It’s difficult to have a true customer point of view if you haven’t heard it directly.
Sure, you can read summaries of focus groups. You can hear other people talk about the customer. But most of us don’t truly internalize it, don’t start to really live it, unless we’ve seen and heard it ourselves.
The problem with this, of course, is that the majority of employees in many organizations don’t interact regularly with customers. Many have never met or spoke to a customer. And yet, decisions are being made daily that impact customers, by people who haven’t met them and don’t know them, and haven’t heard their stories first-hand.
Often, those same individuals hear stories from the customer-facing teams – sales, customer service, support – and don’t believe them. They think the stories are exaggerated or don’t reflect the broader market.
Sometimes that’s true, but it’s also pure opinion. It’s based on the assumptions or biases of people who are directly determining the future of your customer relationships – building their products, managing the resources you fund to support them, etc.
To truly understand the customer, to get into their heart and mind, you need direct access. You need your entire company to have direct, regular access to your customers.
This may sound difficult, but with a few smart tactics it’s easier than you think. Here are a few customer immersion tactics I’ve seen work.
Site Visits. Send small groups of your employees to the customer. Shadow them at work, ask them questions about why they’re doing things, watch them directly use your product or service in the context for which it was created. I guarantee they’ll give you a running commentary whether you ask for it or not – what’s good, what’s frustrating, feedback you likely couldn’t gather any other way.
The customer will be impressed you came out. They’ll talk about it, too, with their friends, peers and social networks. Good karma for your business and brand, in addition to the insights.
Customer Listening Tour. One of the best things we did at a past company was send executives out on a 2-3 day trip to meet with customers. We set up lunches, dinners and happy hours, and invited customers to come break bread with us.
We’d typically do some informal networking first in addition to a more structured (but still informal) discussion. This is not a focus group (which works when done well but can also be stuffy and not entirely natural). In this environment, with food and drink provided, we had far more natural, honest answers & opinions from customers.
Even better, we had our non-customer facing managers in the field and focused on the customer’s words. It was amazing to hear them come back and demand new features and product priorities that just two weeks earlier were low on their to-do list.
Trade Shows. You need booth staff anyway, right? It’s worth the investment to train non customer-facing staff to understand and be able to communicate the elevator pitch, directly to a customer. This not only helps them better understand how you sell (which every employee should understand), but also gets them dozens of direct conversations with customers.
It’s difficult and expensive to take non customer-facing staff out of the office, especially front-line staff. Trade shows are a great way to fill the booth and get direct customer points of view all at the same time.
Focus Groups. If you do conduct focus groups from time to time, and especially if you do them in your home market, make attendance behind the two-way mirror mandatory for non customer-facing teams and individuals.
Bring Customers To Your Office. At another previous company, we invited a customer to the home office once a month. We’d fly them in, take them to dinner with a cross-section of employees the night before, and give them the royal treatment at the office the next day. This included dedicated sit-down time with both the product and sales teams, as well as a Q&A in front of an all-employee meeting.
This was more than just sharing their success story. We made sure we also extracted the less comfortable perspectives. What about our product was frustrating to them. What reaction they heard when they talked about the product with peers – good and bad.
There wasn’t a single customer visit that didn’t end in hugs, or in greater insights across the company on how to better focus what we were doing, building and prioritizing to better serve that customer.