Unsung Heroes - the user experience researcher: Anna Lee Anda, Zendesk

User experience (UX) researchers like Zendesk's Anna Lee Anda are crucial components in an organisation.

The Drum's 'Unsung Heroes' series is a celebration of the people in the industry who slog hard behind the limelight for their companies, brands and clients. As they are seldom in the spotlight for their contribution to the success of campaigns, this is their time to shine.

Providing the best experiences to customers is essential to brand survival, which is why user experience (UX) researchers like Zendesk's Anna Lee Anda are crucial components in an organisation.

From researching what potential customers wants before her company launches a new product to providing her colleagues with insights on how improve an existing product based on customers' feedback, Lee is well-versed in the user's journey.

Why is your job important?

UX research and a good understanding of a product or service from a user’s perspective is imperative for companies looking to build something that not only fulfills users’ needs, but also provides an experience and interface that is built with users’ needs in mind.

My responsibility as a UX researcher is to ensure that I understand and empathise with Zendesk users – our customers and their customer service agents – and help translate their needs into actionable insights across multiple teams and departments.

Research is an important step during the software development phase, because it guarantees we are not making assumptions and helps to create something that people want to use and enjoy using.

It is something our Zendesk founders have believed in from day one – exciting things can happen when the mundane is made easy and accessible.

What is the hardest and most stressful part of your job?

In addition to juggling different time zones since our customers come from all over the world, the hardest part of my job is understanding how cultural differences impact user needs and behaviours across Asia Pacific.

Navigating the various cultures takes a degree of sensitivity and patience, a willingness to listen, and the ability to be open-minded. As difficult as it is sometimes is, it is also one of the most interesting aspects of my job.

Some days, I work with multiple teams within Zendesk from as many as three different time zones. You can imagine the challenge we face trying to figure out a time that works for everyone! The good thing is that Zendesk embraces a flexible approach to working hours as well as remote working, so there is a degree of autonomy over how we manage our schedules in order to do our best work.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Helping other teams build better products by ensuring we truly understand our customers and the challenges they face.

I also really enjoy being an active advocate for research, so that others learn to embrace the idea that understanding users needs are everyone’s responsibility. Once that thinking is adopted, user insights can be generated by different teams, and that knowledge can be embedded into our product development process, which in turn will lead to a richer user experience.

Personally, I’m grateful to be surrounded by talented and inspiring colleagues who I learn from on a daily basis.

What is the first thing that comes to people’s minds when you tell them your job?

UX research is commonly mistaken for web or app design. It is understandable because that’s what most people see or interact with on a day-to-day basis. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to explain the development process, including the starting point of understanding what problems we are trying to solve and for whom.

How would you correct/explain to them what you do?

I help people understand their users, and how and why they do things. It is similar to starting a business without ever speaking to your potential customers, because it would be difficult to make something useful for customers without first fully understanding and empathising with the challenges they face.

This is a step that is necessary for both physical and digital products.

For example, if you want to make an app for dog walkers, but have neither hired one nor been one, then you would not know what they need. You need to conduct research with both dog walkers and dog owners to understand what they need before you jump into developing the app.

Is there anything you want to change in your job?

I wish I had more time in the day! Right now I’m a research team of one in all of Zendesk – which means I help with scaling, running and advocating research for company with more than 2,000 employees.

Everyone at Zendesk is always keen to know more about our users so that we can develop more features to help our customers and keep up with our growth momentum, so it keeps me very busy and very satisfied.

Which campaign that you’ve worked on, that you are most proud of?

That would be contributing to the development of our customer messaging software, Message, which is part of Zendesk Chat. It was a project that I supported in its early stages and worked to help the company understand how social messaging behaviour was evolving.

Today’s consumers expect to use multiple social channels when communicating with friends, families and businesses, and Zendesk Message helps companies readily manage communication with their customers no matter which channel they’re on.

It has been extremely rewarding to see all that effort turn into reality, and I still get excited when I see how widely that product has been adopted.

Is there a person in your industry you’re keen to emulate?

A lot of researchers usually remain behind the scenes, but thanks to tools like Medium and Slack, more are coming forward to share their opinions and research. What I get excited about is seeing good research being conducted by non-researchers to shape a product.

For example, Brian Chesky, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Airbnb, spent time with their early customers to help understand opportunities for new services, as well as to refine older services.

If you weren’t a UX Researcher, what would you be?

Industrialist, philanthropist and bicyclist.

If you think of someone who deserves to be part of this series, please get in touch with Shawn Lim and nominate them. You can read the previous feature on the the client services manager, here.

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