Why You’ll Never Be In Your Customer’s Shoes

feetCustomer experience is about finding what clicks with your customers and building your messaging, visuals and engagement from that spark. Marketers are always trying to walk in their customer’s shoes so they can understand for themselves what that feels like. I have learned to forget about that. As empathetic or marketing-savvy as you are, you are NOT your customer and never will be. It is arguably impossible to be objective about your product, and as such you can never experience it as your customers would. The next best thing and really the only solution is to validate efficiently with your customers and listen to them by simply asking about their experience with your product or brand. It’s as simple as that, and yet a bit more complicated than it seems. Approaching customers about your product experience doesn’t always result in unbiased feedback that will work constructively towards your product or experience enhancement.

Approaching Customers

Approaching customers can be awkward and sometimes scary if your customer looks like Cruela De Vil. After all, Cruela’s time is money and you might feel shy asking her for her time – as if she would be doing you a favour when you are supposed to be giving her a service! That said, if she needs your product and you have built a relationship with her, she will be more than willing to sit with you for 15 minutes or let you observe her using your product. You can always send an appreciation gift such as a rebate or bottle of wine after the meeting. I refrain from offering an incentive upfront because that is buying your answers and bought answers may not be genuine.

Surveys vs Face-to-Face Interviews

In the tech world, you could always use survey software such as SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo to obtain feedback. I guarantee you will gain significantly better information with 5 face-to-face interviews than with 100 online surveys. Surveys are impersonal, create weak relationships with customers and encourage lazy (and therefore non-valid) answers. NOTHING compares to the human observation and face-to-face interaction. You can read people better in-person and probe for in-depth understanding of their behaviour and needs.

Preparing Face-to-Face Interviews

Preparation is key to ensuring quality answers and avoiding to have to call back on customers. First, prepare your questions in advance. You don’t need to stick to your questions, but know what you need to find out. Bring a recorder or video camera. Questions you might want to ask are:

  • How do you use our product? How does it integrate into your processes?
  • How would you describe our product or company in 5 to 8 words?
  • What do you like most about our product or company?
  • What do you like least about our product or company?
  • Have you tried alternative solutions? Tell me about those experiences.
  • Where do you hang out on and offline?
  • What resources do you use for personal learning.
  • Would you refer us to your networks?
  • What is your dream product?

As tempting as it is, remember to avoid asking leading questions such as “would you use this new feature?”. Rather, ask how this feature would change their process. The idea is to get to the bottom of their thinking. You need to understand why, without asking why. “Why” puts customers on the spot, creating pressure and making answering difficult. If you have your customer explain their answers in context, you will retrieve true and insightful information.


Observation is where you will discover how clients are using or not using your product – sometimes in ways you never imagined. This is where breakthroughs happen. When I worked in bathtub manufacturing, we would observe customers taking a bath (in their bathing suits) in our prototype products. You could see right away how customers approached getting into the bath, how they made themselves comfortable, where they reached for support, if they were comfortable and so forth. Inches on a handle placement or two degrees on the back elevation would make all the difference in the customer experience. Then we would observe our retailers selling our products to customers. This was two fold-observation, it helped us understand the consumer-buying process as well as the selling process. No online survey could have ever given us the insight and knowledge gained from these observations.

Your Product Is Not Your Baby

If you take anything personally or act like your project or product is your baby when talking with customers, your interview responses will be non-valid. Nobody wants to tell someone that their baby is ugly and so your interviewee will tell you what you want to hear. You might do this unknowingly simply by overselling your product’s features and benefits. Saying, “don’t you love this new feature” or “we worked on this for 8 months!” or scream “I gave birth to this project and need some positive validation or my heart will break into tiny little pieces”. Try to stay objective and remember to listen more than talk!

Customer’s Appreciate Being Involved

A final word is that the more you involve your customer in your product development and validation, the more they take ownership of your product and the more invested they become to use it or sell it. So don’t be afraid, get on the phone, and get to know your customer and understand how they use and perceive your brand – their answers might surprise you.

This entry was posted in Misc on by .

About Beth Thouin

Beth Thouin, COO & Partner at Brendan & Brendan is a marketing scientist, speaker and startup mentor with seasoned experience in lean product development, customer validation, inbound marketing and optimization.

One thought on “Why You’ll Never Be In Your Customer’s Shoes

  1. Pingback: Helping Young Entrepreneurs at Express Night with Jeune Chambre de Commerce de Montréal | Keep Marketing Fun

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