What You Don’t Know About Your Customers Can Hurt You
Sensing mechanisms can tune you into the hints and clues of either customer dissatisfaction or opportunity. Sensing mechanisms, when used to their full advantage, can also help you gain perspective beyond your own narrow preconceptions.
Focus groups and surveys are narrow-spectrum, atomistic sensing mechanisms. They’re useful in gathering information about past decisions and present opinions. They are less effective in predicting future behavior, or in changing it.
Focus groups and surveys are limited to only the questions being asked, and only record what people say. Not what they do. But people do irrational things, make irrational choices, and often act differently than they say they will. Focus groups and surveys are too narrow in their approach to uncover new opportunities.
Also the response you get when asking people to decide whether one idea or one prototype is better than another in a survey or focus group is only a superficial first impression. Not a well thought out, in-depth answer.
Most organizations are so far removed from their users’ complex lives — commercially, geographically and culturally — that’s hard to imagine what their end users face day-to-day unless they’ve actually seen it with their own eyes.
If the only information you have on your customers’ needs is what you’ve gleaned through impersonal surveys or focus group interviews in a hotel conference room, you probably don’t know your customers at all.
And if your data and knowledge about your customers and prospects is not proprietary, i.e., you got it from public sources, your competitors have or will soon have that same knowledge and data. Thus providing you little, if any, competitive advantage.
Immersing yourself in your customers’ world is much more insightful: Directly observing what they struggle with or what product or service shortcomings they are compensating for. What workarounds they are accustomed to and therefore do not realize or perceive as a problem at all. How they interact with your products and services. How they interact with competing products and services.
Carefully observing current users, lost customers and never-were customers, in their own environment, watching and recording actions that people perform subconsciously and rather mechanically as they go about their daily tasks, habits, practices and behaviors, in real time, while they try to accomplish their goals, is what I call Purposeful Observation. It is a broad-spectrum, holistic sensing mechanism that helps you become aware of systemic problems, opportunities and possibilities that no one, not even the users, are fully aware of or can articulate. Or are just taking for granted.
Purposeful Observation helps you get closer to your customers and users — both in proximity and empathy. Learning that is impossible to discover by any other means.
Users often display many levels of behavior or reaction without even being aware of it. And they will show you and tell you everything you need to know about how well things are working for them, if you listen and observe unfiltered and unbiased.
The insights gained during Purposeful Observation enable you to make informed decisions — rather than guesses — about what pains, frustrations or challenges to address with your innovation initiatives. As a result, you can take advantage of emerging market opportunities sooner, and have a higher probability of developing a truly breakthrough solution.
Purposeful Observation may be difficult during the pandemic lockdown. Fortunately the lockdown will soon end and we can go back to gaining insight directly from customers and users. The interim is a great opportunity to work on developing your Purposeful Observation strategy.
Bob Roitblat, Innovation Expert and TEDx speaker, helps organizations discover and develop new sources of revenue and profit through the application of innovation. After you’ve left a comment here, continue the discussion. Connect with Bob on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. For access to even deeper insight into innovation, click here!
© 2020 Bob Roitblat