This week I was reading The Magic of Thinking Big, by David J. Schwartz. It's not a new book; in fact it was written in 1959. And although the tone may seem a bit old-timey, much of the advice is as valid today, as when it was new. Schwartz is a big believer in goal-setting, and in the importance of setting out with a plan. He also alluded to a problem we see in the research and consulting business, which is the gathering of data for data's sake, and an over-emphasis on keeping vast repositories of information in our heads or at our fingertips, as a way to "add value" to ourselves. But machines can do that. Here's what Dr. Schwartz said: "More and more we rely on books, files, and machines to warehouse information. If we can only do what a machine can do, we're in a real fix."
It's not the data (however big) that helps us make better sense of the world, understand our customers better, find new markets, sell more, or grow our businesses. It's the synthesis of the data - what we do with it, how we shape it, where we find connections - and our "knowledge goals", that make a difference. Knowing what we want to do with the answers, how we want to use them, and why they're important to us, will help us have a richer understanding of the people we're investigating in our research. Before adding yet another question to an overly-long survey, or jumping in like Columbo with a "just one more thing" query, ask yourself these things:
If you have good answers for those, and you're still comfortable asking, by all means, go for it. Then use what you've learned wisely and do something excellent for the person responding. That is why you're asking, isn't it?
I'm Megann Willson, and with my partner, Steve Willson, we've been helping PANOPTIKA's customers see everything they need to know to make better decisions for richer customer relationships, for over 18 years. You can also follow us on Twitter or connect on Facebook or LinkedIn. And if you'd like to join our community to have the conversation come right to your inbox, there's a button below that will do the trick.
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.
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 them see everything they need to know to make better decisions in their complex business environment.
Want useful advice for better business decisions, delivered direct to your inbox? (It's like a free coach who comes to you!)