Let’s be honest, we love talking to people who just “get” us.
I believe this is because we often must hold a number of conversations with people who don’t “get” us.
In business, the people who don’t understand us are the ones we desperately need: Our customers. Many might not understand why your products or services cost so much, why your offerings are so complicated or why they should choose your service over a competitor’s.
This is where customer research can help. Forget focus groups and surveys; these tools are best suited for times when you need to refine messages and prioritize features. Instead, focus on having deep, one-on-one conversations with your biggest fans, your biggest critics and the people who don’t have strong opinions one way or the other.
It can be extremely hard to talk to customers and listen with an open mind, especially if they’re critical of the work you do. I’ve seen the pain on my clients’ faces when their beloved ideas get ripped apart. As hard as it is for them to stay quiet and not jump in to “correct” their customers, they trust that my decades of experience in helping companies get real results through innovation will help them accomplish their goals, too.
Below are my my do’s and don’ts of customer research:
1. Do establish the topic of conversation. Don’t lead with your opinion.
When you start an in-depth qualitative interview with a customer, don’t start the conversation with, “I think what we do is awesome and that you’re wrong if you don’t agree with me.” Instead, start with, “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I’m excited to hear your opinions about my business.” The purpose of this conversation is to learn what your customer believes because that is what motivates them to act. If you tell them what you want them to think, they might agree because they want to avoid conflict, and you’ll leave the conversation no smarter than you were when it started.
2. Do listen more than you talk. Don’t try to ‘win.’
The purpose of customer interviews is to learn from your customers, not to convince them to do something. So, try to talk only 20% of the time and listen 80%. Don’t try to drown their questions or concerns, overwhelm them with data, or win them to your side.
Instead, listen to what they have to say, ask open-ended questions and, every so often, chime in with your point of view. After all, this isn’t a sales pitch, and you already know what you think. Listening and “letting the silence work for you” (i.e., not jumping in with another question as soon as they finished answering the previous one) will enable you to learn and understand what your customer wants and why they do what they do.
3. Do be curious. Don’t make assumptions.
During customer interviews, don’t take things at face value. When a customer says something is easy, ask what makes it easy. When a customer says they want something to be more convenient, ask what “more convenient” would look like. Never assume you know what the customer means. Always remember to ask.
Take, for example, the work I did with a major grocery retailer: When we asked people about their grocery shopping habits, we heard the word “convenient” a lot. But when we asked people to define it, we heard everything from “close to my house” to “has a big parking lot” to “offers curbside pick-up” to “offers ready-made meals.” If we hadn’t asked for clarification, it’s likely that our client would have built entirely different stores, which would have prevented them from reaching the success they ultimately achieved.
4. Do share your opinions. Don’t be dogmatic about it.
In the rare instance when a customer starts to assert patently false things, such as, “Your product harms pets,” or, “Your executive committed a crime,” it’s your responsibility to speak up and correct the falsehood. But when you correct a customer, don’t stand up and shout in their face. Instead, speak calmly and gently acknowledge their opinion before sharing the fact. (And do this only a few times before moving on to the next topic.)
It can be difficult to walk the fine line between listening with an open mind and becoming defensive, but as a representative of your company, it’s important to correct factually incorrect beliefs. The last thing you want is your customer to tell other people (i.e., potential customers), “Of course it’s true! I talked to someone from the company today and said it straight to their face, and they didn’t deny it.”
5. Do know your limits. Don’t be afraid to leave when they’ve been reached.
Customer interviews have a time limit and, no matter how chatty, interesting or charming your customer is, end the conversation when the time limit has been reached. Maybe you can schedule a time for a follow-up conversation, but more often than not, you should thank them for their time, hand them their check and politely walk them out. The reason for this is practical: You likely have other things you need to get done — perhaps even talking to another customer.
Talking to customers isn’t easy. But by using these techniques, you can understand and empathize with your customers (and even try them with your friends and family) to help you navigate any minefields along the way.
read more at http://www.forbes.com/entrepreneurs/ by Robyn Bolton, CommunityVoice