Assumptions about Customers Can Make an “Ass” of “U” and “Me”


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For over 20 years, Patty Seybold and I have been helping organizations co-design their future with their customers. And the insights, priorities, and recommendations that surface are always impressive and often eye-opening. When you work side by side with customers, the things you discover can confirm your assumptions and validate the path you are on—or they can blow the path out of the water! Usually, companies are at least somewhere on target, even if they don’t hit the bull’s eye all the time; but every now and then, they aren’t anywhere near the target area based on assumptions that miss the mark.

I remember a client, trying to launch a new business line, who “knew” that their potential customers would rebel against doing what had traditionally been one-on-one negotiations with a dedicated sales person (with competitors) in an automated, albeit, quicker and less expensive, online manner. They insisted that these old-fashioned negotiators wouldn’t trust an online app.

But when we actually invited the customers in and worked on co-designing the process, not one of them was concerned about doing it online. However, they were all very vocal about their skepticism that the client organization could deliver on this new business venture. The issue was trust—but it was the client that they didn’t trust, not the online approach.

This was atypical. Most companies know their customers well enough to be firmly on target, with just an occasional wild shot. For example, a financial institution we worked with brought in a group of high-value investors to figure out what online services could be offered to them exclusively (not for the hoi polloi) that they would value–and that could be an incentive for slightly lower-level investors to increase their activity. The firm had already been hard at work on several services and online applications, but waited to see what the investors came up with in hopes that it would validate their work to date.

I must say, the company had done a great job. Almost all of the services and apps in the works matched closely with the desires and needs that the customers surfaced. Sure, some needed fine tuning based on customer input. But there was one major application that was far along in development (and investment) that didn’t address any of the customers’ priorities or even the fantasy wish list.

The frustrated “owners” of this app kept throwing in questions and suggestions in hopes that the customers would say anything that remotely related to this service, but it just wasn’t happening. Finally, they asked point blank if the customers would like to have this capability. The customer team looked blankly at each other and said something like, “Well, if it is there, we won’t mind.”

The lesson: the company had made a large investment in time, resources, and money working on an application that didn’t matter to customers. They had made an assumption that customers would love the capability, but they didn’t validate that assumption with customers until it was too late to go back.

Whether you use our Customer Co-Design approach or another method for working with customers, you need to check out your assumptions before you start building. In fact, you should engage with customers early enough in any new product or business model endeavor so that you aren’t working on assumptions, but on real user experience research and results. Save your organization time and money; and save your developers, who put their hearts and souls into creating products, the heartbreak of a product or service that nobody wants or, just as sad, are just slightly off target—just enough to seduce customers into trying and buying, but then are abandoned or underused.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ronni Marshak
Patricia Seybold Group
Ronni Marshak co-developed Patricia Seybold Group's Customer Scenario® Mapping (CSM) methodology with Patricia Seybold and PSGroup's customers. She runs the CSM methodology practice, including training, certification, and licensing. She identifies, codifies, and updates the recurring patterns in customers' ideal scenarios, customers' moments of truth, and customer metrics that she discovers across hundreds of customer co-design sessions.


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