Spark Innovation: Walk in Your Customer’s Shoes

Understanding customer’s needs takes more than analyzing market reports, customer data or conducting focus groups. Data indicates the facts but if we don’t get in to the field, walk in the customer’s shoes and understand their struggles, our strategy will not truly be customer-centric. Customers are rarely able to articulate what they need so it is rare for sustainable innovation to come from third-party market research.

If you don’t properly frame the problem in a way that relates to them, you will not be able to empathize with your customers. Without a deep understanding it is unlikely that you will be able to deliver impactful innovation. The best approach is to observe the customer in their environment. Watch them try to complete a task from where it is performed.

There are three fundamental approaches to gaining customer insight.

1) Observe the customer: Whirlpool study the users at home with the washing machines – multiple cameras to watch a customer interact with the designs. Designers can watch the stop-action and slow-motion of the customer movements. Sitting in when the customer interacts with a sales associate or expert.
2) Become the customer: secret shop to see what kind of experience is being delivered, try using your services and installing or trying the product yourself.
3) Listen to their needs: Involve the customer in the creation of the solution. Give customer’s beta versions to try and see how they use it. Ask them to speak out loud as they go through the experience. Ask them to play designer and tell you what they would do.

There are organizations who have formalized an approach. P&G adopted these practices in a program called “Living It.” Intuit has the “Follow Me Home” program where the software designers site with the first-time users in his or her office.