Everyone has questions about customers. Here are answers.
By Mark Hurst • Sep 11, 2014

The weirdest thing happens in the last 10 minutes of my "customers included" talks, which I'm giving all around the US about the Creative Good book . I open the floor for Q&A, and regardless of the size of company (startup to enterprise) or the industry (media, retail, finance, etc.), teams often ask the same questions about customers.

Companies today are trying to figure out the customer. The similarities in the questions are striking, regardless of industry or region or team size, or even the role of the executives I'm speaking to. It's like everyone has woken up to the importance of customers, but no one is quite sure what to do next.

(Well, almost no one is quite sure. One or two executives have assured me that they have pinned their hopes on this or that tactical software-development method - one executive repeatedly told me "we're winning" - but for the most part, executives understand that this is a complex challenge not resolved with a silver bullet.)

The questions - how to talk to customers, how to organize the team, and how to measure success - are a sign of health, reflecting a team's desire to continually improve. In my responses I try encourage the team to do the hard, sustained work of including the customer.

Here's what I suggest:

1. Always start with a strong business case. Customer input only makes sense in the context of a well-formed business question. This also helps answer difficult questions around serving multiple customer types whose needs aren't aligned.

2. Don't ask customers what they want. Instead, find out what customers want. Asking customers to design the product for you is unlikely to work.

3. Involve the decisionmakers in the process. Too often executives will avoid direct customer observation because "some other team is doing that." Instead, all decisionmakers should play a part. And bringing in an unbiased third-party, like Creative Good, to facilitate the process can be very powerful.

As always, contact us if Creative Good can help. We're the best at helping companies include the customer.