge on behalf of the attendees.

    As a result, you will help facilitate a ‘safe space’ where there are no silly questions and no ideas too out of the box. Iterate on your approach based on the success of the sessions, and use desk-based research to supplement your findings.
  • Timebox the engagement to a) prevent engagement fatigue and b) ensure you switch your focus to acting on your findings.Once you start engaging with users you’ll soon see how easy it is to get carried away with all the interesting insight you’re getting and additional people you are referred on to. That’s why it is critical to be strict with your time or else you may prolong your engagement and delay making improvements as a result.

What are the benefits of discovering user needs?


  1. It shows them that you’re listening and you really do want to make a difference. It’s not empty promises; you’re willing to take the time to hear their feedback
  2. It helps you to prioritise where your focus is so that you spend time on the things that really matter to the other and will have the biggest impact on your relationship
  3. You understand not just what’s important in the here and now, but also where they are looking to be. What are their long term goals and objectives? In doing this you can not only fix current issues but more effectively plan for and inform your future 
  4. You open up new doors and avenues to explore. You can find out things you may not have known, and be introduced to new areas, ideas and people
  5. You get a holistic view of the relative priorities of different users and can look at trends, similarities and differences across your relationships to get a more comprehensive understanding of where you are.

Remember, the engagement is only worthwhile if you can demonstrate what you have learnt through the changes you make. You should make sure to do this so that users can see the tangible impact their feedback has had, and therefore want to engage with you again in the future.  

So block some time out in the calendar to spend some dedicated 1-2-1 time with your users, you’ll be surprised with how much you find out!

Want more?

READ: User research: unlocking valuable insights through an unbiased approach

READ: How to prioritise your customers’ needs

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