“He said that about us?"

I love doing what we call the Customer R&D™  the process by which we capture honest conversation on video. 

We go into the workplace and have conversations about a wide range of topics with the people who are intimately familiar with the products and services of our client. I’ve talked to miners thousands of feet underground, steelworkers hundreds of feet in the air, and carpenters in the middle of the mud and chaos of a new housing subdivision.

People are always knowledgeable and passionate about their craft and about the tools they use. Many are flattered that we seek their opinions and thus willingly give their time. Over 90% of respondents participate in conversation, and more than 70% run over the allotted interview time—at their request.  

People want to tell their stories and you let them be told. You never know what surprise information or insights might be gleaned from these unplanned detours. 

I first saw the value of the Customer R&D™ process when we were interviewing miners across North America about their opinions of a radically new explosive.  To make the most of the new technology, miners had to change work flows, but most were enthusiastic about the potential for improved efficiencies and costs savings. They could do their job more safely, with less mess, in a shorter time, and at lower cost. In other words, a better life with more job security. 

We reviewed the hours of videotape with our client. They were confident that the new product would deliver the performance that had been promised but they knew there are no guarantees when introducing a new product or technology to the market, particularly in an industry with a long history but also one with a subtle aversion to change.

The miners talked about the pressures and demands when suddenly the Product Manager said, “What did he just say?” We rewound the tape and he scribbled furiously in his notebook. The Product Manager turned to the rest of the team and said, 

“I knew that we had a good product and I knew that we could improve productivity underground but I never imagined that the miners would use our product like that and that they could make such huge productivity gains by doing it. We’ve got to add this to our story.” 

This Product Manager knew his product inside out and he knew his customers well too. But the Customer R&D™process delivered opportunities that even surprised the Product Manager.  The opportunity for the product to drive down the cash cost of production, a key driver in a mining operation, was much bigger than had been previously realised. This new information was quickly added to the marketing material and it made the new offer even more effective and it made the Explosive Company look like they understood the mining business much better than their competitors. 

As we always say “It’s amazing what you learn when you listen.”

Here are some tips about getting the most out of conversations with your customers.

  1. Your customers are happy to share their opinions with you and they’ll be flattered that you asked.
  2. Listen very carefully to those conversations. There are things in there that you need to know.
  3. Take any “surprises” that you hear and make them part of your brand story. Focus on thrill points, not pain relief.