One of the best ways to a deeper understanding of your customers is to watch and listen to them whenever you can. Customer observation is a powerful, but unfortunately too often an under-utilised tool of marketers.
It is, therefore, understandable that so many companies run to conduct market research, usually a qualitative study, as a first step to improved customer understanding. They then (hopefully) invite relevant employees from marketing, sales, packaging, communications or R&D to watch the interviews or group discussions. However, this intense but short observation is likely to do more harm than good. Let me explain.
Have you ever gone to watch a focus group only to discover that the research confirms your hypotheses? You are then irritated that you “wasted” money on the project aren’t you? Well, this may actually be as a result of your very own selective listening and interpretation. You watched and listened only to the topics that interested you. You were looking for confirmation of your hypothesis. There was so much more you could have understood if only you knew how to listen.
True understanding comes from regular interaction with your customers, not just from an infrequent observation or two. Here are some ideas on how to do this more effectively.
Make customer observation everyone’s job
There are many, many opportunities for every employee in a company to come into contact with the customer. In a customer-centric organisation, everyone has annual objectives which include connecting with customers on a regular basis. This could be by listening to calls at the care centre, reading blogs and message boards, or participating in / watching promotions, demonstrations, sampling or market research.
Some organisations also make a habit of getting their employees to watch and listen to their customers in direct observation or connection sessions. However, this needs to be managed carefully in order to avoid people jumping too quickly to incorrect conclusions, as explained below.
If you’d like to run more successful connection sessions in your own organisation, I can help. Please contact me for more on our 1-Day training sessions.
Customer observation is not as easy as it looks!
There is a very well-known example of the challenge of observation, in a video showing two teams of young people passing a couple of balls around. If you haven’t seen it you can check out the Awareness Test and try it for yourself.
In the exercise, people are asked to count the number of passes made by the team in white, so that is what the observer will concentrate on. In the background a man dressed as a bear, moon-walks his way across the screen, but most people are oblivious to the fact. They are so busy looking for the answer to the question, that they miss this significant event in the short video.
Exactly the same can happen when people watch customers. They are so concentrated on finding the answer to their question, or worse the substantiation of their own beliefs, that they miss a lot of what is actually going on.Marketers observing customers all too often miss a lot of what is happening because they are concentrated on finding the answer to their question, or worse the substantiation of their own beliefs. #Marketing #Observation Click To Tweet
If they were to actually listen objectively, they might hear something new. And this might lead them to a significant breakthrough in customer understanding.
For this reason, it is essential to run a careful briefing session before every observation exercise. This way people go into it with their eyes and brains fully open. Your Insight team can manage this in most cases, but to summarise what needs to be covered, I have listed below the five rules of observation.
The five rules of customer observation
For more ideas on getting closer to your customer, please check out our website: https://www.c3centricity.com/. If you would like support in setting up connection sessions with your own customers I would love to help you get the most out of them. Just contact me contact me here.
This post uses images from Denyse’s book “ Winning Customer Centricity: Putting Customers at the Heart of Business – One Day at a Time.“
This post has been regularly updated and expanded since it was first published on C3Centricity. It remains one of our most popular posts years later.