When SimpleUsability launched almost 20 years ago, it was considered to be a pioneer in online technology. Since then, the company has grown and is now one of the UK’s go-to companies for observing customers’ natural behaviour to improve brand outcomes.
We spoke with Guy Redwood, the Founder and Managing Director of SimpleUsability, about the company and how the company has faced challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where did SimpleUsability begin?
Guy explained that he has always been intrigued by how people behave, with a particular interest in the subconscious brain (i.e. actions that we carry out without thinking). And when working in a cyber café in the late 90s, he watched people struggling with websites and thought about how things could be improved. Guy found a way to marry his interests with the needs of brands by setting up SimpleUsability. The company launched with the aim of exploring how people use brand websites, and how to improve the customer experience using principles from neuroscience and psychology.
Since then, SimpleUsability has expanded and now explores the client experience across a range of online platforms, including mobile. Eye tracking, which can be used to assess what works and what doesn’t for brand platforms, has been a key tool for SimpleUsability for over 12 years, and enables the company to offer professional recommendations to brands based on evidence and facts. Guy explained that, thanks to their evidence based approach, SimpleUsability soon became the go-to company for brands wanting to innovate and remain competitive. But Guy and his team were keen to improve the company further and came into 2020 wanting it to be the best year ever. In the first quarter of the year, 2020 was indeed the best year ever. But then, in March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and business had to stop.
How have things changed for SimpleUsability during the COVID-19 pandemic?
As with so many companies in Leeds, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, work was halted and the huge custom built research facilities were shut. But within a few weeks, the company was able to restart operations and move online. Guy explained that when lockdown was first enforced, the company was in the best shape ever, with a team of dedicated staff, and so the move to remote working was relatively easy.
Whilst the pandemic has posed a lot of challenges for SimpleUsability, as it has for companies across the world, Guy said that support from their Leeds business networks has been invaluable. Moreover, he said that for him, worrying is a waste of time. Instead, he and his team have looked to the future and made the most of the extra time available to develop their personal skills as well as to keep talking to customers.
What has consumer research looked like during lockdown?
Pre-COVID-19, SimpleUsability was just starting to work on new projects in hospitality and leisure and had an ongoing list of work with online grocery stores. However, when the pandemic hit, hospitality and leisure went into hibernation and online grocery stores were having to put queues on their websites and so were no longer thinking about improving their offering or looking to enhance their strategy. Research, therefore, had to change, so it moved online, using Zoom and Microsoft Teams to explore consumer perceptions and behaviours. This, Guy told us, was something that had been a part of the artillery for the company in the past, especially with international clients, but with COVID-19 everything moved online. Whilst it was a challenge to set up initially, once in place, the online environment enabled people to get involved with research anywhere and at any time, with research being done remotely on mobile phones, in car parks, even in bed. Guy explained that clients have enjoyed the experience but do miss being able to undertake face to face projects in the lab.
Has COVID-19 had any positive outcomes for SimpleUsability?
Guy feels that despite the inevitable challenges of the pandemic, it has allowed for collaboration instead of competition between businesses. The pandemic has also legitimised better behaviour and sharing of best practice, which has helped all businesses to survive. Other less formal collaborations have also taken place, including Zoom parties with other agencies to share successes and challenges.
Other positive outcomes of the pandemic include the extra time that Guy and his colleagues have had to learn. He said that the has enrolled in a range of online courses, including one on hostage negotiations, which he has since put into practice during talks with his landlord. He has also completed courses and attended webinars in writing newsletters, mental fitness and motivation with workshop and course provider ‘Do Lectures’.
The jump in online retail demand that has occurred over recent months has forced the digital sector to fast forward 5+ years. This has resulted in demand for more research to explore and understand the new behaviours of customers, something that SimpleUsability is well placed to do. Guy is clear that by understanding the behaviours of today, it will be possible to look ahead and see how best to invest in the future.
Where do you see SimpleUsability heading in the future?
The pandemic has resulted in an acceleration in the move towards digital. This offers lots of new research opportunities to understand how consumers are engaging with digital, what new behaviours are emerging and how best to innovate to support customers and brands. But, a particularly exciting area of growth that has really taken off over recent months, is that of voice. Guy told a lovely story of an elderly lady who sought solace and companionship in her Alexa whilst in hospital. Such devices offer a huge opportunity for reducing loneliness. SimpleUsability is moving in the direction of voice, with a focus on aligning the whole language process of a brand, from text to chat to voice. This is something that needs a lot of research, and something that Guy is confident SimpleUsability will be able to support to allow new doors to open for brands big and small.
The future is looking bright for SimpleUsability. The research labs are now opening, in line with government COVID-19 safe guidance, and work is picking up again. It will be exciting to follow the company to see where their research goes and how their insights can help brands to build back better than ever, post-pandemic.