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Customer Experience

The customer is key. Why research beats gut feel

Tim Dawson
Industry Expert

Tim Dawson is an Experience Design Lead who has worked on strategic projects for major Australian and international brands

Tim Dawson
Industry Expert

Tim Dawson is an Experience Design Lead who has worked on strategic projects for major Australian and international brands

A recent Gartner Report on the rise of customer experience found that 65 per cent of companies surveyed had a dedicated Customer Experience Officer in their senior team.

The appointment of customer experience executives represents a shift in business thinking. Gone are the days where product or technology-led solutions are thought up, developed and pushed to market with minimal customer involvement.

What sits behind this shift is a fundamental recognition that, regardless of how knowledgeable a team may be or how much experience and subject matter expertise they may have, intuition and gut instinct can only be so effective without structured processes for real customer feedback.

woman on laptop and mobile

Business instinct

For small business owners, the idea of creating more checkpoints, procedures and points for feedback can seem at best like more work, and at worst like a complete waste of time. If your gut instinct has got you this far then why change now?

As a small business owner, you’re generally closer to your customers than the decision makers in the Fortune 500 and you’re likely to have experience doing what you do. Besides, who has the time and resources to collect, analyse and translate customer data into actionable insight when you usually get it pretty right?

Intuition can indeed be an alluring decision making tool. In so many facets of our life, we’re taught to trust our gut. In business, it appeals to our senses of individual expertise, of subject matter mastery and of human understanding. For small businesses that are often born at the very outset from an individual’s instinctive sniff of an opportunity, this allure can be strongly, and potentially dangerously, reinforced.

Gut-feel takes flight

The danger is that instinct can be a flighty and unreliable beast. It may have a very welcome role in weighing up long-term, strategic decisions that impact a reputation, but when it comes to more tactical decisions, like whether or not a new product feature will resonate, relying on instinct alone can be a costly and frustrating endeavor.

A few years ago I worked on a website feature for an accounting software firm. The design team was certain that customers wanted product recommendations based on exactly the type of business they ran.

Significant time and effort went into mapping thousands of business types to the various accounting packages in the suite. The feature was rolled out some months later and the results were underwhelming at best. Meanwhile, the client’s primary competitor was listening to their customers and hearing that the key problem was that there were too many products to choose from in the first place. They whittled their product range to a single offering and their market share grew exponentially.

The art of listening is central to delivering a consistently great customer experience. As the range of touch points between brands and customers proliferate, it’s the customer, not the brand, who has the most control over their interactions with your business. 

If you don’t give them what they want the first time, they will find someone who can. In this context, building in checks and balances to validate your instincts is increasingly critical to success.

The verdict:

Ultimately, your sixth sense for what your customers want is part of what makes you and your business unique and it cannot be ignored. If we all analysed the same data in the same way there would be no competitive edge. What is important is to know when to check yourself and to understand that when you’re designing for customers it never hurts to ask them to get involved – you might find your next great product doesn’t come from your design team at all.

Tim's tips for putting customers first

  1. Always design for real customer problems. If an actual customer hasn’t told you it’s a problem, you probably shouldn’t spend time trying to solve it
  2. Get customers involved in design. Great design teams recognise the critical role non-“designers” play in the process. Ideas can come from anywhere, and including customers in the process can spark new thinking and bring design teams closer to their audience
  3. Keep it lean. You don’t need a fully fleshed out solution to know if a concept will resonate with customers. Often a sketch, a prototype or even a well-articulated concept, shown at the right time, can elicit game-changing feedback
  4. Invest in customer insight. Investing in real customer insight (on whatever scale) sends a clear message to your staff that they are solving real problems, which makes for a happy and driven team (and could save you a lot of wasted work)
  5. Get Lo (Fi). Don’t underestimate “guerilla” research techniques. Retail observation or simple online surveys like SurveyMonkey or Wufoo can be highly effective.
Using tech intelligently can make it easier to find customers and keep them coming back

 Read about why Tech Is The New Customer Charmer and how to use it well.

Find Out MoreUsing tech intelligently can make it easier to find customers and keep them coming back

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