I don't care what you like; what will make you change?

Years ago I learned never to ask a customer, “Do you like this?”  I did that once in a focus group where I asked teachers to tell me what they thought about a cover design for a book.  The book was for the Child Development class and the photo on the cover was a little boy who peeked out from a giant red umbrella.  Cute, right?  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The participants told me about their likes (and heavy dislikes) of particular colors, typefaces, and photos.  I heard about how some thought the boy could do serious injury to himself or others with the umbrella.  One even pointed out that it could be acid rain pouring down on that umbrella (really).  Guess what I learned?  Never to ask that question again!  Only when I switched the conversation to one of behavior did I start to learn something about how my customer would interact with this cover.  After a long bio-break so I could re-group, I placed 5 covers on the table and asked “If all of these landed on your desk, which would you open first?”  Guess which one they picked; the boy with the umbrella.  Why?  Because it was playful, colorful, inviting and didn’t look like the rest of the books out there.  The job of a cover is to get the book picked up; it was totally doing its job.  Had I listened to the first part of that focus group, I would have gone back to my design team and said “start over.”  Instead, I was able to go back and say “Great cover!” 

Over and over again, I read “market research” that focuses on market size, competitive analysis, revenue forecasts, and a summary of customer surveys.  In most cases, I find little to none of that information useful.  It might be good background for your business case but it doesn’t help you to understand WHAT will make your customer change what they are doing now (and maybe what they have done for a long time) to use your product.   “Saves you time, saves you money” is what companies say when they have nothing else to offer.  Let me point something out; anything new that you introduce to your life will not save you time in the short run.  Whether it is learning to use your new microwave or how to code your own webpage, learning anything takes time.  And let me also point out that it will NOT save you money if you abandon using the product before you even get started.  If someone tells me their product is going to save me time and money, I run the other way.  Using your new product or service will no doubt require some trial and error, and more than likely there will be at least one session when the user says “forget it, it’s too hard to change.”  What do you do then?  If you understand your customer, his workflow, and what he needs that experience to be, you will have an answer to that.  You will have anticipated it.  As a matter of fact, if you really understand your product and your customer, you probably would have prepped your customer for just that moment. 

Questions like “What do you like about this? How would you use this?” immediately focus the customer on the part of the product the company deems important and asks them to comment on that item.  This creates a huge risk and potential disconnect by skipping over the vital question of whether that product element is important to the customer.  “What do you like about the design of this backpack?” is a very different question from “What do you carry with you on a regular basis? Of those items, which do you use the most?”   With the second question, you learn about workflow, about customer priorities, about the target customer’s day to day experience.  With the first question, you get the customer’s opinion on something you pointed out to him.  “I like that it has a big zipper at the top of the bag.”   Which information will be more important to your product’s development?  Which will help you to best meet revenue expectations?

Uncovering insight takes more than asking your customer their opinion on your product.  Insight thrives on questions like “How come?  Do you have an example of that?  What happens when…? And “tell me more about that.”  Insight builds when you find commonalities in customer workflow, language, experiences, and stories.   And insight delivers when you map those discoveries to your product development plan.  

Are you asking what your customers like or are you looking for what will make them change and stick with your product?