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.


Forecasting without Data? Here’s How.

It’s Thursday afternoon, just before a long weekend, and Head Office calls…

“Hey Fred, it’s Wilma. I know Monday’s a holiday in Canada, so I thought I’d catch you early.  Barney’s got a presentation to the investors on Monday in Bedrock and needs to know how big the Canadian market is for our new Bronto-vax®. Can we get that by the end-of-day Friday?”

No problem, right?  If your product is a breakfast cereal you can just go to the Nielsen data, or if it’s a retail pharmaceutical IQVIA will sell you as much information as you need. But what if no data sources exist for your particular product?

We get asked to work on these problems quite regularly and the answer is always “Let’s think about it systematically”.

Is there a surrogate marker, for example if there’s no data on popsicle sticks, but good data on popsicle sales, you can assume that, in general, sticks and finished products are reasonably well correlated. If it’s a specialized pharmaceutical product you can find data on the incidence and prevalence of the disease, population size, percent of patients treated, length of treatment for clinical trials…you get the idea.

If you have more time you can talk to a portion your target audience and use their estimates to project for the entire market…wisdom of the crowd.

So, this is a long-winded way of saying that, with a little thought and imagination, you can build a reasonably robust model along with the data sources and references to give it some credibility. Then you can continue to revisit and evaluate the model as you go forward.

When we work on this with you then you get the added credibility of a second set of eyes and the validation that “our consultant looked at the market and built this model”. We’ve done it for others, we can do it for you.

I’m Steve 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 TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.  For more news you can use to help you or your team to make better decisions, click the handy button, below.


How To Turn an Observation into an Insight

“We’ve seen our customers do this a thousand times”.

So what? You’ve assembled a thousand observations. Although it is valuable evidence, this doesn’t make it an insight. Let’s dig deeper.

  1. Get the people around the table who have actually seen the customers do this a thousand times, or at least, evidence that they have. What exactly have they done? Define the action customers have taken. and make sure you all agree on the definition.
  2. Ask yourselves, what do these customers have in common? (Be sure you have a clear picture of the target).
  3. Figure out why you think they’re doing it. (Still not an insight, but getting closer: this is your hypothesis).
  4. Design an experiment or test to validate what you think. (Go beyond surveys: try it out in the same situation as the customer, or undertake depth research, or even invite them around a table to explain what you’ve observed and ask if they know why).
  5. Discuss your findings with your team and decide on the best way to use what you’ve learned that will serve your customer.
  6. Evaluate your concept with a pilot.

No matter how that turns out, there’s an actionable outcome: you’ve got answers that will let you scale the solution, or get off the wrong track. Now that’s an insight!