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Issue 25 \\ Read past issues

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Issue 25 // Communication + Culture

Creating something that we can be proud of is hard work. It means making a constant, conscious effort to communicate well with everyone so that we can collaborate better. Now that MailChimp has 200+ employees who work on multiple floors across two different buildings, we're finding this more challenging than when the company was just a handful of people working together in one room. Nevertheless, we're trying hard to keep information flowing between departments and finding ways to introduce new chimps to our collaborative company culture. 
    
In this issue, Researcher Laurissa Wolfram-Hvass talks about the different ways the MailChimp UX team shares their research with the rest of the organization. Researcher June Lee explains how our Support team's recent "all-hands-on-deck" work day shows the collaborative spirit that makes it easier to achieve company-wide goals. In the spirit of sharing, we have a round-up with links of interest from the world of UX.
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Editing: Gregg Bernstein & Steph Troeth 
IllustrationCaleb Andrews
On Twitter: @MailChimpUX

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Sharing Research by Every Means Necessary

by Laurissa Wolfram-Hvass

In our research team, we spend days setting up tests, coming up with survey questions or interview prompts, tweaking protocols, scheduling participants, and running pilots. Research studies can take days or weeks to complete—and let’s not forget all the time it takes to re-watch video footage, transcribe interviews, filter through responses, conduct follow-up interviews, and pull out meaningful statistics. Good research takes time and effort!

But what happens after that? How do we move from the reflections of research to the actions of development? How do we transform all our hard-sought insights into accessible knowledge we can use to improve our products or services?

User research—no matter how methodologically sound, relevant, or  interesting—is essentially worthless if it’s not used to influence improvements to our products or services. One of the most important parts of a researcher’s job is making sure findings get to the people who need them to make decisions. This means translating findings and sharing them with designers, developers, marketers, writers, and support staff—anyone involved in constructing and influencing our users’ experiences.

A research report is the most common method to share findings and insights. Reports have their place, but they tend to be long, dense, and usually require more time to read (and write) than most people are willing to commit.

Here at MailChimp, we've been experimenting with other ways to share research with the company beyond printed reports.

Posters

Remember our persona posters from last year? The UX team spent months developing a group of “personas” that represented our primary customer types. We wrote a formal report that discussed each persona in-depth, but we also had our designers create posters for each persona, with descriptive words that summarized what each customer type is like.

We hung the posters near our espresso machine (which gets quite a bit of foot traffic), so they could spark conversation and remind people to consider the customers we serve. During our major redesign last year, each poster had pieces of paper taped beneath it with verbatim feedback from customers who fit within that persona type. That direct feedback, paired with its corresponding persona, served as a visual reminder of our users and their needs. 


Coffee Hour Talks

On Friday mornings, we have company-wide Coffee Hours. Usually these Coffee Hours feature outside speakers who talk about everything from the creative process to productivity and from security to design. Occasionally, though, the research team takes the floor for an hour and shares some of the insights we’ve discovered about our users. Usually these talks focus on big trends and themes that affect our entire customer base—which, in turn, affects our entire company.

Information from Coffee Hours is usually available to our colleagues in other places, like a Google Drive report or in Evernote, where a lot of our research is housed. The in-person presentation, though, is often more dynamic and engaging than a report—and more likely to reach a wider audience of people.


Lunch and Learn

Lunch and Learns are less formal than Coffee Hours, and they usually have fewer than 20 people in attendance. In the past the research team has used this time to invite designers and developers to watch usability testing footage with us. Nothing sparks action and motivates us to address an issue more than watching a user struggle with something we personally worked on. These lunches are a chance for us to get the designers, developers, and researchers together in a relaxed setting where we can chat about design challenges and collectively come up with solutions.


Internal Research Newsletters

On a semi-regular basis, we use MailChimp to send out an internal newsletter, summarizing our current research. Usually it’s a collection of interesting stats and numbers on a particular topic (like international growth rates, integrations usage, or certain customer behaviors) paired with a brief explanation or analysis. It's information that's not really enough for a formal presentation but still important to share with the company. We also encourage other departments to use this as a channel for research or insights they've gathered. At the end of the newsletter, we usually post a link or directions for where to find additional information, if the reader wants to learn more.

Mini-Documentaries

We’ve made short, five-minute documentary-style videos that give the company a glimpse at our customers' every-day working lives. Seeing customers’ faces, their office environments, and the technology they use helps develop empathy. Listening to customers talk about their organizations, how MailChimp fits into their overall workflows, and what their daily struggles are like is much more impactful than simply reading a quote on a printed page.

Google Drive Reports 


Though we try not to rely on reports as our sole communication method, we do still use them. Google Drive helps us make reports a little more collaborative, since they're easy to share, and Google Drive's comments feature facilitates asynchronous discussion. Reports are usually read by just a fraction of the company—first shared with leads, who then might pass them along to someone on their team if the research directly pertains to a current project. A couple of designers and developers have told us reports become a handy reference for them when they're working on specific projects. Although reports are packed with valuable and important information, they do require a greater time commitment and focused concentration. 
 

Research Evangelists

An unspoken part of our jobs as researchers at MailChimp is just “being around” and promoting research whenever an opportunity presents itself. We're open to those serendipitous moments when we can contribute research tidbits to a conversation we’re a part of. This doesn’t mean monopolizing conversations and droning on and on about a current study (nobody wants to be around that person)—it just means being aware of when our research might inform the work of others.

Here at Mailchimp we try to keep the walls between teams low, so ideas can move and flow freely throughout the company. As researchers, we have a part in making that happen. By working across the many different groups at the company we can see how the work of one team might impact another. When talking to colleagues, we’re in a great position to say things like, “Oh, you’re working on a feature that affects e-commerce customers? The e-commerce brand manager just met with several customers last week who mentioned some pretty interesting struggles with that feature. She’d be a great person to talk to.”


Mixing Things Up: Multi-Channel Learning


There is no “perfect” communication method. Each of the channels we use serves a different purpose:
  • Posters provide a snapshot—a chunk of information that can be understood and digested quickly—but by nature, they can’t offer a very deep understanding.  
  • Mini-documentaries develop a stronger sense of empathy by giving the company a peek into customers’ everyday lives, and they allow the company to hear customers describe their MailChimp experiences in their own words. Videos can be watched anytime, paused, and replayed.
  • Coffee Hours and Lunch and Learns are more visual and dynamic. They cater to folks who are more engaged when someone speaks to them directly and they have the opportunity to ask questions or respond.
  • Reports are rich with detail, and they can be sat with, re-read, and digested slowly.
All of these communication forms have their place, and the MailChimp UX research team is learning that the best way to reach all of our colleagues is to repeat information in different ways through multiple channels.  

 

Keeping Research Fresh and Minds Curious


Right now, we’re tossing around new ideas for how to keep things fresh and share research effectively. We’ve worked with our designers to make internal, IP-restricted websites for reports that are more dynamic and visually interesting than a formal, long-form document. I’ve also heard talk of collaborating with our Creative team to turn some of our research into comics that can be shared internally.

Ultimately, we want to spark conversation, get people interested, and inspire curiosity about our users and how we can create better products for them. We have teams of smart, talented people working with us at MailChimp, and as researchers, we want to empower them with information so they can make better decisions about their work.

All Hands on Deck


by June Lee

All established cultures have defining moments or rites of passage, where current members welcome new members among their ranks through common or shared experiences. Shared experiences sometimes serve almost as an initiation ritual that ultimately fosters a deep sense of camaraderie and a dedication to fulfilling shared goals.

These shared, collaborative moments are important to us. One of our goals at MailChimp is to keep the barriers between departments as low as possible. We don’t want our company to be a collection of siloed teams whose work is disconnected from other teams; instead, ideas should flow freely and lines of communication should always remain open.

With millions of users and thousands of new customers added per day, MailChimp is rapidly growing. Along with this growth comes the need for commensurate support staff. This has proven to be useful on two fronts: First, more support agents means more readily available customer service. Second, when other departments—like UX or Partnerships—need to fill a position, we can begin by looking within our Support ranks for experienced, dedicated talent. (Full disclosure: this was my path to UX Research.)

MailChimp Support is a tight-knit group—agents have trained together for extended periods, worked under mentors, and put in long hours together (days, nights, and weekends). Joining support is a rite of passage with anthropological precedent, similar to becoming a member of a tribe or clan (or rushing a fraternity—without all the beer funnels).

Recently we saw a rush in our support queue (customers awaiting a chat or email response), and it’s important to us to respond as quickly as possible. With a flood of new Support staff joining our ranks, we had a chance to introduce them to the MailChimp community by organizing an “All hands on deck” day: all available Support agents, along with former Support chimps now in different departments, were invited to join together one Saturday to answer customer support emails.
“It was like when you move away from the house you grew up in and go back to visit. I also got to talk to people that I don't get to see often anymore.” 
—Brad, Email Marketer, former Support Chimp

Although this was a work day, it felt more like a great big family reunion; former deskmates in new roles reunited to achieve a common goal. Breakfast, lunch, and even child care were provided, but they were considered extras in the minds of the MailChimp employees—all of them gathered to help the company and their fellow colleagues.

Even as we grow, it’s important for us to retain the community-based values we had when we were smaller. The social aspect of our culture is something we invest in: we host regular company-wide lunches (nacho bar!) and socials, and we have common areas with ping pong tables, pool tables, and snacks. All of these are a fun and cherished part of our identity, but there’s a special kind of energy generated from an all-hands-on-deck event. Few things bring people together like working toward a common goal and meeting it.

When the queue hit zero at the end of the day, there were high fives all around while The Karate Kid's "You're The Best Around" rang through the office. Our successful "all hands" day served, in some ways, as a rite of passage to our new round of hires, inducting them into our unique family. Introducing them to the collective spirit of MailChimp early on means it won’t be difficult for these newest Support chimps to share and continue working across departments if they move into other areas of the organization. 

UX Around The Web

Ask Us Anything

We want this newsletter to be a dialogue. If you have questions for the MailChimp UX team about how we conduct research, how Fernando is liking his trip to Colombia, and how we celebrated Freddie's 14th birthday, send them in! Seriously: hit reply and ask us anything. We'll try to answer every email and maybe even share our conversation in future newsletters.
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