What the heck is Customer Understanding anyway?

When we tell people that Panoptika is focused on Customer Understanding it sometimes seems to confuse them.  I guess that’s normal, as the current practice can be different depending on your organization.  When we talk a bit more a typical response is “Oh, you mean Business or Customer Intelligence?”, or even, “Market Research?”

curious kid

We’re not a big fan of the term Customer Intelligence…it kinda sounds like spying, doesn’t it? Your customer needs to know that you want to understand them so you can deliver products and services they want and need, as opposed to trying to seduce them into buying.

So let’s look at a few of the aspects of Customer Understanding that our clients have needed help with, and see if they resonate with you.

In the first example, do you understand where your product or service fits into your customers’ operations?  How and when they use it? If they use in in conjunction with other companies’ products?  What happens immediately before and after they use your product? If you don’t understand this, you may be missing out on opportunities for line extensions, improved pricing, or other value added services.

How can we help you get a better handle on all of this?  First, we help develop a roadmap you can use to walk the customer through their day, focusing on all their daily or weekly tasks, with them as the star of the story, rather than the product you sell.  The drawback to this is that often it tries to impose a linear sequence in jobs that are more convoluted.  It might be better to use an analogy, such as a Spider Web, to map out the interactions that occur in and around the problems they have to solve, and where your product fits in all of that. In either of these methods, the important part is listening to the story they tell, which will reveal not only the facts, but the emotions they experience.

Another fundamental aspect of Customer Understanding is the ability to deliver the right features for your key customers.  It seems everyone has their own way of trying to determine this, but we recommend getting your customers intimately involved in the discussion. Our friends at Conteneo have developed some great tools we often use, regardless of whether you are able to get your customers together in a room, or they are far away and you need to engage them remotely.

If you have the opportunity to get key customers in one place, at an industry conference or site visit, we can use Buy a Feature, a game where players work collaboratively to purchase the features they feel are most important to them. If your team is together, but neither you nor the customer can afford a face-to-face meeting, then the online version, called Decision Engine, may be a better choice. It’s a powerful graphic interface we use to accomplish the same goals, but using a cloud platform and a chat function. Working in teams of up to 8 people, each player has a limited amount of money to spend on the features they feel are most important.  The key is they don’t have enough to buy everything they want, so they have to negotiate with the other players to successfully get what’s important to them. This lets you hear the “why” – which is more important than the money when it comes to motivating action. It’s the heart-and-mind part of the story.

As in most Customer Understanding discovery work, the ultimate outcome is a clearer picture of why certain things are important to your customers. It helps reveal the pain they experience, they problem they’re encountering, or the need they can’t always articulate (or won’t, because the idea of a possible solution is beyond their imagination).

Last of all, let’s think about developing empathy, or improving your ability to see things from your customers’ perspective.  A tool we’ve found extremely helpful is called an Empathy Map. It’s not a new tool, and you may have seen it before. For our clients, it still always nets some real value. You can use the Empathy Map in a couple of different ways.  The most effective is to actually have your customer map out what they hear, what they say, and what they think in a particular situation.  Again, we can do this in person, or use an online visualization tool.  The second way, which can also be very powerful, is to have you team complete the same exercise, but put themselves in the customer’s shoes. Whether it’s engineering, sales, marketing, or finance, when they start to think about what’s in the customer’s head at the time of interaction – somehow that’s when the magic happens.

If you’d like to learn how to use some of these tools and techniques to strengthen your customer relationships, we’re here to help.

Always sharpening our tools,

Steve and Megann

 

 

 

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Sailing through your next planning session

We’ve been using the Innovation Games® framework Speedboat for many years to help teams evaluate the anchors holding back their product or company, then develop solutions to cut the anchor chain and propel them forward.  It’s a great, easy to understand metaphor.

We adapted it to use the Sailboat analogy so we could add in the positive aspects of the breezes filling the sails, representing the things which are moving the team or product in moving.  This went down especially well in coastal areas.

Recently we’ve been extending the metaphor to more closely align with the elements of SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) that most managers are used to using.

Our approach using anchors and wind, didn’t differentiate between internal and external factors, so anchors could capture both Threats and Weaknesses, and winds could capture Opportunities and Strengths.

As this seems like a brilliant idea, it must have been done before, right.  Well…it has.

There are two approaches we like, developed by diverse organizations; Black Swan Farming and Paladin Studios.

Black Swan Farming’s approach, which is most similar to our thinking (as it’s also based on Innovation Games) is:

Sailboat Exercise

So you can see the original elements, but they differentiate Storms, or negative wind events, representing Threats and Anchors, which represent Weaknesses or internal barriers.

The Tradewinds are a positive wind, so represent Opportunities, and the sails are the Strengths, as you can set the proper sails for you market, increasing or decreasing as required.

The Paladin Studios model is a bit different, but also easily understandable. Here is their representation:

The Sailboat Metaphor

In this case they extend the metaphor in, perhaps, an even more appropriate way.  As Threats and Opportunities are meant to focus on external elements, they use an Island to represent Opportunities and a Reef to represent Threats.

Their use of the sailboat with it sails representing Strengths and Anchors representing Weaknesses is consistent with the original Innovation Games® Speedboat game, as modified.

So we encourage you to think about how you might use these tools to help move your product, service, team or organization forward.

As always, you can benefit from having a professional facilitator help you with game design and set-up, playing the game, and then post-processing the results.  We’re always willing to help.

Happy sailing!

Steve and Megann

Collaboration, or the Fine Art of Making Your Own Luck

Collaboration Clover

Where should your product or service go next? What will the next iteration look like? Product managers wrestle with these questions all the time. Sometimes they talk to their colleagues or others within the organization. Perhaps they listen to feedback from channel partners. And if they’re customer-centric, they’re finding ways to listen, observe, and discuss the customer journey. Often these explorations occur separately from one another. It doesn’t have to be that way.

As soon as we disconnect a desired new feature set from real things like production limitations, distribution challenges, or plain old price, we’re only considering part of the story. Taking this approach can mean that you as a product manager are setting each of these groups of stakeholders in opposition, weighing the needs of one against another. Invariably this sets a big weight on your shoulders.

We contend that it’s a weight that doesn’t need to be there. Collaboration is the lucky four-leaf clover that can provide everyone with a solution they can live with – without watering down the final result in some sort of “management by committee” scenario. While this used to involve a lot of expensive, time consuming travel and research, modern collaboration tools and techniques mean it’s much easier to get all these people around the table. Having a chance to explain their rationale, answer the big “why” questions, and see their feedback having an impact during the planning process is much more effective that having to explain why they didn’t get what they want. Moreover, it could even result in an even better approach than any one group had thought of alone.

Imagine investing a little talk time up front to come up with a product that’s truly wanted, efficient to produce, and easier to deliver. If that sounds like the sort of lucky outcome you’ve been looking for, we have the tools that can help.

Collaboration makes it happen,

Megann and Steve

Did you Win? Or Did you Learn?

Learn to fail. Fail often. FaiSuccess vs Failure.pngl fast. Does this sound familiar? Failure is the current focus in many schools of “entrepreneurial thinking”. We contend that it is of no consequence whether you failed – rather, it’s what you learned that’s important. For us, “You win or you learn” is the key to keeping going when things don’t turn out quite as we had anticipated.

Seeking the “why” of any outcome will build your understanding of the processes, paradigms, or procedures that got you there. That kind of insight will improve your future outcomes, regardless of whether you won – or learned.

Keep asking questions,

Megann and Steve

This October, Make a Gratitude Adjustment

CornucopiaThanksgiving It seems October is a busy month, whatever your business. Farmers are busy preparing for winter. Teachers are halfway through the term, and checking kids’ progress. Businesses are working hard to make the last quarter a profitable one. Sound familiar? All around us, an abundance of things to do. Yet we still hear plenty of complaints.

It’s our plan to do our part by taking a gratitude adjustment. We’re remembering all the great things we have going on this autumn, like ProductCampAtlantic15, or EngageHalifax. It’s about the people and companies who we work with or who have supported us in our projects and our business. We’re healthy, busy, and surrounded by gorgeous views and smart people every single day. For that, we’re truly thankful.

So if you’re feeling busy, overloaded, challenged, good for you. We hope you’ll take it all in stride with an attitude of gratitude this October. While you’re at it, consider giving something back. Your local Food Bank might be a good place to start.

Gratefully yours,

Megann and Steve

Are You Making Hay While the Sun Shines on Your Business?

From the LookoffOn the weekend we took a drive down to the Valley – our local agricultural mecca, where farms stretch as far as the eye can see. Everywhere we turned there were busy folks from the city, wanting to relax from their busy work schedules and take in the pastoral landscape, kicking back, and dreaming of the country life. Imagine it…just living by the rhythm of the seasons.

It made us smile.

The fact is, there’s precious little downtime for farmers in any season. But certainly we could all take a lesson from them on work-life balance, especially if we’re salespeople, entrepreneurs, or anyone else whose living depends on building business. And it’s this: when there’s work to be done, they work. Hard.

Oh sure, they might complain from time to time. But by and large they understand all too well that whether it’s planting, weeding, watering, or harvesting, it needs to be done, and it won’t wait. Moreover, it doesn’t always arrive in easy, manageable increments. It’s the planting that leads to the harvest. It’s weeding that keeps profitable crops from being overtaken. And there’s a reason why they make hay while the sun shines. Because they must. So the next time we’re complaining because there’s too much to be done, we’re going to give a thought to the farmer. And when it’s the opposite, we’re going to

  1. Appreciate the downtime, and
  2. Use it to do everything we can prepare for the next harvest, which will come as surely as the summer sun.

Hard at work,

Megann and Steve