Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Tara Gentile, previous Biz Ladies contributor and business strategist for entrepreneurs making a difference through commerce in the You Economy. She’s also the co-founder and lab director of Kick Start Labs, a microbusiness accelerator that teaches sound business principles through experimentation. Today, Tara offers some strategies for better understanding your customers. Thanks, Tara, for this insightful post! — Stephanie
Illustration by David Saracino
Read the full post after the jump . . .
We all dream of developing a product so great that it flies off the shelves. It gets glowing reviews, it hits the media, it wows your customers, it pads your bank account.
To develop that knockout product, you need to know your customer. Really know her.
You need to watch her, listen to her, study her. Her feedback and your observations go a long way toward creating a product that is more than she ever imagined, a “no brainer” purchase. I have a knack for just this sort of thing, and I’m ready to share my strategy with you today.
The best way to learn about your customer and how you can wow her is by observation. Think like an anthropologist. Your goal is to observe her in her natural environment.
Take her out of that environment and she’s sure to act erratically — telling you what you want to hear, becoming self-conscious about her behavior, adjusting her language. Your goal isn’t to observe how she acts and what she says around you; your goal is to observe how she acts around her friends, family or coworkers.
Find her where she shops, works or socializes. Watch for patterns of behavior, and listen for repeated phrases. Take note of anything you find unusual or interesting.
One of the first pieces of homework I give to many of my clients is to go window-shopping at a high-end mall or boutique. Because so many of us are, rightly so, selling products to people in a socioeconomic bracket we’re unfamiliar with, we have to stretch our comfort zone and get to know these people better! If you’re used to shopping at the Gap, go check out how people shop at Neiman Marcus. If you’re used to eating at Chipotle, treat yourself to happy hour at the four-star Mexican fusion place downtown. Take notes.
Your direct observations will color the rest of the feedback you gather and will lead you as you prepare questions, analyze results and begin product development.
Once you’ve started on the feedback journey through observation, your next goal is to talk directly with your customer about her experiences. You can do this in person (coffee is a delicious business expense), through social media, or by using a survey tool like Survey Monkey or Google Forms.
When you’re talking to your customer directly, your goal is to leave yourself out of it. Ask your customer about her own experiences to get a truer representation of the opportunities you might have to serve her through a product or service. The worst mistake you can make in gathering feedback is to ask people about you or your business: “What would you like us to create for you next?” is a terrible question.
Instead, frame your questions about your customer and her world:
- Ask about her history: Tell me how you went from studying piano to working for Google.
- Find out how she feels about competitors: Where else do you shop for stationery? What do you think about their products?
- Discover her values: What do you look for in a gift?
- Ask about her choices: How do you choose between two dresses you really like?
Everyone gets frustrated from time to time. If your product is viable, it inevitably relieves someone’s frustration. Whether it’s as simple as the article of clothing that ensures you’re never standing naked in front of your closet for more than three minutes or as complicated as the book that puts you on the path out of the cubicle, your customer’s frustration is your inspiration.
Try to discover what is frustrating your customer as it relates to the product you want to create. Think about these questions:
- What keeps you from enjoying _____?
- How is _____ taking more time than it should?
- Why are you avoiding _____?
- What’s really challenging about _____?
Your goal isn’t to find out what your customer wants you to create but to discover the information you need to create something better than what they want.
For example, when I wrote my book The Art of Earning, I knew that my customers were frustrated about their ability to make more money. But by surveying their experiences, I discovered that their frustration flowed even deeper: They were uncomfortable with pricing, they didn’t have the goals that would push them toward higher earning potential and they didn’t have the systems in place that would allow them to earn more. Instead of writing a book on “how to earn more money” (snore!), I was able to write something that addressed the underlying frustration, giving them more of what they truly desired.
Speaking of desire . . .
There are surface-level desires, and then there are deep, truthful desires. Our customers are very good at expressing their surface-level desires. They’ll tell you, they’ll tell their friends and they’ll tell strangers walking down the street. But they are less equipped to tell you about their deep, truthful desires.
Great products speak to both. In a great product, we see our surface desires realized, but we are also touched on a deeper level. An Apple computer works well and looks great while also sparking your imagination and creativity. A little black dress is the perfect outfit for the cocktail party, and it also makes you feel sexy and beautiful.
Understanding your customers’ deepest desires requires reading between the lines of the feedback they provide. You need to look literally for the gaps in their experience and how you can fill that space.
Opportunities Are Everywhere
Every day is an opportunity to gather the feedback and information you need to create your next big thing. Your job as a product designer is to be a great student of people. When you turn your attention to gathering feedback, even casual conversations, emails and social media interactions can give you the fodder you need to spark an insight.
What customer feedback do you need to create your knockout product?