The Best Way to Learn from Your Customers? Sit Down and Shut Up!


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We all like to talk. It’s part of being human. We like to share ideas and concepts. It’s natural.

It’s also a terrible way to learn from your customers.

This may seem obvious. But then why do so many do this wrong?

I was reminded of this in a journey mapping round table I recently led. About 15 to 20 practitioners and vendors participated, going over journey mapping practices, and sharing how we all went about the process. Unfortunately, not all methodologies are created equally.

Most of the participants used a very mature process, favoring open-ended approaches to discovering the voice of the customer. My company typically uses contextual (ethnographic) interviews, based at the customer’s home or business. Another approach we favor is to utilize digital ethnographies, as we did with the YMCA in this article. The more experienced vendors used similar approaches, letting customers share their journey in their own words.

Unfortunately, this open-ended approach wasn’t universal.  Some vendors shared a different approach, and it wasn’t pretty. They have employees create a journey map, then bring the map to customer focus groups to get them to react.

That’s a bad approach, for two primary reasons.

First, while a focus group works great for some types of research, it’s a poor methodology for journey mapping. To get to the emotions, you need to talk to customers individually. Most people are reluctant to share their full emotions in group settings. It takes a brave person to share deep emotions in front of a group. There are also issues with efficiency and group think that should make you think twice about relying on focus group feedback for journey maps.

That said, we do occasionally use focus groups for a secondary methodology. But only for end-to-end experience maps, and only after conducting a digital ethnography. The ethno displays the emotions, and the focus groups help us to zero in one some unanswered questions.

But more important than the methodology is this flawed approach.

Like many, we start with employee workshops, which we call Hypothesis Mapping. We know from our Journey Mapping Best Practices survey that the most important element of a journey mapping initiative is to involve a cross-functional team, and this is an excellent way to start that. These workshops demonstrate what our clients think the journey looks like, which is critical for change management.

But we never show the maps to their customers.

Doing so restricts the conversation, and puts customers in a reactive mode. The best practice is to start with a blank canvas (metaphorically – not literally) and walk through what they do and how they feel about it. If they see a map, the conversation will be focused on what’s in that map. You’ve put your customers in the role of responding, rather than openly sharing what they do. It’s not their job to create a map – it’s yours!

If all you want to do is to validate that your employees might understand parts of the journey and to feel good about how smart you are, then, by all means, pull out your map and share it with your customers.

But if you truly want to discover what your customers think, feel and do through their journey, then keep your maps to yourself. Just bring a pen and paper (and hopefully a video camera) and just listen.

That’s the only way to discover the true heart of your customer.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jim Tincher
Jim sees the world in a special way: through the eyes of customers. This lifelong passion for CX, and a thirst for knowledge, led him to found his customer experience consulting firm, Heart of the Customer (HoC). HoC sets the bar for best practices and are emulated throughout the industry. He is the author of Do B2B Better and co-author of How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?, and he also writes Heart of the Customer’s popular CX blog.


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