Stepping into the customer’s world, walking in their shoes and seeing your business from the outside-in with customer’s eyes is remarkably hard for employees but is vital for your business. Data may be plentiful but data is not insight. The creativity to innovate powerful business solutions comes from answering the question “why” and that takes Curiosity.
#1 Why Customer Thinking Matters
Customer thinking is founded out of curiosity about real lives, describing what people are really doing and why and discovering unexpected opportunities that add customer value. Customer insights drive the successful development of new products, services and systems from the customer’s perspective.
Your customers are individual humans with all the irritating and wonderful complexities that make life so rich. Just like you and I customers can be fickle, irrational, inarticulate or passionate, or angry or expert – all in one day. Understanding and staying close to that complexity is the goal of customer centricity because unless you add customer value, as defined by the customer, you will not have a successful business for long. Getting close to customers energises and aligns, sparks creativity, enabling successful innovation and growth.
Customer insight is a vital part of customer centricity because professional researchers can observe, elicit and synthesise this complexity into digestible narratives and succinct insights that offer new ways to understand, new frameworks for thinking and reveal hidden meaning. Situating insights strategically with highly attuned storytelling conveys complex ideas in ways that gain traction at all levels and functions within organisations. Although the customer-centric business will be collecting and acting on multiple sources of data, deep exploration of “why” is the key that unlocks understanding and provides focus.
#2 It’s Easy to Fool Yourself That You Know
Marketers often lose sight of the human element because customers often appear irrational driven by opaque motives and so in this digital world fall back on champion: challenger (A/B) testing without any understanding or creativity and thereby their work fails to resonate. A shorthand develops around “personas” which are thumbnails of typical, idealised customer types, but which are fictionalised and unquestioned. The reality is vastly different, and constantly changing. Challenging this received wisdom inspires innovation, creativity and relevance that enables breakthrough or disruptive innovation.
Big data offers detailed information on consumption and behaviour but it cannot tell us the “why” of consumer behaviour and often misleads. Big data provides the illusion that it is rational and quantitative, but is ultimately subjective and incomplete. It is all too easy to approach “why” questions with approaches that are more suited to answer “what”.
Many businesses measure the success of their customer experience (CX) initiatives using a simple measure of customer satisfaction called Net Promotor Score (NPS). While it is undoubtedly good to have a senior-level focus on the quality of the customer engagement NPS is ultimately a simplistic overview, and cannot on its own provide the creative guidance to what is really valued by customers.
#3 The Importance of Curiosity
Genuine curiosity about human interactions is what sets us apart. Being truly curious is more than being inquisitive with safe parameters. It implies using empathy, holistic thinking, emotional intelligence and finely-honed observation and layered listening skills. We surface deeper layers of insight into the aspirations, value, priorities and context of customers’ lives. We see customers with a wider, outside-in lens, making new and unexpected connections, actively identifying opportunities and reframing assumptions. We do a lot more than asking questions off a clipboard, because we aim to look behind the obvious, searching for workarounds, unconscious habits and homing -in on “threads” that when explored lead to gold.
An example of a project which reframed a client’s perceptions was a “Day in the Life” project for Vodafone business. Our researchers visited business customers in many countries and shadowed them over their entire day – from early morning, travelling to work, in the workplace and their evening activity. The explicit rationale for the project was to uncover the reasons behind the choices of communication methods available – fixed-line phone, mobile, instant messaging, email and so on and we found that out. But what emerged was an astonishing series of stories and images that brought the reality of business people’s lives into Vodafone’s headquarters and invigorated telling innovation. We learned about the customers who slept with their phones, and the workarounds other customers had to avoid out of hours intrusion by work. About the emotional pressure to be “always-on” and the emotional reassurance from always being in touch with the family when travelling. What do people’s workplaces look like – no not always like yours, and what does that mean for communication choices.? About business people who worked at home every evening with their children sitting with them, those who worked in cars, in factories, out and about and on the floor at airports. And we learned about the rhythms of the day, the routines, the pressures and the pleasures. All of this informed and kindled creative sparks of innovation, brand messaging and service development for a billion-dollar business over a matter of years. It’s still talked about today.
#4 How We Approach Insight
An outside-in approach to research recognises how consumers (and businesses) use a product as a complete interrelated solution helping to refocus from product to customer thinking, bringing the customer’s voice into the organisation.
There are many methodologies and techniques in use and these can be matched to the challenge at hand and the budget. The gold standard is naturally a face to face with individual customer or businesses in the context in which the product or service would be used. These deep dives using ethnographic exploratory skills are invaluable and generate insight that typically reframes perception and has long-lasting relevance. Establishing rapport and broadening perceptions to understand the context and reframe assumptions are hard-won professional skills.
Other approaches which have their own merits are focus groups and telephone interviews. Focus groups have the advantage that the client can easily sit in the room and be involved so learning is direct and groups can be facilitated to be creative, moving thinking along in real-time. Telephone interviews work well with B2B as it helps gain cost-effective access to busy customers, who are confident enough to engage deeply on the telephone or by Skype. On-line interviews as a methodology for quantitative research are often used to provide statistical evidence around the empirical insights obtained to support investment decisions but are always limited to the questions asked.
BeyondCuriosity has a unique hybrid technique called QQ, which combines the depth and exploratory power of qualitative insight with an integrated quantification element producing robust results for a substantially reduced time frame and cost.
Involving customers in a process of collaborative development is essential to successful innovation. Creative insight can develop testable ideas, and these can be breadboarded to a prototype minimum viable proposition (MPV) but ultimately the design, build and evolution need detailed input from real customers. This approach is consistent with sprints in Agile development.
The analysis and interpretation stages, when making sense and synthesising of the observations and data is critical. Finding patterns across the data, identifying larger themes and an appreciation of how to convey recommendations in ways the organisation can understand, integrate and act on.
Curiosity based research is ultimately the most important long-term resource for innovation.
BeyondCuriosity is a specialist insight agency helping your business innovate and grow.
For more information call Chris Little 07957686377 firstname.lastname@example.org