Build your own ninja army


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Lego samurai

In 16th century Japan, times were tough and chaos reigned. A few regions decided to take matters into their own hands by setting up their own government and getting their own citizens to protect them.

Up until that point, towns often turned to Samurai warriors for protection. However, they were expensive, they drew too much attention to themselves, and they were known to be jerks to the peasants.

To top it off, when a Samurai warrior failed in a mission, they would kill themselves because of the shame, in order to protect their honour. There goes your investment.

People needed to do things differently. Enter – the ninjas.

Aside from amazing fighting prowess, ninjas had three main advantages.

First: Ninjas were originally citizens of the towns they protected and tried to blend into their surroundings disguised as merchants or cleaners. Contrary to their popular depiction, they rarely wore those all-black catsuits that are synonymous with ninjas today. Unlike Samurai warriors, you never knew who might be a ninja.

Second: If ninjas failed in a mission, they just tried again. None of this self-disembowelment business. Honour shmonour. They cared about results.

Third: They spent a long time practicing and honing their fundamental skills. If you wanted to be tough, you had to do tough things – like sit under a waterfall of freezing water for hours on end, or run barefoot through the forest.

When your company wants to do customer research, do you take the Samurai approach, or the ninja approach?

I see a lot of companies take the Samurai approach. They hire some high-priced consultants (cough), do some saber rattling where the term “customer experience” is thrown around a lot, and if it doesn’t quite work out, heads will roll.

Consider instead the ninja approach instead:

Blend in
Practice the basics
Keep trying

Blend in

There are a lot of people in your organization that you can leverage to gather customer insights. For instance:

Customer Service representatives

Sales reps

Professional Services

Pre-Sales engineers

These people can be your Voice of Customer ninja army. They already blend in with your current business and all they need is a some training on how to do it. Your customer doesn’t even have to be aware that you are doing anything differently until they start to get better experiences from you.

The key difference of course (and I can’t stress this enough) is that unlike actual ninjas, you would be gathering data on how to better serve your customers instead of, you know, killing them.

Practice the basics

The basics are simply this: Talk to your customers consistently.

You can do this with actual conversations, with surveys (carefully), or with analytics. Preferably some combination of all of these. The secret is to just keep doing it. You don’t even have to stand under freezing waterfalls – although by all means feel free to try that too.

Keep trying

Not everything you try will work. That’s OK. Learn what you can from the experience and try again. Each time you try, you will get better at it.

Here is the bottom line: Your own employees are your secret weapon. You can use them to gather insights about your customers and build that consistently into your culture.

Photo credit: (Creative Commons Commercial license)

A lot of the source for this comes from the “Our Fake History” podcast episode on ninjas. Check it out!

Jana Sedivy
Jana Sedivy is Founder and Principal of Authentic Insight, a consulting practice specializing in Voice of Customer research and strategy for B2B tech companies. Over the past 17 years, she has lived at the intersection of people and technology and holds 21 patents about how to make that interaction as smooth as possible. She helps tech companies take the guesswork out of product decisions by helping them understand their customers better, providing market insights throughout the product life cycle. She is also deeply uncool but has finally made peace with it.


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