Seeing through your customers’ eyes

It’s not easy to think like a customer. In Made to Stick, the Heath Brothers talk about “The Curse of Knowledge.” We often know so much about a topic that we simply can’t understand the perspective of those who don’t know as much.

This is critical to keep in mind as you develop your customer experience. We get so accustomed to the way things are that it takes a very deliberate effort to step back and see it from a customer’s perspective.  Over-featured phones, sales-prevention processes and convulated forms are constant reminders of what happens when you design the experience from a company-centric eye.

Seeing things through the customer’s eye is clearly critical to developing a successful experience. The challenge is:  how do I do it?  And how do I get the rest of my company to think this way?

Retailers have a fairly easy to watch customers shop. But that doesn’t mean they necessarily do it.  In Why We Buy, Paco Underhill tells a story about working with Macy’s. While they were investigating a different part of the store, their cameras also picked up a tie rack on the race track, and they saw something amazing. Particularly on busy days, customers would browse for ties until somebody walked close behind them and accidentally brushed their backside as they went by – what Underhill called “butt brush.” Once customers (especially women) experienced butt brush they immediately abandoned shopping. Once the problem was spotted, the response was easy. Macy’s moved the tie rack and sales increased immediately!

But how many store associates walked by that tie rack every day? If you take the time, you will realize that there are dozens of ways to improve the customer experience right in front of you. But we’re often so busy running the business that we miss simple opportunities to improve our customer’s lives, and thus our results.

Retailers have no excuse for these types of problems. In the Lund’s example from my earlier post, how much effort does it take to walk a store and look for problems? But how often do we do it? Clearly, not often enough!

But this opportunity extends far beyond retail. Almost every service business has its own way of going “undercover customer.” While the watching cannot always be literal, customers share their experience in more ways than you might expect. Intuit developed its software by following people home to watch them install it, recording every misstep or issue along the way.  At a healthcare financial services provider we “watched” our customers by matching behavioral data with demographics to get a better understanding of who was opening accounts and how they saved or spent their dollars.  Clickstreams are another example – who is using your website, and how? Where do they come from, and where do they go next?  Use inductive reasoning to look for trends, and use these to improve your customer experience.

Watching customers helps you understand what they actually do, breaking your myths about your customers’ behavior.  Have you watched your customers today?

Get out of here!

How often do you visit with customers?  Do you do quarterly visits?  Monthly trips?

Clearly, the answer will vary across different types of businesses.  A restauranteur can visit sites daily, and really should do it at least weekly.  A designer of nuclear plants probably can’t visit as often.  But the primary question is:  are you visiting often enough to stay fresh?

I typically find people on either extreme.  At Best Buy we had the Steve Jensens of the world (used without his permission!), a VP who visited stores for hours multiple times each week, talking to customers and associates to understand their thinking.  You could always count on Steve to know what was on the mind of our customers.  Unfortunately, we also had no shortage of people who had to be forcibly dragged to visit a store.  When a store is only a mile away from your desk, there’s no excuse for not visiting regularly.

Contrast that to a B2B company I once worked with.  After spending a few hours brainstorming on a new reporting package, I recommended we put together some mock-ups and run them by a customer.  The room went silent.  Finally, one person asked:  “Why would we do that?  It will take too long”  It didn’t take long before I realized that not a single participant in the meeting (besides myself) had ever met with a customer.  How does a product manager create great products from their desk?

When was the last time you visited a customer?  And, more importantly, when is the next time?

Soft Rock Does Not Always Mean a Great Customer Experience

My local Lund’s grocery store offers a mostly-great shopping experience. Good produce, nice staff. But there’s one element of the experience that absolutely drives me crazy.

They contracted with Big Bowl to provide Chinese food, which is a great idea. Customers can stop in, grab supper, and likely pick up a few groceries while there. Genius! So, what’s the problem?

For whatever reason, while the rest of the store plays one soft rock station, Big Bowl plays its own DIFFERENT soft rock station! That results in an area in the store where you hear both stations. And there’s nothing worse than hearing two different soft rock songs at the same time!

Actually, there is one thing worse. One day when I was shopping, both stations were playing the same song – but out of sync! Imagine hearing “Billy, don’t be a hero” in one ear, “The soldier blues were trapped on a hillside” on the other!

So, what happened, and how has this continued for over a year now (despite several requests to fix it)? Does the store manager not care? Is he/she so overwhelmed with managing the store that there’s no time to pay attention to the customer experience? Or has the manager become so attuned to the annoyance that it’s faded into the background?

This is what this blog is all about. Especially in a down economy, superior products and services are no longer enough.  You need to provide a better experience than your competitors, in order to build that emotional engagement that will keep your customers loyal when your competitors send out their latest sales ad.

Creating that experience that resonates with your customers requires that you go beyond the research to truly understand their experience.  Try on the customer’s shoes.  Experience your product or services like they do.  And ask them questions – tons of questions – to make sure you truly understand the heart of the customer.