Understanding Your Customers Requires Understanding Their Context

Customers are not aliens from another planet. You also don’t have to go on safari to see them. They’re all around you. Still, it’s not safe to assume they think the same way you do. And it’s definitely not safe to assume they think exactly the same way everyone in the conference room thinks during your product planning meetings.

Too often companies presume to think for their customer, assuming they will want exactly the things they expect them to want.

Get out There

We have mentioned in previous posts that if you really want to know your customer, you’re going to have to get out there and live amongst them a little bit.

You must observe people, both in consumer and professional markets. In fact, just spending time watching their behaviors without an agenda or a set of questions can be a great place to start when trying to better understand current or potential customers.

Build a ‘Day in the Life’

Putting together a ‘day in the life’ of a person, a product or a service can be a powerful tool. Be a “scientist.” Explore something simple such as the life cycle of a cup of coffee: Seed. Growing plant. Harvest. Shipped. Roasted. Shipped again. Ground. Brewed.

Ask questions. Who handled the coffee at each stage? Where did it go physically?  Were there decisions made about it? (ex. This coffee is good. This coffee is a reject). Are there buyers for Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks who decide which lots of beans they’re going to purchase or what geographical regions they’ll feature?

Become an Anthropologist

Anthropologists go and spend time in the cultures they study.  They ask questions.  They live among the people they are learning about until the people they are studying almost forget they are there.

Whenever possible, observe potential customers in their natural habitat. For example, what if you could get permission to go into 50 houses and take a picture of the inside of their refrigerator?  And what if while there you’re also able to take inventory of their trash and recycle bins?  Will you learn things about how those families ate that you couldn’t get from a survey? Of course you will.

I’ve Studied Them.  Now What?

If you can find a frustration, or a way to make someone’s life better in a particular context, you may be on to something. And when that something is something customers will talk about it and pay money to own, that’s when you’ve found a need.

Even if it isn’t obvious, you are going to learn a lot of useful information.  You’ll have a greater understanding of context.  When you go back to that conference room to talk about product planning you’ll have actual data.  We’ll talk in future posts about how to make that data more useful.

When you find a need, it’s no longer just about simply identifying a group of people with disposable income and trying to figure out how they spend their money–you now have a compelling reason to be in business. A pain to alleviate. An itch to scratch. A desire to fulfill.

9 thoughts on “Understanding Your Customers Requires Understanding Their Context

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