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3 Techniques to Help you Really Understand your Customers

3 Techniques to Help you Really Understand your Customers
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What do companies such as Amazon, Airbnb and Apple have in common? Apart from all starting with the letter ‘A’ and being successful in their respective industries, these three companies place a huge emphasis on understanding their customers. Establishing a detailed understanding of your customers is essential in achieving business goals and creating a customer experience that is a key competitive advantage today. 

Deeply understanding your customers is the first step.

The highest quality solutions come from valuable insights into human behaviour. However, learning to recognise those insights is harder than you think. Here are three techniques, that when applied correctly, can uncover customer insights that you would never have thought existed.

1. Engage - Listen to your customers

This technique is all about directly engaging with your customers to better understand the way they think and the values they hold. More often than not, you will uncover important details about your customer group that may be otherwise overlooked. Many companies fall into the trap of running focus groups with customers. The problem with focus groups is that they steer responses from customers and don’t allow for unanticipated insights to be uncovered.

Rather than going down that path, aim to have real conversations with your customers through open ended questions like:

Tell me about an experience…

What are the best/worst parts about….

Can you help me understand more about…

When a customer responds to your questions, try to ask ‘why' to uncover deeper meaning when having conversations with your customers. These types of questions encourage the customer to share more information than expected and may potentially lead you down a path to identify a problem for the customer that you never knew existed. Here is a free guide to developing questions that will help when you are engaging with customers.

2. Observe - Watch your customers

“There is a famous quote that if you want to understand how animals live, you don’t go to the zoo, you go to the jungle” Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, Former CEO, LEGO

Observing what people do and how they interact with their environment gives you clues about what they think, feel and need. By watching people, you can uncover learnings and insights that would not be possible through general conversations. A famous example of this is a project run by IDEO for Oral B. They took the observation approach and uncovered a game-changing insight. The assumption with toothbrushes for children is that they should be like adult toothbrushes but smaller and skinnier, due to the fact that adults have big hands and kids have small hands. Makes sense right?

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However, through observations they found that when kids were brushing their teeth they were using their fist and holding their toothbrushes too far up resulting in them hitting their own faces as they brushed. From this observation a solution was identified that kids need fat squishy toothbrushes. As a consequence of this discovery, Oral B had the best selling kids toothbrush in the world for 18 months.

3. Immerse - Experience what your customers do

What better way to understand what your customers go through than actually experience their journey first hand? Go through the experience that they have to encounter and capture notable aspects of the journey. Below are some questions to consider when you go through the journey:

  • What part of the journey was expected?
  • What part of the journey was unexpected?
  • How did you feel?
  • What did you enjoy?
  • What was difficult about the journey?

Airbnb has taken this technique to another level and embedded it internally. All new employees at Airbnb are encouraged to immerse themselves in the experience of a customer. In their first week, new employees are required to book a stay on Airbnb and go through the end to end process of a customer. All learnings from the experience are captured and shared with the Airbnb team on their return.

Are you applying any of these techniques at your organisation?

Do you really understand your customers?

Before you dive into any customer insights gathering, make sure you understand who your customers are. Everybody is not an answer! Companies that spend the time to better understand their customers and have a process to implement the learnings will undoubtedly stay ahead of their competition.

Want to learn what to do with the customer insights gathered? Check out our free guide to Design Thinking that will share the process required to take customer insights through to a working prototype.

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Shay Namdarian

Shay is the General Manager of Customer Strategy at Collective Campus. He has over 10 years of experience working across a wide range of projects focusing on customer experience, design thinking, innovation and digital transformation. He has gained his experience across several consulting firms including Ernst & Young, Capgemini and Accenture.

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