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

 

 

 

A Gentleman Made us Think: RIP Jean Béliveau

Full disclosure: the she-partner is not a hockey fan of any kind. In fact, other than knowing the hockey score on her wedding day, and that there is a long-held hockey team rivalry between the he-partner and our number one son, she gives the same level of attention to hockey as that girl in the Tragically Hip song. But today a Canadian icon passed away and it occurs to us that it’s worth giving a nod to Jean Béliveau. Not because he was a hockey player, but because reputation has it that he was a gentleman. It seems in our modern times that showing a soft side to others may be seen as a sign of weakness. Or of not having the “stuff” of business. But when you’re thinking about your customers and trying to figure out what they want, where they’re going, what their pain is all about, or how to solve it for them, a little empathy goes a long way. So in addition to just being polite and kind as Béliveau was reputed to have been, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Not sure how? Let us know. We can help.

Listening for your “why”,

Megann and Steve

Lalalalalalalala! I Can’t Hear You!

This week has been an interesting study in concept validation for us. We’ve observed several teams in action, and their reactions in the face of customer and stakeholder advice are reminiscent of your average four year old, covering her ears and chanting “Lalalalalalalala” when confronted with an unpopular topic such as bedtime.

One team had the advantage of meeting with a roomful of advisors and mentors. They were convinced that their new concept was sound. How? Well, they had validated it with a handful of potential customers. That was a step in the right direction, most certainly. However their customer discovery pool was incredibly shallow. The number of business advisors in the room was greater than the number of prospects the team had approached with their idea, and they didn’t think the concept would hold water. The collective wisdom was that more validation was required, but this idea was met with resistance.

Organization two gathered their A team together to fine-tune their latest development product. Constraints and challenges were clearly identified at the outset, the team came up with a prototype that met all the user requirements. It seemed to be “just right”. Yet their presentation to their CEO was rejected – he had his own idea as to what the solution should be, and sent them back to the drawing board.

In the last case, the product developer took an idea out to the customers, and was greeted with a positive response. But an advisor with deep domain knowledge suggested the customers’ stated intent might not play out in reality. In other words, that what they said they would do, and what they would actually do, might be different, based on her experience. Presenting the customers with a prototype seemed like the only way forward. But that could be costly. Was there another way?

In each case, changing the research may have given a better outcome. Team one needed to expand the pool of respondents – rejection from no one (or everyone) usually signals that something is amiss. Group two needed to insist their CEO be at the table, if he was determined to have the last word, so his concerns or constraints could be considered at the time, not after the fact. And in case three, observed behaviour, or asking about what the customers actually do currently to solve the problem, might be a less costly approach. Making sure the research approach is right can keep us from looking like we’re just not willing to hear the answer.

Always listening,

Megann and Steve

 

Oh, The Stories We Could Tell!

We love that more and more of you are coming to understand the value of storytelling. It is such a great way to get information about your product into the hearts and minds of your customers. Some of the best ads of all time are story-centred ones. Stories break down barriers, and help establish an emotional connection, and help us access shared values. But stories aren’t just good for selling – they’re also powerful tools when you are trying to understand customers and their relationships with products and services.

  • Why do your customers love your product?
  • What are the underlying fears or misconceptions that are keeping prospects from moving forward?
  • How did your client communicate their positive experience so well that it gained you another customer?

Storytelling is a tremendous research tool for understanding emotion. Metaphor allows respondents (prospects, customers, or colleagues) to reveal key details that might be uncomfortable to say out loud. Sometimes they don’t even make cause-and-effect connections themselves, until they’re invited to tell us a story. It helps us take a deep dive into the “why”. Stories can also be used to figure out sequencing (what do we tell you first, so you’ll be convinced?) and semantics (how do we tell the story, exactly, to make it most impactful?)

So the next time you’re asking customers to share their opinions or ideas, ask them to tell you a story. We’re sure you’ll be glad you did.

Looking for the happily ever after,

Megann and Steve

Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim…?

Logic and experience tell us that decisions can never be made on perfect information. Just like buying the latest technological gadget, what has impacted your customers’ behaviour continues to change, even as you are analyzing the latest research into their actions. There will always be one more question you could have asked, or one more angle you could have considered. So what should you do? And how do you know when enough is enough?

The key is to plan, then act. Start with clear objectives about what you’re trying to find out. (READY) That will allow you to put together a strong list of key questions and determine the targets and the methodology. (AIM) As soon as that’s done, execute. (FIRE!) Well-planned questions of any sort will yield better information than adjusting and refining to the point where you’ve long-since forgotten why you wanted to know what you wanted to know, in the first place. And timely information will help you make decisions, and take action, while there’s still an opportunity to have an impact. That’s as close to perfection as you’re ever going to get.

We’ve got customers in our sights,

Megann and Steve