User Research in Commercial Real Estate



The Problem

When I joined Berkadia, it became quickly apparent that product lines were operating on user myths. I often heard, “We know they do this. Investment sales prefers this. They said they want that.” But no one could produce documentation or even name specific sources who might confirm or deny these internally held beliefs.


The Goal

My goal as Product Design Strategist was to map both the internal myths and the actual needs and requests of our target user groups in order to give the product team clear data to make decisions from. The product goal was to meet and exceed the needs of real users.


Roadblocks

As I began asking around internally to find Investment Sales folks who would be willing to interview, I kept hearing deflections. “They’re too busy. They won’t talk to YOU. They only talk to the CEO - we have to ask him, and he’s too busy. We already know what they want - we need to stop bugging them and just build.”


So I decided to work from the bottom up. I reached out to Investment Sales brokers’ assistants and marketing coordinators (who happened to be end users of the software I was researching).


Research

The assistants and marketing coordinators were eager to talk about their frustrations and their bosses’ needs. The more I asked around, work patterns emerged that weren’t being addressed in the product roadmap or even in current feature plans. Most folks said they were tired of “tech updates” and wished we would just build something useful to them.


From the interviews I conducted, I built a survey that went out to all broker support staff in the company and returned significant insights: most assistants felt the same pains as the ones I’d interviewed. I used quantitative testing to validate the qualitative leads I’d uncovered. I also got quite a few introductions to the brokers themselves, who lead me into a new list of pain points no one was talking about yet.


Knowledge Sharing

The next step, before I would be able to get changes made to the product roadmap, was to gain consensus from the team and interested stakeholders. I compiled first-hand accounts, lists of requests showing the number of times a feature or need had come up, and quantitative survey results that verified the anecdotes as existing company-wide.


Results

I presented these findings to internal teams, tailoring each presentation to the information I knew was most relevant to that audience. And within a few weeks, my product manager was being asked how we intended to update the roadmap based on my findings and user needs. As we rolled out new features, based on user feedback, the response from the assistants and marketing coordinators was unanimous -- they finally felt heard and felt like the team was delivering valuable tech to improve their day-to-day.


Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

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