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Experience Design Consultant

Bringing the Voice of the Customer into your projects

“Our Customers always…” or so goes the refrain. What Customers do, say, think and want can only be discovered through eyeballing the Customers or rummaging through the traces they leave behind. In Agile projects, in the design of digital products, sometimes there can be little time to do a lot of user* research, so how do we get the voice of the actual Customers rapidly into projects? Here are a few techniques that I have used. These work equally well at the beginning of a project, or throughout as part of each iteration.

Bring the Customer into a workshop

Actually bring them into the workshop. What do you do with them? Well, anything that you would do when doing User or Design research. You could:

  • ask them to tell stories about their recent experience
  • do a user test on the existing product or on any new designs you have,
  • do a Customer Journey (get them to talk and you do the mapping),
  • showcase any design ideas so far,
  • role-play some aspect of the journey,
  • map current issues,
  • card-sorting
  • do some co-design with them, or
  • give them something to shuffle (that is, cut up different pieces that could go onto an interface and ask Customers to place them onto paper screens).
  • or make something up that suits your needs

The point here, is to craft the activities according to where you are in your project—early is oriented to discovery, later is oriented toward validation. And the time you have with the Customer(s). Doing a few different activities can give you good perspective, even if you have to compress some of the activities a little.

Patrick Kennedy has a great summary of different research methods and Jason Furnell has a step by step on Collaborative Design that can be done with Customers included in the workshops.

Listen to Call Centre Recordings

This one of my favourite techniques. If an organisation records Customers calling the Service Centre, the recordings can be replayed within a workshop. It can be done very quickly round a table and is a very rich source of unobserved Customer behaviour.

  1. Choose the recordings that relate to the problem area you are working with.
  2. Set up the analysis chart on the wall
  3. As a whole group, listen to the first recording.
  4. Share back what was heard and add to the Analysis chart.
  5. Listen to the next recording… etc.
  6. After listening to a few, some patterns will begin to emerge. You may be able to see a few clusters of behaviour. e.g. good money managers vs poor money managers.
  7. Choose the recordings that are of most interest.
  8. Break into smaller groups and do a Customer journey map of the recordings that are of interest.
Call Recording analysis

Set up your analysis chart for the call recordings with these headings

Share Recordings of User Tests

Conduct User Tests before the workshops, capture these on video or as photos and replay back to your team. Software that allows capture of the faces of people as they use the software as well as what they are actually doing is very effective. Silverback fantastic for this, but is only available for Mac OS. Alternatively, use the camera in your laptop, or set up a separate video camera. If no capture is possible, then step through and mimic what happened in the user test sessions (you will need good note-taking to be able to do this).

Replay your Field Research

Do some field research and replay it back to your team members. It could be video, photos or storytelling. Recently, I did a site visit to a shop to find out about how they entice and then sign up new customers.  I first asked the Salesperson about the current process, then captured it in photos. My colleague posed as the Customer and the Salesperson paused at each stage. We then did the same for how he would prefer to the process to work. We took both of these photo journeys into the workshop the next day and posted them up onto the wall. We then stepped through them with the whole group showing the frustrations with the current process and system.

Alternatively, show photos of the workspaces where the actual product is being used. This shows the context of where the product will be used.

Role Play

This is best when there is real knowledge of the customer. If you don’t have actual Customers, or haven’t done any direct research with Customers, then the next best thing is to use people in the organization who are close to Customers: typically Customer Service or Sales teams. When doing the role play, if you are designing a digital product, you have someone play the role of the computer or digital device. More enlightening than it sounds.

Site visits at the start of a workshop

This is borrowing from Ideo’s immersive approach. Start the workshop with everyone working in groups or pairs and heading out to do site visits. Take a half-day to go out, do a single visit per team or pair, then come back to distill and share the findings. To help people who haven’t done field research before, brief them on what to expect and what to look for. Provide a running sheet as a guide for the session. Set up the sessions with the Customers, or even go straight onto the street or into a cafe. Take cameras, conduct interviews, card sorts… anything that is helpful.

Diary Studies: Ask Customers to share in the workshop

If logistics permit, you can ask your Customers to keep a diary. It can be structured (particular themes) or unstructured (more like an open visual diary). If that is possible, you can bring the Customers in to share their diaries. When we tried this, the diaries provided a fantastic springboard for a spontaneous round-table discussion about what they experienced. This technique will not necessarily work in every case as Customers can sometimes be difficult to find. It works particularly well if you are designing for people within the organization (staff, volunteers etc).

Mine Social Media for Clues

Mine Social Media for Clues. Trawl through the social media to see what people are saying. This may only provide complaints or compliments, but could be a useful source of direct quotes to help paint a picture.

Other ideas

Theses techniques aim to bring the direct voice of the Customer into the project teams, particularly where there is little time to do any early user research. Bringing the direct voice of the Customer can help focus the team as well as resolve any questions that come up. It is important that the Customer voice is continually brought in throughout the project, not just at the beginning.

These techniques combine well with other data gathering like usage or data analytics. Usage analytics are not the direct voice of the Customer, rather evidence of behaviour, and are an essential addition to the picture.  It shows the clusters of behaviour that may be worth investigating. If there are no user analytics being kept, ask if they can be started. Even a week or two’s worth of analytic data will provide some clues.

2 Comments on “Bringing the Voice of the Customer into your projects”

  1. Jason Furnell May 8, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    great post… thanks for sharing


  1. The VOC, but who is the customer? « 'Scrum-but' Skewered, slated and scorched - April 26, 2012

    […] recent post encouraging proactive steps to gather the VOC leaves the issue of “who is the […]

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