“Now, why exactly do you need to talk to customers?”

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I was talking with a prospective customer last week, and walked through our customer journey mapping process – how you first collect companies’ hypothesis and existing data, then go out to their customers, interviewing them in their places of work (they’re a B2B company), and bring that voice of the customer back to your teams to drive change.

He had attended a journey mapping training class, and truly drank the Kool-Aid. He talked about how he put together a workshop, and wanted to expand the methodology. Then, at the end of the conversation, he asked: “Jim, trust you – you do this professionally. But why exactly do you need to talk to customers in journey mapping?”

I’m embarrassed to admit that the question caught me so by surprise that I didn’t give the most articulate answer. I shared how our experience is that companies’ hypotheses are about 70% correct, but that missing 30% is quite critical. I gave examples of how companies were working under incorrect assumptions that were actively hurting customer relationships. But it didn’t convince him, and he instead was looking to just have a workshop.

Tonight, I read a story that gives a good example of the power of in-home interviews for Levi’s. Yes, this is a B2C example, but it resonated with me. In fact, a big motivation for our work came from reading the book The Game Changer by AJ Laffley, which discussed their in-home interviews. It’s a great read, as is this article. Here’s an excerpt on the importance of visiting customers where they are:

During my second month in the job, I visited Bangalore and asked our people there to set up an in-home visit. An in-home typically starts with broad questions about lifestyle and interests and then narrows down to how the customer uses the product and views the category. P&G relies heavily on in-homes, so I had been doing them for years. I find them incredibly useful, even though the insights gained are qualitative.

The customer I met with was a 29-year-old professional woman from an upper-middle-class family. She lived with her parents in an air-conditioned home with marble floors; it differed greatly from many of the homes I’d visited in India while at P&G. The woman spoke perfect English and had attended Cambridge. She had about 10 pairs of jeans—Hudson, Guess, Calvin Klein, and some others. We went into her room, and she pulled them out of her wardrobe.

We talked about each pair—what she liked, what she didn’t, and when she wore it. She had two pairs of Levi’s, and we talked about those last. She pointed to one pair and said, “These are my go-to jeans—the ones I’ll wear day-to-day, like if I’m going to meet a girlfriend.” Then she focused on the second pair. “These are the jeans I wore at university,” she said. “They don’t even fit me anymore, but I can’t bear to part with them because of all the memories.” Then she said something arresting: “You wear other jeans, but you live in Levi’s.” I still get goosebumps when I recall that moment. To me, her words captured the essence of our brand. “Live in Levi’s” became our advertising tagline. That experience is an illustration of how much value can come from listening to consumers.

While this is a B2C example, I’ve seen the same power when we bring B2B clients out to visit their customers’ workplaces, whether they be hospitals, food manufacturers, physicians’ offices or retailers. Visiting customers in their places where they use your products is fundamentally different than talking to them on the phone.

I missed my chance with this prospect. If I had a chance to do it again, I wouldn’t talk about the facts – how companies’ strategies missed out on what was most important to customers. Instead, I’d tell him a story on how customer visits changed companies.

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