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Less Marketing, More Listening

The idea of listening to your customers or end users to gain insights and learn from their stories is nothing new. It’s been a core principle of most social sciences, participatory development, communication, marketing and evaluation practices for a long time. However many businesses fail to employ this when designing products, developing services and driving customer engagement. We believe the fundamental difference between your success & failure is the capacity to understand and address your customers’ real needs. To do this we need to talk to real customers; past, present and future.

Imagine your customer’s interaction with your product or service as a journey. They begin with an unmet emotional or physical need and ends with this need being met. In between there are countless steps and experiences that either positively or negatively propel them along this journey.

Interviews are an invaluable way to observe behaviour, listen to stories, uncover past experiences and learn about the human part of being a ‘customer’. From our experience, they are far more effective than online surveys or net promoter scores. There is an art to interviewing. It takes practice to feel comfortable questioning them beyond their initial response. Uncovering deeper motivations and insights makes it worth the effort. Good interviews ultimately lead to opportunities for designing a better customer experience.

This level of insight and understanding is impossible to achieve from behind your desk for the following reasons:

No Two Experiences are the Same

It is impossible to design an experience, as every person interprets and reacts to a situation differently. However, by interviewing a cross section of your audience, we can begin to develop ways to design with a desired experience in mind for specific extremes of different people. It’s important to not fall into the trap of creating an ideal customer, or persona, that is made up of different people. That ideal customer does not exist.

Past Experiences Influence Current Reactions

There are many factors we as designers and businesses have no control over. People bring past experiences that affect the responses they have to your products or services. Interviews help uncover some of these past experiences and offer opportunities to positively counteract them.

Understand Your Customer’s Problems

Einstein said “If I had 20 days to solve a problem I would take 19 to define it.” The starting point for creating products and services that make life easier for your customers is the ability to understand and articulate the problems they face. Creative solutions nearly always come from an alternative definition of your problem. Interviews can help reframe problems. For example, if we were to interview people in a building where the elevators are seen to be too slow. From more in depth interviewing we may uncover that the actual problem for customers is that waiting is frustrating. Solutions can then move away from “make the elevator faster” (high impact, high effort) to finding solutions that make the wait less frustrating (high impact, low effort).

Deeper Insight Through Understanding Context

Customers want to “hire” a product to do a job, or, as Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt put it, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”. Understanding the greater physical and emotional context in which your product sits presents opportunities to better help your customers.

Extreme Reactions are Great Opportunities

Interviewing customers can uncover extreme reactions that people have when they come in contact with your business. Extreme reactions provide great opportunities to come up with ideas to provide a better experience, product feature or service that turns a negative into a positive.

The Main Point

Interviews help move your customer from a “target market” to a real person. Learning as much as you can from talking and listening to your customers provides the opportunity to not only meet their needs, but create memorable experiences for them. In a world where traditional marketing is being replaced by customer experience, listening to and learning about your customers is vital to business success.

By Rusty Benson | Director

Original image by Tim Gouw