Go out and talk to humans!

Who would have thought this simple instruction would be so very scary to execute… This week’s Escape the City homework is Customer Development, and our task is to get into the minds of our customers by — gasp! — talking to them. Actually talking to them. In person. . .

I was forced to face this fear pretty quickly as on the Thursday following our session I was invited to attend the Precious Awards, which is an awards ceremony celebrating female entrepreneurs from BAME backgrounds. I didn’t know anyone at the event, which was scary enough in itself, but I also knew it was a golden opportunity to speak to customers and ask my “good” questions. Doubly scary but I didn’t want to let myself down, so … I girded my loins, did some research on the people on my table at the dinner, and went in armed with a lot of nerves, but also a good list of things I wanted to discover, tailored to each customer type.

That’s me in the back not looking at the camera…

Clutching a glass of champagne I introduced myself to a few people, and started firing away. And, despite all expectations, it was really fun! Everyone had a great story to tell, and I enjoyed drawing it out of them (move over Paxman). As the night progressed, my confidence grew (nothing to do with the champagne, honest…) and I expanded out to reach other people beyond my initial list. And I met with the same response, great information, great passion, and real insights to offer.

There is a lot to mull over, but one thing I was investigating and testing is really critical to my future vision for the business. I want to start measuring organisational diversity across as wide a range of variables as possible (gender, race, sexuality, disability, social mobility, etc etc etc). But when I talk to HR Directors about this, they are really reluctant to ask their employees to self-identify in these categories. However, at the awards, everyone I spoke to said that they definitely would be happy to do so, if they knew what the information was being used for and could see the impacts of it. So that was assumption 1 validated. However, the very strong view, expressed many times over, was that it’s not that HR are reluctant to ask staff, it’s that HR (and organisations in general) don’t want to see the results. While there is no data, they have something to hide behind, but the view was that once the data was out there they would have to face up to it, and that was the real source of the so-called reluctance.

So, food for thought there. How do I convince HR teams to ask for this data? It suggests to me that I need to become a trusted 3rd party, who can handle the data anonymously and report back the insights to HR teams. But first I need to get them onside with the very concept of opening Pandora’s box in the first place. So more thinking to do about that, which will be a goal for the next couple of weeks.

My other insight would be that the customer matrix criteria of “most fun to serve” is really one to remember. I so enjoyed spending the evening with the lovely, inclusive, funny, clever entrepreneurs working to improve representation of BAME women in the workplace, so I need to think about what I can offer that would support them in their efforts. A whole new customer persona to add to the list.

That’s it for this week but — inspired by my own success — I have already signed up for another event where I can pursue the customer development further. Just one note to self for next time: don’t mistake the celebrity hosting the ceremony for a tame attendee when you meet her in the lift. I’m not sure Brenda Emmanus quite knew what was happening when I started grilling her about her views on diversity and inclusion in the workplace… Sorry Brenda!

Till next week…