Forget storytelling. Try storyshowing.

Photo by klimkin via Pixabay
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 TwitterFacebook, or LinkedInand 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.


Be Prepared!

This post originally appeared in December, 2018, during the holiday season. No matter when you’re planning customer research or collaboration projects, there’s a lesson here for you.

Have you been doing a lot of holiday cooking? We have! But what does that have to do with research and strategy?

Chefs and expert home cooks alike, know the value of mise en place, or assembling all the tools and ingredients you need in advance. Checking your lists, reviewing the recipe, and making sure you haven’t forgotten anything are all vital steps in having a perfect outcome when preparing a special dish. Dealing with your next research project or customer collaboration is no different. If it’s your first time, you might want to consult with others who have tried the same thing, to see how things turned out. You can consider whether, the last time you did this, there was something you learned that you might adjust. And you can even give some thought as to how you’ll serve the results, and who will be at the table.

As a trusted research and strategy partner to our clients, PANOPTIKA helps them put everything in place before we begin, just like assembling the mise en place. Whatever you’re planning for 2019, take time to be prepared in advance, and it’s sure to turn out a whole lot better than it would otherwise.  If you’d like to explore an information audit, so you can be ready for YOUR fresh start, let’s talk.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We’ll help you make better decisions by seeing everything laid out in an organized way. For more insights into your career and business decisions, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Then click the orange button to receive weekly news you can use, along with our latest offers.


A gift for all seasons: curiosity

This blog was reposted in January, 2020

Curiosity killed the cat? Maybe, but it can make you more creative and innovative at work.

One of the best gifts you can bring to your work, whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve been working in the same field for a very long time, is curiosity. Giving yourself permission to be curious can help you solve problems more creatively, demonstrate engagement to colleagues and customers, and keep your work interesting when others feel like their occupation is nothing but a grind.

So how can you stay curious? Here are just a few ideas to keep your curiosity active all the time:

  1. Ask the “how might we” question whenever you encounter a problem (or someone else brings one to the table). You’ll find ideas that move you toward solutions.
  2. Think about the “opposite game” you might have played as a kid – when you have a strong opinion, ask yourself what would have to change, for you to believe the opposite. Then use that to reframe your narrative in a way your opponent can better understand.
  3. Explore the “why” when you’re working on a process – why have we always done it this way? Why couldn’t that change? You’ll challenge your paradigms and open doors to fresh thinking.
  4. Be a reporter – when explaining an idea, imagine you’ll need to explain it to someone who knows nothing about the topic, and find ways to tell the story that includes all of the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, why. (Bonus points for how!) The toughest parts to explain are where curiosity can help you learn the most.
  5. When meeting with customers, the words “show me” can help you understand how they use your product, what challenges they are encountering, or what’s delighting them about a competitor’s offering. 

We’re always curious – so if you need answers, we can help you ask the right questions, or we can work with your team to make sure their curiosity is always in excellent working order.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with clients like you, to help them see everything they need to know to build a better business, so they can find, keep, and know their best customers. For more content, you can follow us on social media like Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. We send a collection of curated content every Friday to our subscribers. There’s a button for that, below.


14 Things to Ask Now For a Better Business Year

This is a re-post of a blog from 2018, but the advice is still worth sharing…

Are you planning to grow by starting a new business over the next year? Or do you just want to make more money from the business you’re in? Those are the first two questions to explore. If you haven’t already, take time today to figure out what you want, and it will help you get off on the right foot for a strong 2018. Imagine if this time next year, were busier and more successful than ever!

These are the 14 Questions that will help you get there:

If you’re not into DIY, or you’d like help putting your plan together to answer one or more of these, we’d love to help. Whether you need strategic research, a facilitated strategy session, coaching, a speaker or a workshop, we’re looking forward to seeing you succeed. 

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 know to find, know, and keep customers. You can find daily content from us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and for weekly ideas delivered straight to your inbox, you can subscribe using the orange button, below.