I was interviewed recently for an internal communication survey designed by corporate to get a feel for how internal communications were perceived and how employees felt about the short and long term health of the company. At the end, I was asked if I could ask one question of the CEO, what would it be. Many crossed my mind (some safer than others) but I asked if I could submit my response in written form a day or two later. Below is what I submitted:
Why don't we do customer shadowing?
There’s this great quote in the Jobs biography where Steve is talking about Apple’s mission and their connection with the customer. He said it wasn’t Apple’s job to ask the customers what they wanted and give it to them; instead, it was Apple’s job to show them – to essentially read the things that are not yet on the page. He referred to a great quote by Henry Ford where he said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse’.”
That’s a great point, but only half of the picture for our market. There's a subtle, but important distinction. That sort of intuition and empathy is much more tangible in a consumer electronics market – where we all actively participate on a daily basis. What we don’t do on a daily basis is live the life of a CPA, auditor or tax practitioner.
In past and side lives, I’ve done development for several businesses. Approach one was to simply ask the customer what he or she needed (user feedback, focus group stage) - I was always met with a deer in the headlights stare. Approach two was to mock-up what I thought they would need in a very visual form. This would further the conversation, as they could easily recognize what was not in the design that needed to be. The third approach - and the only one to ever actually lead to innovation was job shadowing. I would follow each user around for a period of time to see how he or she performed their role and what things I could do to make that easier. You begin to see some crazy things - things being done the hard way, things screaming for automation, etc. You begin to see things that are not intuitive to most of us. The user doesn’t know the capabilities of technology and we have to admit that we don’t walk in the user’s shoes. It's only when we bridge those worlds that big things can begin to happen.
CCH is doing this with their "Contextual Design Process". Brad Smith has also spoken publicly about how Intuit uses this approach to innovate. We talk a lot about putting the customer first, but I feel like the layer of separation between us and the customer is far too thick to truly live up to that mantra.
The flotsam and jetsam of a techie mind...