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How DoorDash Research Team Does More with Less: Fast and Flexible

How did DoorDash go about building a best-in-class research team? If their business impact and improved employee satisfaction are anything to go by, there’s a lot to learn from them!

At its core, DoorDash functions as a marketplace for on-demand food delivery. As the leader in last-mile delivery service, they seamlessly connect Consumers, Merchants and Dashers  (delivery drivers) through their app. This diverse "audience" requires clear strategies, robust systems, smart use of tools and deep customer understanding, all of which DoorDash successfully embodies.

In a Forrester CX North America session, Head of Research, Zach Schendel shared how their lean DoorDash research team increased their scope and impact across the business, even amidst the chaos of significant operational challenges. In this blog post, we've put together presentation notes from Zach, laying out his team's best practices from the coalface of global tech growth.

DoorDash's experience offers valuable lessons for professionals looking to harness AI and customer feedback for business improvement.

  • Recognize and understand the key values that guide DoorDash, their research operations and how these contribute to their success.
  • Explore how DoorDash sustains a small but efficient research team that delivers valuable insights organization-wide.
  • Discover the methods and tools they use to produce consistently high-quality research.
  • Understand their strategies for engaging diverse stakeholders, including customers, merchants, and delivery drivers, and incorporating their feedback into decision-making.
  • Gain insights into the operational challenges DoorDash faced and the solutions they implemented to overcome them for smooth functioning.

By examining their strategic approach, you can equip your own team with the knowledge and tools needed to excel in today’s competitive landscape.

Understanding the Customer-Obsessed Culture

At the heart of DoorDash's success lies its commitment to four core company values:

1. Customer Obsessed: Customers are considered partners, with their needs driving the company's decisions.

2. Think Outside of the Room: Customers' voices are integrated into the innovation process.

3. Truth Seek: Data and insights are objectively used to identify pain points, unmet needs, and inspire innovation.

4. And, Not Either/Or: Solutions are sought that simultaneously satisfy user needs and boost company revenue.

The culture of being "customer-obsessed" is ingrained in DoorDash's DNA, resonating throughout the company from leadership to operational staff.

As Zach recounts, "There is no brief or product brief or innovation brief that doesn’t start with what they’re going to do to address customer needs."

The Complexity of DoorDash Ecosystem

Joining DoorDash from Netflix, where research primarily concentrated on one key user group, was a paradigm shift for Zach. At DoorDash, the scope expanded to encompass multiple distinct interest groups—consumers, merchants, and dashers—drastically increasing the complexity of his research.

He noted, "Optimizing the entire ecosystem of last-mile delivery is considerable. You have the consumer who places the order, the merchant who fulfills it, and the Dasher who bridges the gap between the two. Each of these groups interacts with their own unique app interface, adding layers of intricacy to our research and development efforts."

Beyond these three audience groups, other vital functions like customer support, internal tools, integrity, and safety also needed to be streamlined into their research focus.

“One of the biggest challenges was understanding our team scope's vastness,” Zach reflected. “Our team’s responsibilities span product development, business development, product marketing, brand strategy, and more.”

Scaling Impact with a Small Team

An interesting evolution for DoorDash's research team has been their ability to scale impact amid growth pains. “We started with only seven people,” explains Zach, referencing a series for scaling their research team.

“Even though our ideal would be somewhere in the twenty-four-person range, we manage with less by including contractors for rapid research and operations work.”

Despite their smaller team size, DoorDash's research team has managed to complete or facilitate nearly one thousand bespoke research projects over the past two years. Zach emphasized the importance of the larger company's involvement in their research ecosystem.

Thematic AI Insights for Enhanced Decision-Making

One key partnership that has driven productivity for DoorDash is with Thematic, a CX insights and feedback analytics platform. By leveraging Thematic's capabilities, DoorDash consolidates and synthesizes feedback from tens of thousands of open-ended NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey responses from Consumers, Dashers, and Merchants.

“It’s impossible for me, or anyone else, to find anything useful from that information unless it’s tamed in some kind of way,” says Zach about the sheer volume and complexity of unstructured feedback.

Thematic's suite of tools, including AI-generated summaries, thematic insights, and direct verbatims, provides DoorDash with a precise and clear method to identify trends and actionable insights. For instance, by analyzing data through Thematic, the team identified a notable decline in their Merchant product's Net Promoter Score (NPS), directly tied to frustrations with the menu manager tool.

Case Study: Overhauling the Merchant Menu Manager

A series of negative feedback comments through the NPS survey highlighted widespread dissatisfaction with the menu manager interface. Merchants were struggling with inefficiencies; for instance, every time they deactivated an item, they would be scrolled back to the top of their menu list, wasting precious time and effort.

“This process took up to a whole week to update a menu. It’s slow, and merchants had to go back and forth repeatedly,” he recounted. To address these issues, the research team designed a new, more intuitive menu manager interface. The updated tool now allows merchants to toggle item availability directly on the main menu and includes search functionality to streamline processes significantly.

The quantitative impact was immediate. Load times for edits decreased from eleven seconds to under three seconds, and merchant satisfaction soared, evidenced by fewer complaints and a higher NPS score.

Strategies for Team Building and Growth

Building a resilient and effective research team at DoorDash has required intentional hiring and team development strategies:

1. Startup Mentality: Hiring individuals willing to undertake various research tasks and operational duties.

2. Flexibility: Multi-talented specialists adept at qualitative and quantitative research, creating relationships, deriving insights, and presenting findings.

3. Agility: Emphasizing speed and efficiency over perfection, ensuring timelines are adhered to, without compromising on the quality of insights delivered.

Zach underscores the importance of the right attitude: “The people on my team are quite humble and resourceful. There’s a misnomer that senior researchers only focus on long-term strategic projects, but everyone here is expected to be both tactical and strategic.”

“Everyone, and I mean everyone, conducts Research”

Traditionally, research teams can become bottlenecks in delivering the data and insights needed for informed, customer-led decisions. To address this, DoorDash moved away from relying solely on their internal research team. Instead, they adopted a "WeSearch" approach, where support systems are in place to make it easier for everyone to access the data and audience insights needed.

  • Self-serve One-on-Ones: Training materials to support employees to do their own qualitative and quantitative research.
  • Office Hours: Dedicated ten hours every week for research consultations.
  • Merchant Panels: Exclusive panels facilitating high-response research insights.
  • Weekly Merchant Qualitative Panels: Regular sessions for cross-functional team interaction with merchants.
  • Research Repository: A searchable database of all research projects, fostering customer knowledge and insight sharing across the company.
  • Instant access to Thematic analyses: Company-wide access into audience insights, by taming tens of thousands of feedback comments with Thematic AI.

Conclusion: Embracing Chaos for Strategic Advantage

The DoorDash research team shows how working creatively, rethinking norms, and using advanced analytics can achieve great results, even with limited resources. Their strategy highlights the importance of delivering customer value through focus, strategic partnerships, and adaptable methods.

As Zach proudly states: "We have the highest employee satisfaction scores in the entirety of the design org and the best retention. It's not just about working harder, but about working smarter and valuing every member's contributions."

By embracing chaos, individual contributors have enjoyed increased scope and impact in their research projects, more exposure to the business, career progression and better camaraderie.

The DoorDash research team story serves as a testament to the dynamic nature of technology industry growth.

Staying attuned to stakeholder needs and understanding their target audience is pivotal. But humility, strong self-service systems and adaptability in the face of industry changes and technological advancements are key levers to DoorDash research team's success.

DoorDash’s research success was possible with cutting edge AI, self-service systems and humility.

It took DoorDash seconds to tame hundreds of thousands of feedback comments with Thematic - and they didn’t need to set up codes in advance. Sign up for a demo today and see what you’re missing.

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