One of the most important aspects of branding is orienting yourself and your business around your customers. This can be challenging: as a leader, you’re focused on internal issues and dynamics, as well as actually working with your clients. It’s hard to disconnect from that, step away and shift your frame of reference from leading to listening for customer insights.
But that is absolutely what you need to do in order to better understand your customers. When you are able to internalize the customer mindset, their struggles and behavior, you are able to better address the issues that hold them back. You are able to better innovate and find solutions of high value to them. And, you’re able to land on that key insight that draws them to you versus the others.
But these insights don’t come from talking to your team or assuming you know the customer mindset. They come from the source directly. I’m talking about voice-of-customer interviews.
Mindset Shift Towards Insights.
Without much doubt, you are a bonafide expert about your business, your products and your category. You know infinitely more about your offering than your customer does. But we’re not interested in learning how much you know about your business and category. We’re interested in learning about your customer. Which means… you are no longer the expert. Your customer is.
In a way, we need to forget about what you know and adopt a clean slate. Inquisitive, non-judgmental, open-minded, and almost a childlike wonder towards your customer. We need to understand what your customer is trying to accomplish, how they’re going about it and what’s throwing them off. We need to forget all the assumptions and allow for active listening, or you will only hear confirmation of things you already know.
The biggest curiosity killer is thinking you have all the answers. As the adage goes, “he who knows everything learns nothing.” Be open minded and keep your questions open-ended. Be humble and earnestly receptive to what you hear.
The “We don’t Do Research” Trap
I’ll hear this from some leaders who will hesitate with voice-of-customer research, explaining, “If Henry Ford had asked customers, they would’ve asked for a faster horse” and “Steve Jobs never believed in research.”
Don’t fall for this trick. It’s a cop out. Voice-of-customer interviews don’t reveal what type of innovative new idea your customer wants. That’s your job, so don’t pass that off to your customer and then get frustrated when they can’t innovate for you.
Rather, see these voice-of-customer interviews as an opportunity to tell you about your customer: what she’s struggling with, and what’s holding her back from succeeding. What her mindset’s like, what she values, what her behaviors are around your product and what feelings she associates with your category.
These rich insights will pave the way for you and your teams to innovate creatively, and to help your customers feel seen. The closer you get to understanding what your customer feels and grapples with, the better you can truly understand her problem and innovate how to fix that for her. Listening will also help you better position your products, and draw you closer to connecting with her on a deeply emotive level.
And, for what it’s worth, here’s what Steve Jobs did in fact say about customers:
“Your customers don’t care about you. They don’t care about your product or service. They care about themselves, their dreams, their goals. Now, they will care much more if you help them reach their goals, and to do that you must understand their goals, as well as their needs and deepest desires.”
Landing on Customer Insights
As a leader, it’s challenging to simply listen – you’re wired to problem-solve. But now’s the time to resist that urge. You’re looking to understand your best customers’ struggles and challenges. Don’t jump in with commentary on how your new product can help them. You want their objective feedback, so adopt that open mindset we just discussed.
I recommend doing 1:1 interviews, and for this you will want to compose a discussion guide and be thoughtful in your questioning. You want to start broad, and slowly narrow down to your customer’s actual problem and how your offering comes into play. Structure your conversation guide around your customer: how she approaches her day and life, then the context in which your offering is relevant, and then finally on to your brand.
Here’s how I typically prep a discussion guide to discover voice-of-customer insights:
Part 1: Customer Mindset & Context
- How and why did you start your business?
- What’s your big overriding goal you hope to achieve, beyond financial success?
- What do you love about your business? What do you wish you could change?
- What keeps you up at night?
Part 2: Category Research questions
- When I mention (your category), how do you feel about this? Are you inspired, or resigned to deal with it?
- When you first need to address (this category), what actions do you take?
- How do you approach (this category)? Do you jump on it or procrastinate?
Part 3: Your Offering and Your Brand Insights
- When I say (your brand), what comes to mind?
- How are we similar to our competitors? How are we different?
- What are your goals in working with us? What do you see as potential roadblocks to those goals?
- What do you most like and dislike about our offering?
- How is our offering better, worse, different and similar to the competitive offering?
Take notes during the interview and pay attention to what stands out. If possible, always ask for permission first and try to record your session so you can concentrate on the interview and not have to take notes. You’ll have the luxury of being able to play back your session afterwards and listen again.
If there are pauses or silence – embrace them! Don’t try to fill in the gap. Give your customers space to think and respond. Also listen between the lines. Your job is not to confirm what you know but discover new attitudes, behaviors and feelings she is facing. Forget problem solving and shift to problem finding. You’re not so much listening for the obvious problem as you are for the problem behind the problem.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask “why” and “tell me more about that” if something perks for you. Your goal in conducting this type of research is to truly understand your customer, and to do so, you need to be genuinely curious. Adopt a beginner’s mindset to really understand your customer.
Finally, with results in hand, sit back and learn, see patterns, connect the dots. It’s in the quiet reflection of this feedback that deeper insights await you. Do the work and sit back and see what unfolds. If you need help with your voice-of-customer interviews, connect with us; we’re happy to help you become more magnetic to success.