The importance of knowing your customers

lean startup cycleEveryone who has considered entrepreneurship has probably come across The Lean Startup. I’m referencing Eric Ries’ book here because of its predominance, even though there are a few other authors suggesting similar practices. While they may differ on some subjects, they all agree that user-centered design is the way to go when architecting a new product or service, which seems very easy to do. We have so many tools, so many ways to measure, so much data and so many ways to gather insights from the data.

So…is this post yet another one of many on this subject? (No please no!) There are many things you can learn about your customers by analyzing logs and creating information cubes. Perhaps you can even detect some interesting patterns if you are good at big data, but there is no better way to know your customers than to get to know your customers and spend time with them.

There are many strategies around this practice. I have a good friend who used to work at Intuit, which has a practice called Follow Me Home’s. With Follow Me Home’s, a product manager will shadow a customer for a period of time, witnessing a “regular day” of a customer’s life. This lets the product manager understand subtle nuances, sometimes too small to be noticed, that when turned into features in a product become key factors in purchasing decisions.

Asking a potential customer which features she wants is normally not enough. However, by observing her interacting with your product, you may learn valuable insights. In my new company, we are deploying a new product which addresses a very specific pain point from a non-tech savvy demographic. Here’s the setup:

  • We installed screen-recording software on our users’ demo phonesknow your customer
  • We also installed a video camera which recorded our users’ voices and gestures
  • We asked a few of our team members to observe our users and take notes

For the experiment, we had three main questions:

  1. Will our users be able to use the service?
  2. Will they find our service interesting?
  3. Will they use the service on an on-going basis?

So our tests began…three full days of 10 hours each we spent with our customers, watching them interact with the service, hearing their concerns, observing their body language, sharing their hopes, fears and goals. One of the toughest things for me personally was to listen even when there was feedback that I didn’t want to hear.

So what did we learn? let me share with you a tag cloud that summarizes our customer feedback, I have this one hanged on my wall, I call it: Why we go to work every day: 

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 4.30.59 PM

That was just the beginning…next comes reviewing our materials and assessing the feedback so we can deliver a better product

As I write this post, we are finishing implementing what we learned. I’m so much looking forward to getting the new and enhanced product in the hands of our second round of customers!

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