How Amy Buckner Chowdhry leads AnswerLab to create the ultimate user experience

Amy Buckner Chowdhry, co-founder and CEO, AnswerLab

The future is all about digital, and the companies that will come out on top will have the most outstanding user experiences, Amy Buckner Chowdhry says.

Buckner Chowdhry is co-founder and CEO of AnswerLab, a consulting firm that helps many of the world’s leading brands build user experiences across digital platforms.

“We wanted to offer the whole tool kit — that no matter what a client’s business question is when they’re developing a digital product, we wanted to be able to offer the right research methodology to answer it,” Buckner Chowdhry says.

Founded in 2004, the firm of 30 has worked with clients such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Honda.

Smart Business sat down with Buckner Chowdhry at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how AnswerLab works to create and implement user experiences that meet the needs of both company and customer.

How is bringing in an outside firm beneficial to the development process?

In your average organization, you don’t have one person who’s that decision-maker. You have multiple people, and what happens is that the competing needs of each of the groups can result in an experience that gets watered down.

It’s incredible to see how easy the user experience within an organization can go south because there are too many stakeholders — there are too many people involved in making the decision around what gets launched.

When you bring in an outside, independent and objective research firm to help in your process, you can get back to what the voice of the customer is.

How do you engage the customer to identify their needs?

It typically involves recruiting them into a research environment where we’re engaging with them one-on-one or in a group setting.

We can start with a database or a list that our client has of their customers. We reach out to them for a particular research study and maybe do focus groups with them. We may visit them in their homes to watch how they use a product, bring them into the lab environment and watch them behind the mirror as they try to use a product or bring them in to do something on a page to track their eyes to see what they’re looking at on the page. Do they notice the fad or do they not notice the fad?

What process do you have to turn a good idea into a tangible product or service?

The day to day is about getting these projects out the door to clients. That’s what most of our teams focus on. But we need to also be innovative in taking what our services and research are and taking them to the next level. We go through a rigorous strategic planning process where our entire management team meets quarterly.

We do a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analysis, and we sit down and look at what are the opportunities here. When a new product will help address some of the items that come up on our SWOT analysis, we turn that into a strategic priority for the quarter and we track against it.

If we identify that a specific threat may be that a competitor has a competing product, or if we identify that there’s a huge opportunity on the table to basically grab this unmet need from our clients, then that becomes a product or a goal that we drive through as a strategic priority. We take the results of strategic planning process and put it into a one-page plan … and that’s on every single person’s desk in the office.

We have an online tool that we use. Everyone has to log into on Friday and update it, and it shows our progress toward implementing these strategic priorities. So there’s the goal to get this product launched, and there are all the tasks associated with it and all the people who need to help make sure that happens.

How do you stay motivated and keep creativity flowing for yourself and for your organization?

We focus a lot on trying to ensure that our team can get the right professional development that they want. We have a series of learning luncheons that we set up where we’ll bring in outside speakers to talk with the team and keep them engaged. We’ll watch a ‘Ted talk’ during lunch together. We’ll have individuals within the company present on the work that they’ve been doing.

How to reach: AnswerLab, (415) 814-9910 or www.answerlab.com