Saturday, October 02, 2010

Simple Principles for Customer Research Sessions

I just came back from a customer research work session. As always, it was very informative. Visiting a customer at their offices gives you a lot more insight into what their culture and pain points are compared to giving them a call.

When I conduct customer research sessions, normally referred to as co-innovation sessions, I follow these simple principles.

1. I like to show up at the customer's office, if I can. It shows respect. It tells them that you care about their thoughts. It is money and time well spent. As a product manager I am the voice of the customer and that is my only advantage over every other function. So customer visits are my number one priority. Nothing else is more important than that.

2. Show a prototype. Don't show a set of slides. I do not show slides during customer work sessions. I always draw a picture or show a prototype. This forces participants to think differently, look at the prototype and imagine rather than go into a passive finger-pointing mode.

2a. After introductions, I ask them what they plan to get out of the session and write that down on the flip chart. If the crowd is large, I ask if they plan to participate or if they are merely there to observe. I differentiate between the participants and observers and focus my questions to the participants.

3. Listen more. Speak less. Roughly 10% of talking and 90% listening. This is especially hard for me because I love to talk. So I take on the role of the writer on the flip chart. This helps me talk less and listen more. It forces me to keep quiet and nudges customers to think aloud and direct my writing.

4. Write or draw on a flip chart. I don't sit down in a chair and write in a notebook where no one can see what I am writing. Writing on a flip chart, conveys to customers that you are listening, synthesizing and are open for comments. They can see your thought process, point out gaps in your thinking and, if necessary, correct what you write. So take notes publicly. Not privately.

4a. Display all the flips charts all the time.
I do not flip the chart over and go to a new page. I tear the paper I wrote on and tape it to a wall. Do not worry. Customers do not mind you posting 4-5 flip charts on the walls of their conference rooms. Pausing to tape the flip chart paper on the wall gives me a logical break after about 15-20 minutes of conversation. If my colleagues are present, it gives them an opportunity to chime in. It gives me a minute to collect my thoughts.

4b. After I paste the flip chart on the wall, I underline the key words in the notes, recap the conversation, point out who said what, and ask participants if I missed anything. It gives participants an opportunity to point of simple errors that are bothering them.

5. Document while at the session. Not after you come back to the office. I use a (phone) camera to take a picture of all the flip board charts. That is my documentation. I dont write elaborate notes after I come back from the session. I post the picture to sapstreamwork along with the notes and share it via streamwork with customers. My colleagues know that my notes  are honest, because customers saw what I wrote.

6. I capture customer quotes and share them with my colleagues rather than write elaborate reports. My colleagues actually read the quotes.

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