Renovate America’s Research Fellows Program

Winter, 2018


As the calendar rolled over to 2018, Renovate America was faced with the very real prospect of reinventing itself. The company’s core financial product, the HERO Program, was undergoing a transformation to meet newly-granted regulatory requirements. There was a risk that meeting the regulatory standards could render the product difficult to use in-market and the company needed to prepare for some adjustment by seeking any and all growth opportunities, but where to start? Research on the company’s core customer, home improvement contractors, was needed on a scale that the company was not prepared to meet. On top of this challenge was an added degree of difficulty: resources on the Experience Design team, who had typically led research efforts, had suffered significant attrition over the previous year.


It became apparent that the project required dozens of in-person interviews across two states, and with results compiled for use in corporate-level strategic planning. On top of this, our Chief Strategy Officer wanted this to be a launching point for integrating a more robust research practice into the company as a whole, so this process had to be visible to the company and repeatable in the future.

We set up a plan: tap 20+ individuals from around the company, train them in functional research skills, then send them out as research emissaries.

We worked with managers across the company to identify individuals that had experience working directly with customers, excellent professional skills, and an interest in broadening their skillset.

Next, we trained the volunteers in some basic skills necessary for research; active listening, facilitation, and the mechanics of contextual inquiry. They took on the skills through classroom-style lessons with role play exercises. 

Once we had covered the bases, I brought the team together a second time to walk through the script that will be used in the field, giving the fellows another round of practice with the interview material.

We worked with our Client Development team to coordinate times to meet with our customers. We also had the research fellows get in touch with our account managers first to get background on the customer before hitting the field. This keeps the account managers engaged in the process as participants and assures everyone that the research effort is not intended to jeopardize our client relationships.

With a script in hand and meetings scheduled in Southern California, Northern California, the research fellows set out to meet with dozens of home improvement contractors. Information, once compiled, returned back to the office where I compiled and analyzed the findings.

Once compiled, the resulting insights were integrated into the company’s strategic plan for 2018 and beyond. We found areas where the research could bring dimension to our market and product strategies for the future. Ultimately, we took the opportunity to present to the executive team and later at an all-hands town hall meeting.

The takeaway

Research can be mobilized within an organization, even when facing the challenge of interviewing business customers–much harder than civilian users. This process calls for critical logistical support and alignment across teams. Ultimately, this effort provided a moral victory for research within the organization and brought the value of research to the C-suite and the company as a whole. Everyone involved is eager for the next round!

The team

  • Implementation Management: Liza Romaine
  • Research Leadership: David Panarelli
  • Logistics: Ryan Mustric, Yadirah Munoz, Cartic Natraj
  • Training curriculum: Ashley Bonnell