You could solve a lot of problems if you better understood your customers.
This can be a real challenge. Budgets are sometimes tight. Deadlines are short. Resources are spread thin.
I recall a time when a simple shortcut came to me like a bolt of lighting.
Years ago, I served on the board of directors for my local ASTD chapter. This was the American Association for Training and Development (now known as the Association for Talent Development). My role was Membership Director.
We were discussing member participation at a board meeting. Specifically, we were discussing a lack of attendance at certain events.
In the midst of our discussion I realized that few board members were attending events themselves. An idea struck and I posed this question to the group:
Why aren't you attending events?
Board members gave me a range of excuses.
- They were too busy.
- The events weren’t at convenient times or locations.
- The topics weren’t interesting to them.
In many cases, they simply forgot.
Lightbulbs starting going off. Weren’t these the same reasons why our members didn’t attend events?
The discussion quickly turned to solutions. We focused on rethinking our events to make them so compelling that people absolutely had to be there. We varied the times, days of the week, and the locations.
Most importantly, we each made a personal commitment to attend the events the really interested us and invite some of our friends and colleagues.
It took awhile to implement some of these ideas, but attendance steadily began to climb. We had discovered the secret of empathetic insight.
Applying Empathetic Insight
This type of customer insight comes from putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. Try to imagine how your customers think and feel. Answer key questions from their perspective.
Here are a few examples:
Hotel associates might learn how to improve room cleanliness by asking themselves, “What do I look for when I check into one of our hotel rooms?”
Employees at a software as a service company might learn how to reduce customer churn by asking themselves, “What do I find most frustrating about our product?”
Retail associates might improve sales by asking themselves, “Why don’t I personally buy more from my store?”
The goal is to try to see things from your customers’ perspective by imaging yourself as a customer. In theory, you’re the most educated, loyal customer. If something bothers you, it must really bother your customers who don't have the same insider connection that you do.
This may sound snarky, but I really do wish cable company executives would take a half day off of work and wait around their house for somebody who doesn’t come. My guess is that would be the fast demise of the four hour appointment window.
Words of Caution
We have to be careful to acknowledge that this approach is prone to error.
You’re not every customer. You might not even be the typical customer. You might even be a little weird.
However, empathetic insight can augment your data collection. At ASTD, our empathetic insight exercise changed the types of questions we asked our members and the data we collected. It was a great starting point, but not a panacea.
We also realized that it would be hard to attract members to our events if we weren’t excited about them. That really pushed us to raise the bar on what we offered.