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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Never Look Back?

Start of 2015

A lot can happen in a year, and while we’re all for a certain amount of nostalgia, spending too much time looking back can hinder our ability to move forward. Still, a little stock-taking is worth it, before moving on.

Look at that deck. That’s where we were around this time last year. Buried. We were surrounded by beautiful countryside but frankly, the environment was better suited to retirement than the active life we really want. In 12 months, we made a decision to relocate our business, sold a house, bought a condo, and moved halfway across the country. Now, high about ground level, the chances of us having snow up over our windows is pretty remote.

How did we figure out that this was the right move? And moreover, how did we figure out how to get here? We used the same tools we would have used with clients facing the same sort of life and business challenges. From goal-setting to action plans, we thought very carefully about where we wanted to go.

Step one was to establish the future state, or as we sometimes say, “where we wanted to be when we grew up.” Lists and discussions – how do we like to live? What kind of work do we need to do? Where are the clients? What’s our purpose? Having established a picture that included those things, we needed to figure out how to get there. One tool that helped here was to look backwards…sort of. We played a game called “Remember the Future.” Our friend Luke Hohmann came up with it – seeing yourself, your product, or your company in a future state and then working backwards to determine the milestones that will get you there. His company, Conteneo, has a host of great tools that facilitators like us, use to help people and companies navigate the sometimes winding and branching paths to where they need to be.

Before we knew it, we had a roadmap of key tasks that needed to happen. Sell the house. Find a new space. Organize the move. Fit it all around our current commitments. And we did it. Step two: just get started. Put one foot in front of the other and start moving toward the milestones. Some took longer, some were easy, some were a challenge. But here we are. Join us on our journey – and if you or your company need help getting where you want to go, get in touch. It would be our pleasure to help.

Eyes to the future, with nowhere to go but up…

Megann and Steve

225 Sackville Street from the Ground

A few reminders about getting there

  1. Figure out your purpose.
  2. Set a big goal.
  3. Determine a time you want to arrive.
  4. Look back and see the steps it took to get there.
  5. Start moving.

Good luck, and here’s to a purpose-filled, prosperous and productive 2016.

 

Time is on Your Side

TimeNever enough time…never enough time. Does that sound familiar? There are lots of reasons you may feel like you don’t have enough time. Some of these include many different client commitments coming together at once, a new project that takes more time to learn than you had anticipated, or life events that have come “out of the blue”.

Here’s the thing: there will always be a certain level of uncertainty or lack of control if you are moving forward into uncharted territory. As much as you would like to have a clear way forward and time to accomplish it all, that may be an unrealistic expectation. So how do you resolve that?

When you think of the things you are trying to fit into your limited time budget, the first thing to firm up are your goals. Then, if we move our uncharted territory analogy forward, think of the control you are trying to gain over time as a map. When you travel between Point A and Point B on a map, you set the destination and look at the route, but there may still be detours or unanticipated changes to your route. What matters most is to make it to Point B. If you can set goals of where you want to be, time may become a bit easier to manage. First, on the map there are many sideroads you can take. Any of them have the potential to move you forward. But once you’ve made a choice that goes in the direction of your Point B, lots of those side roads become irrelevant. Similarly, if you look at your many time commitments and think about your goal, those that aren’t moving you in the direction of your goal should become irrelevant. Yes, it may be frustrating to not be able to do it all. The good news is that to accomplish a limited set of actions, most of which move you toward a goal, is more liberating, less frustrating, and will empower you to set ever-greater goals in your sights.

So even if it seems counter-intuitive when you are running like crazy, take time to set aside enough time to figure out where you want to get, and your journey will become much easier.

On the road, always,

Megann and Steve

Seriously, Solve Something for Somebody Else. That’s the Job of the Inventor.

Science & Invention, November 1928. Volume 16 Number 7There are far more patents than viable products in our world. Why is that? Usually it is because the inventor wanted to create something. Perhaps even to solve a problem he or she was experiencing. What makes an invention really take off is when it solves a problem for somebody else (preferably, for a number of somebodies). How can you validate whether someone else is having the same problem?

  1. Define the problem solved by your invention. (Can’t? Proceed with caution).
  2. Done? Look for others who are having that problem.
  3. Find out if it is serious enough that they are trying to solve it.
  4. Make sure the reason they are using a competitive solution is because they believe they have the same problem as you do. (Management Thinker Clay Christensen says to ask them what job they trying to get done by using that product or service).
  5. Compare your solution to theirs. Is it easier? Cheaper? Faster? More reliable? You may be on the right track. Keep validating your idea with real customers. It’ll save you a lot of real failures if you fail at the drawing board.

Got a customer, contact, or colleague with a problem they’re trying to solve? Your idea may be the invention they need.

Start solving,

Megann and Steve

For a Fresh Start, Start with a Clean Slate

April is a month of rebirtClean Slateh, renewal, and fresh starts (although as the snow continues to fall in Nova Scotia, it seems that including “spring” in that list may be an overstatement). The first quarter has come and gone, and now you’re either evaluating those great ideas you came up with in January, or you’ve given up hope that they will come to pass. Is it too late for a fresh start?

It’s never too late for a reboot, but for new ideas to take hold, it’s important that they not be crowded out by the same old, same old. That calls for a clean slate. Clean slate thinking allows you to ask the question, “what if we were building this new thing from the ground up, without any of the constraints we experience in our current business?” One technique we like to use is one we apply regularly in our own business. It’s an Innovation Game called Remember the Future. In our adaptation of this game, we imagine the new offering, or activity, or expansion at the height of its success. Then we look back, figuring out all the steps we took to get there, without considering the impacts or effects of what we’re doing now. That lets us really see the possibilities. Then, and only then, do we explore what we would have to change or not do, to make it happen.

This kind of thinking is only possible with an attitude of abundance. Scarcity thinking forces us to hang on to what we have, and to fear what we might have. So clear off your slate, imagine what your business or product could be, and kick that reboot you’ve been toying with into high gear.

Thinking clearly,

Megann and Steve

Hold fast? Or let go?

Poker HandThere’s an old Kenny Rogers song, The Gamblerthat has the line, “you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”…

That’s something useful to consider when you are doing a business refresh, rejuvenation, or even a resurrection. If you truly want to do something differently, you need to decide what’s essential to retain, and what you can let go. It seems like an easy decision, but that Drucker-ism to “stop doing something old” is more difficult than it looks.

This exercise is one where the help of a professional facilitator can come in handy. They don’t have the same emotional bond with your “old stuff” as you do. That frees them up to ask hard questions, such as, “from what you’ve told me, that thing you’re clinging to doesn’t really fit with where you’ve told me you want to go”. We like to ask the hard questions – although we’re also keen on making that as painless as possible. One technique we use is to play metaphor-based games, such as Innovation Games®. One called Prune the Product Tree is easily adaptable to just this situation – and can also help you and your team consider the impacts of keeping, versus letting go.

We’re happy to help if you’d need a hand with this or other sticky business problems. And your location is no object – have suitcase, will travel!

Knowing when to hold ’em,

Megann and Steve