The 5 Essential Rules of Customer Observation for Greater Business Success

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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.

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.

If you’d like to know more about running successful connection sessions in your own organisation, I can help.  Please contact me for more information about 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. Continue Reading

How to Become a Fan of your Customer

All companies know the importance of being customer centric, but how many of them encourage ALL their employees to think about their customers and to try and serve them better every time? 

What about you? When was the last time you yourself listened to or watched your customers using your product or service, to learn more about them, and to underst and them more deeply? Most people see this as being the responsibility of their colleagues in the Market Research and Insight Department and are happy to wait for them to come and present the findings of a research study.

Your customers are constantly changing, as are their attitudes, needs, desires and how your products and services fit into their lives. This means that everyone should be involved in getting to know them better and being close to customers should be on their annual objectives.

Plan customer closeness sessions

One of the best ways to energize curiosity and excitement around the customer, is to organise customer closeness days or weeks. During these times, several groups in the organisation leave their offices and go out into the world to watch and listen to their customers as they think about, purchase or use your products and services. There are numerous ways of doing this, but to mention just a few:

  • listening in to service centre calls
  • watching group discussions or in-depth interviews organised by market research
  • accompanying demonstrators who are showing or sampling your products in store
  • serving customers behind the counter if you have your own retail outlets
  • accompanying customers as they shop or use your product or service
  • observing your customers as they shop or use your product

Observation is not as simple as it sounds

In order to really underst and what people will be witnessing, it is advisable to run a briefing session before allowing them to go out and observe customers. Your market research and insight people should be able to help with this training and will no doubt be happy to share their expert knowledge.

Ideally each person should go out with a task or question to answer, rather than observing customers with no precise objective in mind. Watching and listening first and asking questions only afterwards, is the best way to gain a maximum amount of underst anding; by listening first you learn what is important to your customers, rather than just finding the answers to the questions you might have. Everyone can meet up at the end of the exercise to share their observations and build greater knowledge and underst anding of the customer.

Try it; you will become a fan of these exercises  and as a result, of your customers as well! If you already run such experiences we would love to hear about your ideas and success stories.

For more ideas on getting closer to your customers please check out our website: https://www.c3centricity.com/home/vision/

This post is adapted from an article which first appeared on C3Centricity Dimensions on July 7th 2011

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