There's a lot of attention being paid to storytelling these days, as a way to gain customers' attention and sell more product. That's not what I'm going to talk about today, though. Today I want to talk about how you can use stories to build empathy and gain a greater understanding of customer problems and motivators.
In today's business environment, there are two things that are in short supply: money, and time. The consequence of this, is that in the rush to meet deadlines, get answers, make decisions, and ship our products and services, soft skills may go out the window. Regularly surveying customers can get us an abundance of data, and data's what we need to get answers. To make decisions. To validate that the solution we want to give the customer is right, so we can win, or fail, fast.
What's wrong with this picture? Well, first of all, in the hurry to find out why customers are doing the things they do, or what their problem is, or how we can fix it, I'm seeing all too much blunt-force questioning. Clients ask me to ask their customers or prospects why they buy. Or they want to ask the customer to tell us how they can solve the problem that same customer is having. Trust me, if they knew, they'd be solving it, or at least trying. Or, clients want to ask questions like the example in this post.
Sometimes, when product or marketing teams or UX people want to get really creative, they ask the customer to tell them a story. They've been told not to ask why, and someone has sold them on the idea that storytelling is a great tool to capture customer experience, or the customer journey. If you want to know why asking why doesn't work, even on ourselves, watch this great video about introspection and self-awareness from Tasha Eurich.
So what can you do? If asking the customer to tell you a story isn't always effective, and you can't ask why, and you can't ask them how you're supposed to solve their problem, what is the solution? Look at the picture above. The one kid didn't say to the other, "tell me a story about that". She asked, "show me."
Instead of seeking storytelling, try using storyshowing. Ask them to show you where they're running into the problem. Sit with them while they demonstrate what's going on. Share screens, or better yet, go to them one-on-one and observe. Listen carefully. Interrupt with questions that involve "what happens when that happens" or "tell me more", but sparingly. Seek clarity, not certainty. Take good notes, make sketches, record if the situation allows. Here's an Innovation Game© called Me and My Shadow that explains a bit about how this works.
We like to add another step. Ask if you can tell them the story of what you saw, in your words. Ask them to be your editor. When they change things, ask them to explain the reason for the change. Then, and only then, let them know that you'd like to share that with your team, so you can come back to them with some fresh ideas. Resist the urge to solve the problem today.
If all of this seems like it is fiddly, and time-consuming, it is. You're not gathering big data; you're gathering rich data. And in our experience, rich data will yield a richer result.
I'm Megann Willson and I'm one of the Partners at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to make better decisions - including better ways to ask the questions that will gain them a richer understanding of their customers, users, and stakeholders. If you need help doing that, we do that, too. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, and for more news you can use to help you or your team to ask more questions in ways that will let them make better decisions, click the handy button, below.
Earlier this week, one of our LinkedIn connections posted about a video from SAP about experience management. Agency folks were all over it, how moving and motivating it was, how it should be nominated for a Cannes Lion (puppy?), and so on. This reminded me about how I learned when I first studied copy-writing, that desperate marketers who couldn't find anything distinctive to say about their product just had to use a photo with girls in bikinis, or a puppy. Yes, sorry, that's what we learned, and yes, they called us girls, and, well, none of that really matters so much as the fact that these tired tactics still persist, and I got annoyed. Sigh. Stay with me. There's more to the story.
On the advice of someone I know, I have been re-reading Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman's Content Rules. So here I am at lunchtime, reading along, and I come to a part where the book talks about Eloqua's "The Conversation" series, and how the video begins after a visitor indicates that she works in marketing. "Obviously I'm not going to be able to use any of the typical marketing tricks on you (sex!), so allow me to just be direct (puppies!)." The version of "The Conversation" that's online now isn't quite the same, but it is still a great example of interactively drawing someone into a conversation about your product with engaging humour, even if you have a serious B2B product.
That's a useful thing to learn, for sure. But the lesson is not, "use a puppy".
There's a bigger and more useful lesson here. And here it is: when we see something that excites us, makes us laugh, or riles us up (have you guessed which one applies to me, when I see a puppy ad that isn't actually selling something directly related to puppies?), the emotion sticks with us. And then, we may start seeing that thing that excited, amused, or enraged us, wherever we look. It's a bit like the "frequency illusion" - our heightened awareness of that thing means that the frequency with which we see it seems to go up, even though in reality, this type of confirmation bias may be causing our brains to just confirm what we want to believe - that we are seeing those puppies everywhere. We unconsciously start looking for them, so we can prove to our brain that our theory is right.
So the next time your team gets a great idea about what your customers want, and you start seeing evidence everywhere, take a step back. Try using one or all of these tools to check your bias:
1. Ask the customers directly how they feel about your platform (or puppies).
2. Look at the data - have they ever shown an interest in puppies before?
3. Run a test to validate (or invalidate) your hypothesis.
I'm Megann Willson and I'm one of the Partners at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to make better decisions - using better data, a better approach, or better metrics. If you need help deciding which metrics will work best for you and your team, so that you can find, serve, and keep more customers, we can help. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. For more news you can use to help you or your team to make better decisions, click the handy button, below.
According to psychology there are three types of Empathy; Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate. My brother, the PhD Psychologist, could explain this better than I can, but here goes…
Cognitive is about perspective, knowing what another person is feeling or thinking. It lacks the emotional component of the other two types and so is easier for us rational humans to understand and use.
Emotional empathy goes a layer deeper and is that sense you have about feeling someone’s pain or suffering. It’s the feeling you get when you see the advertising for starving children or displaced persons, then you go on with your normal activities.
The final layer is Compassionate empathy, where we not only feel the pain, but are compelled to act upon it. Mother Teresa is a model we could use to demonstrate the extreme of compassionate empathy.
Look around you these days and what you see is a whole lot of self-interest, a zero-sum attitude, in order for me to win you must lose. Empathy is the tool you can use to escape this destructive cycle and create a space for abundance.
So, in business, which of these empathy models do we want to employ? To steal a phrase from “A League of Their Own” and mangle it: “There’s no crying in business”.
When preparing for a meeting or negotiation, employing Cognitive Empathy will allow you to explore the thoughts, constraints and motivations of the other person. Ask yourself and your team questions such as:
What constitutes success from the customer’s perspective? Who do they need to influence to get a decision made? How can you empower them in a way that creates value for them with little or no cost to you?
This is a different way of thinking, so you may need some help along the way. At Panoptika we have the experience and the frameworks to help you and your team develop these skills and create more wins.
We feel for you!
I'm Steve Willson and I'm one of the partners in PANOPTIKA. We help clients to see everything and make better decisions.
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Everyone wants a bargain, even you. But think back to the last time you went shopping for something important, or where quality mattered. You probably looked for the best price, didn't you? Then you looked at other models or versions that would do the same job. Eventually, you may have even settled on something slightly (or a lot!) more expensive. Why? Because of value. There was something about that other version you eventually bought, that you valued more than low price. Low price is, and always has been, a race to the bottom. If you compete only on price, and not on value, someone will provide a solution that costs less than yours.
So what to do? In our 5x5 Sharper Focus Business challenge, we prompt participants to think about one strategic question every day, like what is the value you deliver, that will ensure your client or customer is willing to pay more for what it is that you sell? Bain and company studied the elements of value, to take the guesswork out of it. They found there was a pyramid of value, much like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Customers want value in one of four areas:
This morning one of our connections posted a reminder that we are at the end of the quarter. Now we're bracing for the inevitable. At least one client is bound to call or email today with a panicky-sounding voice, about how they need research or strategy work, because they've just realized we are at the end of the quarter, and they really, truly, meant to get started in January.
Does this sound like someone you know? If you're in the business of customer understanding or user insights, and this happens, it can be tempting to respond by taking your hard-won budget, and doing a study that answers all of their questions...at this point in time. Will that let you see everything you need to know?
Snapshots can be really helpful, it's true. It's worth considering, though, whether a time exposure might reveal something extra. Setting up a program that opens the aperture to your customers and lets data flow in over time, can reveal patterns in ways that a single study can't do (no matter how powerful). And sometimes it can be inexpensive to do this, by giving a "camera" to each of your customer-facing colleagues.
Setting up a story bank where their pictures and observations can be gathered and shared is a really useful way to do this. (Don't know how to start? Let's talk. We can help.)
How do you feel when something doesn't go as planned? Disappointed? Frustrated? Annoyed?
What about energized, excited, or enthusiastic?
Over the past few weeks, I've been working with a client to get ready for an important strategy session. They know there are big shifts looming on the horizon, and they want to be ready. They've done the right thing by taking a proactive approach, and they've been looking at data, exploring potential outcomes, and discussing "how might we" scenarios. Yet suddenly, in the midst of a session with outside partners, key team members, and even an advisor from head office, they weren't making headway. Someone said, "Let's change the focus entirely!"
Now there are times when this might just be a tactic to avoid hard conversations, but in this case, it was because they realized they were looking at the problem through the wrong lens. Their problem definition was out of whack, and they got clarity on this because they had everyone in the room, and because they weren't so married to the facilitation method they had chosen, that they kept trying to force-fit solutions to the wrong problem. Once they stepped back and framed the challenge in a new way, they were able to very quickly devine the realm of possible scenarios, determine how they could respond to these in their own favour, and what proactive steps they could take right now, to get ready for the most likely eventualities.
The change in energy in the room at the end of the day was palpable. And as a facilitator, it was a pretty spectacular ending for me, as well.
It’s Shrove Tuesday, or as some like to call it, “Pancake Tuesday”. Originally, on this day, Christians made their confession in preparation for Lent, the days that lead up to Easter. They were forgiven for their sins, or “shriven” – hence, “Shrove Tuesday”. They also finished off any tempting foods – rich fats, eggs, cream, and so on – as they prepared to emulate Christ's 40 days in the desert. Pancakes were an easy way to do that. Nowadays, all that remains for many people is the idea that today is a day for pancakes.
Why all this religious explanation in a blog where we usually talk about research, strategy, and customer understanding? Because just like Shrove Tuesday, what you tell your customer about yourself (the preparation, scorekeeping, and effort) isn’t the most important part of your story – what your customer believes about you is. That’s what they’ll communicate to others, and that’s what will impact the reputation of your company, your brand, or you. Give them your best, make sure they know your true story, and maybe they’ll remember more than the pancakes.
Megann and Steve, Partners in PANOPTIKA, are working for our clients every day to help them see everything they need to know to make better decisions in their complex business environment.
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