In this month's issue of Inc. magazine, Jaon Fried, famed CEO of 37 Signals and author of one of my favorite business books, Rework, writes about actually wanting to know who his customers are before he sells them his next product and is exploring ways to do this.
This brings to mind the cost of not knowing, not just demographically and psychographically, but anthropologically. What do I mean by that? Particularly for technology products today, how they use your products is just as important if not more important, as to whom they are. Cloud based apps in particular, with new releases almost every week now, need to know this if their updates are to continue to remain relevant and keep competing products at bay. Lean start up and agile development methodologies, call for this input as a critical component of the development cycle.
There are many facets and data sources that come into play when answering the how question. The traditional ones companies rely on are behvarorial data sources showing usage patterns; part of the big data stream. These data sources are used primarily because they are easy to gather and readily accessible. An important aspect too many companies miss however, is actual ethnographic observation. Observing the customer in their natural habit (Jane Goodall-style), interacting with your product, other products, people and life itself. This type of observation tells stories that big data by itself could never uncover.
In 2009, my company Silicon Valley Research Group set up our Customer Anthropology Lab to do just that. Since then we have observed hundreds of customers every year and passed on learning’s that go beyond behavioral patterns to our clients. Lean start-ups take note-here are five guidelines to help you get started:
1. It’s a qualitative effort. Do not feel the need to focus on large numbers of customers-this will come from other data sources. A few powerful observations layered upon your behavioral data analysis are all it takes.
2. Make it a process not an event. These observations need to be ongoing. We have seen many companies do it once or twice when budgets allowed for this. A small annual program with monthly observation executions is better than a larger program.
3. Make the observations as natural as possible. In the natural settings in which they use your products, this could be varied and many; make sure you cover them all and also keep an eye open for new ones. You may be amazed at what you find, Starbucks discovery of the mid-morning as a time for mothers with infants to congregate comes to mind as one such discovery.
4. Rotate the users being observed but keep a core group observed over time. Changes in usage patterns over time are sometimes most revealing and MOST URGENT TO ACT ON.
5. Involve the developers. It’s not enough for them to see the report or watch the recordings. Being there is critical. This is what makes their development work agile.
To download a copy of our white paper titled "Becoming a Customer Intelligent Enterprise, go to: http://www.siliconvalleyrg.com/download-becoming-a-customer-intelligent-enterprise/
Alan Nazarelli is President & CEO of Silicon Valley Research Group, a global market research and strategy development firm.
Topics: Customer Anthroplogy