Resolve to learn from your customer

I once had a very smart guy tell me, “I don’t really do UX, it is really more like PUX—Perceived User Experience—because I don’t talk directly to customers.”  And if you are reading this and thinking “wow, that’s just dumb,” think back to your last UX meeting. Who was there?  How were decisions made?  How was that decision tested?   If you are waiting for your marketing team to define and message the customer experience after your product is nearly complete, well, “you get what you deserve.” Your product team (and your marketing team) must know how a customer is going to use and react to the product before it hits the market.  If not, I expect there will be a lot of scrambling after launch.  And in the scramble you may very well lose the faith (and interest) of your sales team.

As 2017 comes into view we all prepare for a round a new resolutions.  If improving your customer insight mojo is on your list, read on! 

Identify (and be honest) how much of your day is spent internally.  99%?  95%? 80%?  When you really shine a light on it, it is seldom pretty.  That’s okay.  As we all know, identifying the issue is the first step.   

Carve time out now (and don’t make it for Friday afternoons) for customer interaction and put it in your calendar.  Connecting directly with your customer can’t be “when I have time.” 

Resolve to replace 50% of the time you are learning about your customer with time you are learning from your customers.

Survey data, Marketo analytics, and Burst reports are wonderful and necessary tools.  However, don’t confuse passively learning ABOUT your customer with actively learning FROM your customer.  Being open to hear and share your customers’ experiences will make it easier to put yourselves directly in their shoes during product development.  Here are some ways you can learn FROM your customer:

1.       Call a customer:  “Hi, my name is x and I work on the product team for x.  As I am working on the x (learning path, gradebook, quizzing) for the next release and as one of our valued customers, I was hoping you could provide some insight for me.  Would you be able to chat for a few minutes so that I can understand your experience a bit better?”   In all of my years doing this, very, very few folks have ever told me “no.” The first time feels a bit weird.  The second and third time as well.  But just like a new exercise plan, pretty soon it is part of your life and you feel like crap without it.  

2.       Embrace your inner anthropologist:  Sometimes watching is as good as listening.  When I worked in the textbook industry, I would go to the college bookstore and watch students purchase.  I saw what they picked up and put down.  I saw when they bought new vs used.  I saw what they bought and what they decided not to buy.  And when they were done with their purchases, I approached them and asked if I could learn more about their experience.  Where can you can watch your customers in the wild?

3.       Get out of the booth:  Conferences are the best of times and worst of times.   Focus groups and events at a conference can be important tools to raise awareness of your product or service, but they don’t replace authentic customer insight.  Watch your customers interact with other vendors as they travel the exhibit floor.  See what they are intrigued by, what they walk by, and where they are gathered.  And then ask them why. 

4.       Meet them on their turf:  I am lucky enough to work in education so going into classrooms has always been a fun part of my job.  When I ran an editorial group for a major publisher, I required my team (and eventually the sales reps) to sit in on higher ed classes—whether their role was marketing, editorial, development, production or admin.  I did not want them to report on what product the instructor was using for the course (remember, learning ABOUT my customer is easy), I wanted them to watch the experience--when the students were engaged, what was the instructor doing?  When the students weren’t engaged, what was the instructor doing?  How many students were taking notes electronically vs pen and paper?  How much was lecture vs small group work?    The team got a far better look into what authentic problems they could/should solve with our project and where the real pain points were.  It was a simple (and enjoyable) task that resulted in a transformative new entry into the market that to this day remains a multi-million dollar franchise.

There are lots of ways to improve your customer insight mojo.  If these don’t work for your product or industry, give us a call.  We’ll be happy to help you find the best ways to learn from—and not just about—your customers.