One of the best ways I know to understand your customers is to watch and listen to them whenever you can. Customer observation is a powerful, but unfortunately an under-utilised tool these days. So when was the last time you got intimate with your customers? If it wasn’t in the last week or two, you’re not getting out enough!
Before going on, I should explain that I use the word “customer” to describe the person who buys and / or uses your product or service. For the B2B business, the recommendations in this article are still valid, but would be of particular value when you work with your supplier or retailer, to help them to better know their own customers.
It is, therefore, not surprising that most companies run to conduct market research when they want to know something about their customers. 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? I bet you felt disappointed and even a little irritated that you “wasted” money on the project weren’t you? Well, this may actually be the 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. But there was so much more you could have understood if only you had bothered 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.True understanding comes from regular interaction with your customers, not just from an infrequent observation or two. #CustomerUnderstanding #CEX #CRM #CustomerCentricity #CustomerFirst Click To Tweet
Make customer observation everyone’s job
There are many, many opportunities for every employee in an organisation to come into contact with their customers. 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 posts on social media and message boards
- participating in / watching promotions, demonstrations, sampling in retail outlets
- joining market research fieldwork
Some organisations also make a habit of getting their employees to watch and listen to their customers in direct observation or connection sessions. However, these need to be managed carefully in order to avoid people jumping too quickly to incorrect conclusions, as I’ll explain in more detail below.In a customer-centric organisation, everyone has annual objectives which include connecting with customers on a regular basis. Does yours? #CEX #Customers #CRM #CustomerFirst #CustomerCentricity Click To Tweet
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 and listen to 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
If you have run observation or connection sessions and have learned something additional, please share your experiences. I answer all notes and questions personally, usually within a few hours.
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 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.