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

 

 

 

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

Check your pockets for luck!

City ShopperHave you ever pulled a coat or purse you haven’t used for awhile from the closet, only to discover money inside? Even when it’s a small amount, you feel richer. Lucky, even. You can do the same thing with your business.  Whether it’s going back through your idea file (you do have one, don’t you?) or getting together with colleagues to review some back-burner projects, or even meeting with clients to review what’s changed in their agenda or strategy recently, there’s an undiscovered opportunity awaits. We have all sorts of facilitation techniques we use to make these tasks easier and more fun, like the Innovation Game® Me and My Shadow. If you’re not making interesting, useful discoveries to move your business forward, search through some of those “coat pockets” you haven’t looked in for awhile. We’re sure there’s some luck waiting in there somewhere.

Try these steps today to find it:

1. Call a client you haven’t seen recently, and set up some time to observe them while they’re using your product or service.

2. Think back to January and the projects you were going to start but haven’t, then pick one, and get going!

3. Pull out a file on an old sale or project – and see if you can figure out a better way to approach it, knowing what you learned in the process.

Happy discoveries,

Megann and Steve

The Luck of the…Innovator?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The luck o’ the Irish is the theme of the day around Halifax, but Innovators are also frequently associated with luck.

“Oh, weren’t they lucky to come up with that idea?”

“I wish I was creative enough to figure out new ways of doing things. People who can do that are so lucky!”

“We’ve asked the customers a thousand times how we should solve their problem, but no such luck. They haven’t come up with anything.”

The truth is, innovation has more to do with exploration, openness, readiness, and preparation than it does with luck. Expecting solutions to be linear, direct, and rapid is a bit like expecting long-term relationships to be instantaneous. Instead, if we enter every customer conversation with an openness that what we learn will be useful someday, we create a positive environment for innovation, creation, and invention. If we believe that innovations, inventions, or ideas are built on thinking, working, exploring and applying our talents, then we’ll be inspired to keep trying – instead of being envious and chalking someone else’s  good fortune up to luck.

Today, whether you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day or not, set yourself up for the Luck of the Innovator with these ideas:

1. Every customer conversation has value – remember that you may not see the value today; it may need time to mature and percolate.

2. Processes that don’t work are like a fun puzzle for solutions-minded people – so give them some space to spread out the pieces and start solving.

3. Practice recognizing challenges as opportunities and finding ways to say “yes”. The next time you want to say “no” because something looks too difficult, see if you can figure out what would make it possible to say “yes”, instead.

Have a great day, and may the luck o’ the innovator be with you.

Megann and Steve

An Invention is Not a Synonym of Innovation

Inventors are always coming up with ideas. One thing we’ve noticed in our work with entrepreneurs, is that they sometimes believe an invention is an innovation. But in our view, an innovation is a bit like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If it doesn’t solve someone’s problem, it’s probably not really an innovation at all. Just an invention in search of a home.

Why does this matter? It matters because of the effort required to convince someone to buy it, or to use it. Convincing someone to buy a product or service they don’t want is push marketing. And push marketing is the hardest kind of marketing there is. It’s that telemarketer that calls you during dinner to convince you that you want to buy auto insurance, when you don’t even own a car. It’s trying to convince someone that they want something they haven’t even been looking for.

On the other hand, pull marketing is creating something that the buyer or user already wants. Something that solves a problem. Something that makes their life easier. Something that they’ve been wishing for, hoping for, or dreaming of. It’s an invention that answers the question, “If only I had a… [Enter Solution Here]”.

How can you know if your invention is really an innovation? Don’t ask your mom (she’ll either lavish you with unfounded praise, or tell you to ‘smarten up’.) Instead, validate with customers. Real ones. Not your friends. Do this before you build the thing. Target carefully, ask people who are your identified and intended audience, and see what they have to say. Accept their advice, and you’ll know whether you have an innovation on your hands, or just an invention.

This weekend we’ll be judging entrepreneurs’ pitches at Canada’s Business Model Competition – an event specifically built around separating inventions from innovations using Osterwalder & Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas. It’s a tool you can use, too. So before you call yourself an innovator, go out and validate, validate, validate – and make sure you’re not just an inventor. And if you need help asking hard questions, let us know. We can help.

Public judging of the finals takes place Saturday afternoon. Hope to see you there!

Megann and Steve

They Can’t Hear You…Or Can They? Time to Stop Smack-Talking Your Customers

And so, the relationship theme continues – with more thoughts on respect. Having conducted focus groups with thousands of respondents, it still never ceases to amaze me when a team decides to spend their time on mockery on the other side of the glass, instead of active listening and solutions development. That doesn’t sound at all like a customer relationship. No wonder they’re getting transactional behaviour from their buyers.

As a moderator and facilitator, when I pop into the back room for feedback or additional questions, only to hear product or brand managers talking about how Susan is fat, or Joe is stupid, or Frida has a funny accent, or “Whatsa matter with them, that they just don’t get the benefits of our new feature?”, it tells me something about the team’s listening skills. And their empathy. And how they fall more on the push-marketing than pull-marketing side of the continuum. Remember, that customer is the person who pays your salary, and if you want to bind them to you more tightly, you might want to show them a little more respect. In fact, consider what it would be like if you were all on the same side of the glass – gathered around a table, working together to come up with the best possible solution to their problems.

While the traditional behind-the-glass focus group has value, getting teams face-to-face with their customers has proven to be superior in many of our client engagements. First, it can really reduce this sort of backstabbing, feedback-discounting activity. Isn’t it funny how it is so much easier to gossip or insult buyers behind their backs, than when you’re sitting around a table together? Or to take news that you don’t want to hear and explain it away by insulting the messenger? That’s why we like to use Innovation Games TM as a tool to not only make richer customer discoveries, but to help our clients show their customers and stakeholders some respect. Taking customer engagement to the point where consumers and users are truly co-creators of your brand will elevate your relationship to a whole new positive level. And maybe when you get in their shoes a little, it will be just a tiny bit harder to act like a transaction-marketer who will never see them again. Because isn’t seeing them again what it’s all about?

Keeping customer conversations going,

Megann and Steve