In this article I discuss the importance of truly understanding your customer and how to go about applying these learnings into your workflow.
Previously I wrote my “13 Tips for Designing Loveable Mobile Experiences”. At the end of the article I promised to deep-dive into each section covered. This is the first in the series starting with my first tip “Know thy Customer”. In this article I will look at the importance of truly understanding your customer, grasping their desires, motivations, behaviours, and needs. This first phase is called the ‘Discovery” phase and it is vital for developing a product strategy that is line with your market. It is the driving force for your product decisions and where much of your inspiration is drawn from throughout the design, development and marketing process. Achieving this product-market fit is absolutely essential in creating loveable products that people actually need. After all, no-one can afford to build something no one needs or wants. Much of the time this customer research yields surprising results that can have a huge impact on your business and product direction. In this day and age of ‘lean thinking’ having a grasp of these concepts will set you up for success.
So, where do you start? How do you go about understanding your potential new customers? There are a number of ways to go about this. Firstly you need to identify your user group. My advise is to always try and keep this minimal and focused. It’s always better to start with a narrow customer segment and nail it, rather than keeping it wide and ambiguous. You can always widen your target market once your business is established in a specific area. You can start straight away by researching your topic by simply searching the Internet, exploring various websites, forums and communities. There is a wealth of information out there, you just need to do some digging! Go on a trip into the minds of your customer segment and uncover how they feel, what they’re missing, frustrations, and their work-around solutions. You’ll be surprised at how much information you can expose simply by scouring the internet.
Personas and Interviews
Another great starting point is to create ‘Proto-personas’ as described in Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf. This is your best, purely hypothetical guess at who your target customers are, what they do, how they do it and why. It forms a basis for proving or disproving your persona assumptions, making sure you’re on the correct track. Once you’ve put this together your next step is to see if it holds up in the real world, but to do this you need to get out there and find out! The best way to do this is integrate yourself into the community. Simply going to talk to some of your customers will be eye opening. There are some great tips out there for effective interviewing techniques. Try not to lead your customer with loaded questions. You want to try and uncover your customer’s behaviours, the why and the how. Understanding your customer’s life, their struggles and context really help form a picture of how your product will fit into their lives. This is even more important when designing for mobile as so much of this is explicitly linked to their surroundings and context. Much of the time your customers might not know what they want but they do have ‘jobs’ that they need to achieve. They also know their frustrations and workarounds. Keep asking why and you’ll be sure to stumble onto some golden nuggets of information. Condense your learnings down into high level takeaways.
Translate these takeaways back into your proto-personas to create validated persona types. These will guide you throughout your design and development process. Top tip: Getting your whole team involved in this process, whether they are a developer, designer, product manager or the CEO, will pay off ten fold further down the line. When every member of your team has an intimate understanding of your customer and holds strong empathy for their problems it will translate into a far richer and effective product. Just because they aren’t researchers by job title doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing research. It may take time, but it’ll pay off big time.
Value Proposition Canvas
Once you have formed a solid understanding of your customers and proved or disproved your persona hypothesis, it’s time to apply this learning. Keep your updated personas at the forefront of your mind. The next step is to apply this into your product ideas with a user-centred focus. An exercise I have found particularly useful in moving to the next level of thinking is using the ‘Value Proposition Canvas’ by Strategyzer. This is a fantastic exercise in mapping out your customer ‘pains’, ‘gains’ and ‘jobs’ which you have learnt through your research and how these will fit your product or service ideas. These are then mapped out next to how you think you might solve these customer issues by creating ‘pain relievers’ and ‘gain creators’. Once again, if you do this across disciplines with your team it will deliver much stronger results, allowing everyone to feel more invested in the process, the solutions and the final outcome.
Customer Journey Mapping
Another great exercise for developing strong team empathy for your customers is to create a ‘Customer Journey Map’. This outlines the journey that your customers move through including the context and environment that surrounds them, the emotions they feel and the jobs that they need to do. It visualises these steps in a simple flow, allowing everyone to get on the same page. Storyboarding the steps of your product or services really helps bring your ideas to life in the context of your customer and their life. I have found that empathy for the customer brings the whole team together. Using strong visual references helps tie this to the real world and makes sure your product decisions are grounded in reality.
Test, Test, Test!
Of course nothing can beat testing your product or services in the real world and getting solid customer feedback. No where is this more important than for mobile. Mobile is unique in that it is surrounded by ever changing environmental and emotional factors and understanding how this affects your customer journey is incredibly important. Releasing your product as early as you can and moving through a build-measure-learn feedback loop (The Lean Startup) is key here. It’s not until you see your product in the real world will issues be exposed. How fast you can move through this feedback loop will determine how quickly you can start creating a value added product or service. Don’t be afraid of feedback, after all the journey is all about learning.
Never finish understanding and learning from your customers. Having a deep empathy for their lives, context, emotions, needs, and jobs-to-be-done is key in creating meaningful work. Some of the most important work you will do will be to truly understanding your customers and provide them with solutions that fit perfectly into their lives. It might take time and patience but it will pay off. Your customer research will define how you start your project and continue throughout your development and marketing processes. Always cross reference with what you have learnt and where you are going. Keep thirsty and keep learning.
If you’d like to know more about how I am helping companies transform their mobile user experiences please check out www.pivotbot.com I personally help you master the art of mobile strategy, user interface and user experience design. I offer value-driven and practical consultancy to turn your mobile experiences into world class products.
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