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

 

 

 

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

But I’m sure that’s what you said…!?

Since our last blog, where we recommended beginning with the
end in mind (thank you, Mr. Covey), we’ve completed another project. In this
case, we were working on some new messages with one of our clients and their
agency. We all gathered together for two days of mock sales presentations, each
followed by an in-depth interview. As with every project, we were tasked with
delivering our recommendations as quickly as possible.

Each of the sessions, both the presentation and the
interview, was video-recorded. Ideally, we like to go back through each
recording and watch for visual cues we’ve missed, and to be sure of we’ve
heard. We’re often asked, is all that time really necessary? Here’s what we
found: there were several key areas where what everyone in the room thought
they had heard or seen, wasn’t exactly what had transpired. So how can you be
sure that what you learned from qualitative research was right?

Here are a few steps that can help:

  1. Have someone attend the research from your team who doesn’t work on that brand (they’re less likely to frame what they hear based on their pre-judgements, assumptions, or wishes for the product).
  2. If it’s a business-to-business project where the respondents are known to you, resist the urge to promote or discount remarks based on how you feel about the respondent.
  3. Make sure you record the sessions or, at a minimum, have a note-taker who is an objective third party.
  4. Take time to review recordings and/or transcripts, asking, “When I make a conclusion, can I back it up with a specific verbatim or visual example?”
  5. Then, and only then, finalize the conclusions and decide what they mean for the project.

Practicing active listening,

Megann and Steve

 

Are you a Business Facilitator?

Megann has been busy with her appointment at Queen’s this fall, teaching integrated marketing communications, along with her usual customer work here at Panoptika. It’s a great chance for her to get more involved with her alma mater, but it has also spurred some interesting discussions around our office about how we and our clients are communicating with customers. It also has us thinking more and more about the non-verbal communications between marketers and their prospective or current customers.

Well-integrated marketing communications plans consider what the company knows about the customer. They consider the best way to communicate (outbound), as well as how to be receptive to receiving messages and how they plan to get involved in a dialogue with users or consumers of their product or service. But we’ve been wondering…are companies really thinking about their non-verbal communication with customers?

Sure, marketers work on advertising. They think about public relations and how they or their brands are perceived. They’re always trying to find the newest and best way to get their message in front of the right audience, at the right time. But what if all their efforts are wildly successful, yet when the customer tries to actually purchase their product, or contract for their services, or even just give them feedback, the process of doing that is just too difficult? Does this sound like your organization, or are you a business facilitator – a company whose team spends real time figuring out ways to make it easier for their consumers or clients to do business with them?

As an example, Canadian customers found that shopping from U.S.-based catalogue retailers was increasingly appealing this year, in the face of a stronger Canadian dollar. But while some companies such as Crate & Barrel (through www.borderfree.ca) or Land’s End (through www.airmilesshops.ca or Sears stores) have gone out of their way to make shopping easier, other retailers haven’t been business facilitators. They’ve missed a tremendous opportunity.

Given the recent state of the economy, we’re betting you’re looking for ways to strengthen your relationships with customers. We’d like to suggest you give some thought to how you can make your organization a business facilitator.

Here’s to all our customers; may they be well-served,

Megann & Steve