The Ins and Outs of Listening to Your UserBy Daphne Leger | Fri, 11/26/2021 - 00:31
Understanding who is using your product and service and how to retain their loyalty requires not only listening to what they say, but also knowing how they have evolved and evolving with them. Here are some questions to ask yourself to really touch base with your users.
How well do you know your customer?
Many executives and companies think they know their users because they've “been in this business for years.” Users actually evolve and change at an increasingly rapid pace, so while you may have been in tune with your customers before, you’re probably due for a check-in.
As history has shown us, one of the top two reasons why new businesses fail is never finding product-market fit. Losing that fit is also why established corporations eventually fizzle out. We all know the story of companies like Blockbuster that fell into decline because they couldn’t stay relevant when faced with an evolving market and user. They stubbornly stuck to their guns until very late in the game, charging exorbitant late fees which antagonized users and eventually drove them to create and use alternatives like Netflix. Today in contrast, public libraries, in a bid to bring back and keep their users, are abolishing late fees at the realization that this might help maintain their relevance in users’ eyes. So wherever you are in your organization’s journey, it’s always a good idea to check in with your customer.
Can you outsource this task?
Outsourcing tasks is a strategic move that can save you a lot of time and focus but that does not apply to the task of connecting with your customers. As we’ll see, it’s really not a laborious task to touch base with your user so the benefits of getting someone else to do it don’t stack up against the cost. There is nothing like hearing firsthand from your customers about what is important to them, what is frustrating them and what they need from you. The empathy created with your working teams when they have personally reconnected with the user is priceless. It leads to deeper motivation around solving customer problems, which should be everyone’s primary objective. Recently, working with a Mexican grocery distributor, we detected customer pain points that some salespeople had been mentioning for years without any action from management. After having key leaders participate in the project, we were able to get their support for action because the information was now coming to them firsthand from customers.
How do you listen to your customers?
The first method is immersion. This means getting as close to living the experience of your users as you can. If you go through the experience as your user does (removing any internal, employee, or VIP aspects of the experience), you will notice and learn something new every time, whether you are observing users as they experience your product or service or going through the experience as a user yourself.
A few years ago, working on a project for a point-of-sale system for informal small shops in Mexico City, I decided to create my own small shop in our office building and run it with our team, using our own system. We started to discover many issues we could quickly rectify and ideas for features we had never thought of, just because we were finally using the product ourselves in a real-world context.
The second method is digital evidence. This means asking your user to send you evidence of their experience. Imagine you send packages to your clients and you think you know how they arrive. Ask clients to send you pictures/videos of that, and you might get some surprises on the way the packaging looks, feels or is opened! The theory of your customer’s experience may be quite far removed from reality and asking them for digital evidence is one way to close the gap.
The third method is the customer interview. This involves having one-on-one open-ended conversations with your users where you can go deep into their personal values, priorities, frustrations and needs. The beauty of these qualitative methods is that with very few interactions, you can get a world of information and actionable insights about your users that explain the “why” behind that “what” that you might find in more superficial quantitative methods like surveys or transaction databases.
What do you do with the information?
Once you have gathered information directly from your customers, you need to process and package it so that it becomes actionable. One of the tools you can use is the buyer persona or empathy map. It consists of creating a clear, crisp, one-page profile of your user and filling it with all the insights you have gathered from your investigation. These profiles are especially valuable if you go beyond the basic sociodemographic data that you probably already know about the user and focus instead on attitudinal elements you have discovered that help you understand their priorities and behaviors. It is possible that you may have more than one buyer persona, in which case you should map each one separately. For example, recently, for a project with a big Mexican appliance company that was analyzing the outdoor grilling experience, we ended up mapping two very different personas: one that I will call “Party Paco,” who prioritized the social aspects of the grilling experience, versus “Eric the Expert,” who valued above all else being able to show off his culinary skills while grilling. Understanding these two users and their differences led us to develop two completely different value propositions and messages for each user.
The other tool you can use is the Customer Journey Map. This is a map that reflects each step of the user experience from their perspective. It is incredibly valuable to identify and showcase areas of opportunity where the user’s current experience is suboptimal. For a project with a healthcare clinic in Mexico City, we created a customer journey map that identified several issues, including that we were making patients go back and forth needlessly in one step, which was causing frustration, delays and even abandonment of the process. After mapping out this issue, we were able to design a change in the process, which meant patients were able to go through the steps more easily and quickly and thus complete treatment at higher rates.
How does information translate into action?
Once you have gotten to know your customer by complementing the data with qualitative methods, translated the information gathered into insights, and downloaded them into empathy maps and customer journeys, it’s time to take action. The completed maps should be shared widely with teams that need to consider the user in their decisions (which should be all teams!) so that they are constantly improving the customer’s experience based on a deep understanding of their profile and journey. The key insights that were gathered in your investigation can be transformed into concrete challenges that your different teams can then tackle and solve.
The last thing to remember is that this is not a one-off exercise. Listening to your user should become a continuous way of working because working with an outdated understanding of your user can be dangerous. For example, if I got to know my users three years ago and concluded that my three-day delivery was perfectly aligned with their expectations and needs, I would most likely discover that the very same three-day delivery has now become a source of dissatisfaction due to the comparison my users make with other delivery services.
My recommended method to constantly listen to your user is the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which combines both quantitative and qualitative questions to allow you to benchmark your score, measure change over time, and most importantly, understand the “why” behind the score to then act on it. Of course, listening to your customers won’t directly tell you how to solve their problems but it will help ensure you are focused on the right problems.
Remember, your users are not stagnant entities, which is why you must constantly engage in customer discovery to first understand them and then evolve with them. This is the key to staying relevant in the market.