10 Ways to Know Your Customers Better
It's more than just asking them questions.
1. Observe them using your product.
Have them use it and explain to you why they're doing the things they're doing. Ask them what they're feeling as they use it and run into problems or encounter success.
2. Observe them using your competitors' products.
Same as above, but do it with other companies' products and compare the results to your own. Are you solving the right problems? Do you have some blind spots?
3. Asking a customer what they think will get you useless data.
"What do you think about this app?" is going to get you an indifferent, idealistic, or downright untrue response. You have to get answers to questions without ever having asked them in the first place.
4. Asking a customer what they want will get you even more useless data.
It's the old apocryphal quote attributed to Henry Ford: "If I asked my customers what they wanted, they'd tell me 'a faster horse'."
It's your job to figure out what they need based on what you observe, not what they tell you they want.
5. Go beyond the product: explore the environment
Observe your customers living their lives with your product in the context of wherever it is they use it most.
Home entertainment product? Watch a movie with them.
Enterprise software? Go sit with your customers in their cubicles and watch them do their jobs.
You'll see all the unseen "hacks" they are dealing with to get the stuff to work.
(I once worked on a set-top piece of hardware for a major messaging company and we observed customers unboxing and installing the product onto their TV setups which was amazing information - people's houses and entertainment setups are a DISASTER - including a lot of telecomm execs...).
6. Learn about your competitors' customers in THEIR environment
Same trick, different stage.
7. Have them "rate" their experience in real time
While you're observing them, have them give you a rating for their experience.
It could be: "On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is awful and difficult and 5 is extremely easy and satisfying, how would you rate this?"
8. Then get them to tell you how you could make it a 5 star experience
9. Don't be clinical about it. Customers love to talk to PEOPLE, not robots.
The more you come across as a human, the more your customers will tell you because they are comfortable with the rapport you've established.
10. Make customers your partners in creation.
This works well with business-to-business products. When you're interviewing people, make it clear that you're not selling them anything - you're there to learn what they do and provide better solutions for them.
Then follow up with progress.
Make them exclusive beta customers.
Watch your retention rates soar.