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




The Lucky 100 – How Big Can This Thing Get?

Expanding CircleMaybe you started off as a startup. Or perhaps you joined a venture team in a giant corporation. No matter what kind of founders were in that first circle, if you’ve been successful, you’ve been growing. Congratulations. You’ve surmounted all sorts of challenges by now. So why does it suddenly feel so…difficult?

That exciting, innovative, exploring feeling just doesn’t seem to be there any more. It’s not like the old days, when you could gather all these stakeholders into one small circle (and in fact, some of them were wearing two or more of the hats). Now you can’t seem to get the kind of cohesive idea-making you once did. So maybe you’ve made a few decisions within the inner circle, and you’ve been rewarded with pushback, complaints, or alienation.

Our experience is that the lucky 100 is a time of huge growing pains. Each time you hit that number, whether it’s when your team grows to 100, or your circles total another 100, or you add 100 new customers, something great happens. And yet…you need an adjustment. Not necessarily a reboot, but a new assortment of tools, or how you use the ones you have, to make it easier to learn from each other, communicate, and collaborate.

Fortunately, there are a host of great techniques, tools, and templates that have been developed to make this possible. They work for all sorts of groups, teams, and organizations, be they public, private, or not-for-profit. You’ve heard from us before about how excited we were to be part of making the Conteneo Decision Engine work for Participatory Budgeting. We can put this, and a host of other very useful implements, to work for you as well. As we help you reconnect everyone, you’ll start to recapture that feeling of being on top of it all, when you were still in the small circle. Before you know it, you’ll start to wonder if there’s any limit to just how big the ideas can get.




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