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.
...even the best parts!
Last night I saw the movie "Yesterday" with Himesh Patel, Lily James (oh, and a couple of other small names like Ed Sheeran and James Corden). If you like rom-coms, it's a must-see. Do bring some tissues. It got me thinking, though, about how often clients make assumptions about what their customers know about them. If you have a B2B relationship, you may have a long sales cycle. What do you do in between? How will they remember? Could someone slip in and broadcast your entire catalogue of hits without anyone realizing it was actually created by you? (I'm giving away a lot of the plot here, but trust me, there's more to the story).
If you have a product with a long cycle, you need to think carefully about how to keep those big-ticket customers engaged. One way, of course, is to send them emails or connect using social media or other types of communication. It's also worth engaging anyone they interact with in between purchases, like customer success, service and support, shipping, or even (yes, I'm going to say it) the billing department. As an aside, we once worked with a partner of ours on a win-loss project, and the billing department was responsible for a number of lost accounts, because they were more concerned about maintaining their process, than developing one that was easy for customers.
There's a lot of push marketing in all of those activities, of course. Plenty of KPIs and other dashboard inputs. But what if you really engaged them in a conversation that wasn't focused on selling? What if you let them talk about their objectives, what they want and need, their struggles, what's important to them? Two ways to do this are to
What's the difference?
A Customer Community is a place where your customers can come together and engage in conversations with each other. And it had better be interesting, because no one, especially not your customer, wants another long, boring meeting, virtual or otherwise. Really, do you even want to invest in something where your customer puts the phone or laptop on mute and pays more attention to their cheese sandwich? The best communities let them contribute something, learn something, see that you trust them to talk to each other and engage with one another without you trying to drive the conversation.
In a Customer Advisory Board, they know that the goal is for them to help you sell more product and do a better job of delivery. It's more focused, and may even involve their strategic advice about how and where to recruit more customers just like they are. They might provide insights into buying cycles, responses to changing industry regulations, and more. They may even introduce you to someone else who should become a member.
Every business wants to find more customers, and to use research to understand customers - but keep customers? It's surprising how little time and effort they invest beyond good old push marketing tactics. That might just be the thing that can sets you apart.
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 a better frame of reference. 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.
“Ugh, management by committee. I just couldn’t get them to make a decision. It was like herding cats!” Even if you think of yourself as a decisive person, working with a team can make choosing seem much harder. There are so many more opinions to hear, and so many more options that may be put on the table. Add to that, money, impact on people, fuzzy objectives or incomplete information, and you can end up with a real headache on your hands. We’ve discovered five essential steps to keep every decision-making process on the straight and narrow.
Judging by the box room in our condo building, you'd think that everything was shipped by courier or post, but we have a saying around here: "It's hard to ship hot soup by mail". Whether you're starting a new business, or developing a new product or service for your existing business, one of the decisions you'll need to make, is what is the most effective channel to use, to deliver that product or service to your most valued customer. Taking a step back, Megann has been running a video challenge, and two things she's asked participants to think about are:
These questions don't stay static. They deserve regular review, no matter what your business. When we started consulting, we would have said the most valuable service was in-depth medical interviews, in situ in specialists' offices. And the customer who bought those was usually a pharmaceutical company with a very specialized product, like a cancer treatment. Now, the highest value services are consulting with companies who are entering new markets, on market selection, or facilitating strategic decision-making. And the clients are varied, but always scientific, technical, medical, or industrial B2B companies.
Once you have a good picture of the key product or service, and who buys it, it's time to think about how to get it to them. Are the clients remote, or local? Do they need to see you to receive the service? Can it be shipped? Must it be? Figuring that out can be a challenge, and it takes a lot of legwork to determine the most efficient and effective way. More than one channel may be needed. Determining it is a necessity, as it will be a critical part of your cost structure, as well as your value proposition. Are you the fastest? The most thorough? The newest? Each of these directly impacts your channel choice. Moreover, communicating to your customer which channel your using, may be relevant. You might think that those strategy facilitations are always in person for us, for example, but we have tools that let our clients gather together a team from around the globe, and make decisions as effectively as if they were in the same room. So keep an open mind, and find the channel that's just right for you and your MVC.
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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.)
Megann and Steve, Partners in PANOPTIKA, are working for our clients every day to help they need to know to make better decisions in their complex business environment.
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