Paddy Long    |     +44 (0)7835684851
Customer experience design
Work with me
Do your own customer research
and keep doing it

The thought of speaking to your own customers is scary. If testing ideas, it means presenting them, unprotected, while someone who thinks differently from you offers their rawest opinion. If you’re out to learn who your customers are, the same applies. People will give you their most honest thoughts. They might not be the kind of customer you envisioned, they might use your product in ways it was never intended and provide a barrage of criticism. The funny thing is, this is exactly what you want and it means you’re learning.

The scariest bit of doing research is taking that first step into the unknown. By this I mean embarking on a project, organising to meet customers and starting the first conversation. This might seem like a minor step, but the inertia instilled by this fear of speaking to customers is a significant barrier to growth for businesses all over the world, large and small. Because customers hold the keys to your success, it is critical to keep one foot outside your comfort zone and by so doing, understand how they really think so that you can adapt your product-offer when you need to. It’s exceptionally hard to put yourself in customers’ shoes if you don’t have real characters in mind and stories to inspire your thinking. The best way to do this is to conduct your own customer research and involve the whole team if you can.

Taking the time and effort to get out into the field and synthesise learnings can feel like a low priority, especially if a company is performing successfully. If a company isn’t performing successfully then it can feel like an even lower priority as the business focusses its efforts on keeping the ship upright rather than worrying what direction it’s facing. However, conducting research, whatever the weather, can inform a business what to do to stay afloat while also determining the best course ahead.

Companies are often put off doing their own research because they haven’t done it before and don’t know where to start. It can be daunting to embark on fieldwork if you have little experience, but the good news is, there are no rules as to how it should be done and even the most experienced researchers enter uncharted territory every time they conduct an interview. Customer research really isn’t rocket science and with a little guidance can be picked up by any bright and curious individual who enjoys learning what makes people tick. The most important thing by far is to get out there, meet customers and see what you learn.

In small companies, there are few processes and procedures making it a bit easier to meet customers. As startups test and change products during infancy, customer research can be conducted continuously to speed up the rate at which a product evolves for the best market fit. During initial growth it is critical to monitor your customer base as it diversifies. The product that initially makes a business successful will have appealed to early adopters, but the mass market you hope to tap into later may want something quite different. Proactively gathering deep customer insights during this time is an excellent way to navigate potential disconnect between customer types and product fit [See Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore]. Even if smaller companies have the budget to employ an external consultancy to conduct research for them (which is unlikely), it is still best to conduct your own so that the business learns continuously and customer centricity informs every business decision during this unpredictable time.

In larger and more stable companies with a brand to manage, it’s a little trickier to meet customers. In this case it’s more likely to be bureaucracy rather than fear that discourages people from doing their own customer research. As a result staff can experience a disconnect between the job they do and the customers their business serves, which in turn can lead towards lower job satisfaction. Large companies do of course have to do customer research but it’s often left to a specific department or an external consultancy who handle the fieldwork and deliver the results, hassle-free. In theory this seems like the perfect thing; you don’t have to get into messy conversations with customers or use up valuable time. And you know all you need to know about your customers because the learnings are packaged in a neat and tidy way. Don’t be fooled. In practice it’s unlikely these insights will resonate because you didn’t meet the customers and won’t have had the opportunity to develop an emotional connection with their real needs. Moreover, it will be even trickier to get your colleagues excited about the results if they are a step further removed.

Conducting customer research isn’t just about the results and this why I think it’s so beneficial to do your own. Customer research is about breathing customer-centricity into every employee across your whole organisation. Insights from fieldwork will have ten times more impact if they resonate with every staff member. Without the faces and names of customers on their minds, it’s pretty tough to get staff excited about the people they serve on a daily basis. Conducting your own customer research has the dual benefit of simultaneously gaining deep customer understanding and motivating your staff to perform at their best. If an employee has only one opportunity to meet a customer in a research capacity, the stories they hear will stay with them and the colleagues

they tell.

As the world evolves, so too does your market so It’s important to keep doing customer research too. There will always be a range of unanswered questions that are critical to growth and to which your customers hold the keys. Think of customer research as a fly-wheel: it takes a bit of effort to get started, but thereafter produces immense power by being fed a little and often. Maintaining a network of customers you can speak to does take a bit of effort and planning. It’s often messy and unpredictable too but is one of the safest ways to ensure your products remain successful. And, customers will notice that you care what they think. Every time you speak to a customer you’ll likely be winning over a particularly effective advocate even if they offer criticism.

If your customers want to buy your products and your staff give 100%, you have a recipe for success. There really is no better way to understand your customers than to get out there and meet them yourself.      |      Telephone:   +971 (0)552 665 794