Ask someone a question and they will probably give you an answer. And therein lies the problem. Will it be an open, honest and frank response? Maybe. But then again, they may be telling you what they think you want to hear. Worse than that, they may over think the thing and be telling you what they think you think they think. Do they really understand what it is that you want to know? Are they even answering the intended question? Are they telling you what they want? (or even what they really really want?) Or is it an aspirational request that they merely think they want? Have they imagined what they would actually do if their request was satisfied? Are they asking for the stars in the hope that you deliver the moon? What is the real requirement? More importantly, what is the intent or desire behind it? Sifting through the bluffs, double bluffs, misunderstandings and misinformation of survey responses is a job in of itself.
Candid Camera worked because its participants were unaware of their participation. They reacted honestly to the situations presented to them because they had no idea that their responses were being recorded. Covert surveillance is necessary if you are to gain truly real insight into how your customers use your stuff (be it product or service). Understanding how they use it is the first step to learning why they use it as they do. When you understand the underlying motivations behind their actions (or lack thereof), you will at least have a chance at changing the attitudes, beliefs and perceptions that you need modify to actually change how they act.
Bugging their office or silently installing unauthorized spyware is obviously wrong. Especially if you get caught! Passively monitoring how they interact with you, your support systems and their peers within open user communities and support forums is not. Stalking (as so eloquently defined within the 1983 Police hit, “Every Breath You Take”) is probably overkill. Striking the healthy balance between “caring” and “creepy” is the key to success. If you can embed monitoring agents into your products and get your customers’ agreement to use them then so much the better. If not, then you must work within the constraints you are given. But you must work at it nevertheless.
Passive customer behavioral monitoring should enable non-passive positive intervention:
- Track product and service usage patterns
- Map user behaviors against known demographic data
- Get granular. Usage is more than service access frequency.
- What elements of the service are being used?
- For how long are they being used?
- How successful are they? Can you tell?
- What are the observed actual use cases?
- How do they differ from the “designed for” use cases?
- Identify what good looks like (even if it doesn’t match your internal definition of goodness)
- Develop messaging and tools to promote positive behaviors
- Re-engineer processes (and product functionality) that are unused or routinely fail
- Promote service usage at the point of consumption wherever possible
- Recognize shining examples of usage and positive user profiles
- Develop better mechanisms for observing your customers
- Watch them some more!
Take a moment before commissioning your next customer focus group. Whilst unedited streams of semi-conscious thoughts from interested and affected parties do have their place and do undoubtedly add value, they should never be used to excess. Always remember that many customers know what they know, but are blissfully unaware of what they don’t… As with all things in life, moderation is essential. Your customers really can teach you many wonderful and useful things. Especially when they aren’t trying to! Perhaps it is time to stop directly asking them to solve the problems of the world and to watch them “out in the wild” a little more closely so that we can really start to learn from them? Insight comes from the continuous active observation of a subject married with the necessary background experience and skills to enable the observer to know when they have witnessed a notable event or trend upon which to base decisive action.
Throw the cutesy buffalo calf to the waiting lions. Introduce a secondary predator in the form of a mature crocodile that hasn’t eaten for days. Watch how the herd reacts… They may surprise you. Even if they don’t, you will be enriched by the experience. You may not recognize exactly how, but trust me you may well benefit from it when you least expect it.
Observed actual behaviors reveal far far more than solicited simulated preferences or pseudo opinions. Ask much less. Watch much much more. It IS the “caring” thing to do after all.