Tag Archives: customer research

Surprising Secrets and Customer Research Revelations

Surprising Secrets and Customer Research Revelations

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Most customer research efforts waste time and money because they don’t produce insights that fuel innovation.  Well-meaning business people say they want to “learn what customers want,” yet they ask questions better suited to confirming their own ideas or settling internal debates.  Meanwhile, eager consumers dutifully provide answers despite the nagging belief that they’re being asked the wrong questions.  

It doesn’t have to be this way.  In fact, you can get profound revelations into consumers’ psyche, motivations, and behaviors if you do one thing – channel your inner Elmo.

First, a confession

I find Elmo deeply annoying.  I grew up watching Sesame Street, and I still get an astounding amount of joy watching Big Bird, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Grover, and Oscar the Grouch (especially when Oscar channels his inner Taylor Swift).

Elmo moved to Sesame Street in 1985, and it hasn’t been the same since.  He’s designed to reflect the mental, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of a 3.5-year-old, and, in that aspect, his creators were wildly successful.   I fully acknowledge that Elmo plays a vital role in the mission of Sesame Street and that people of all ages love Elmo. But Elmo makes my ears bleed, and I will never be ok with the fact that Elmo refers to himself in the third person.

This is why my recommendation to channel your inner Elmo is shocking and extremely serious.

Next, an explanation

On Monday, Elmo posted on X (yes, the minimum age limit is 13, but his mom and dad help him run the account, so it’s apparently okay), “Elmo is just checking in!  How is everybody doing?”

180 million views, 120,000 likes, and 13,000 comments later, it was clear that no one was okay.

And lest you think this was Gen Z trauma dumping on their ol’ pal Elmo, Dionne Warwick, T-Pain, and Today Show anchor Craig Melvin responded with their struggles.  Comments ranged from, “Mondays are hard” to “Elmo I’m gonna be real I am at my f—ing limit,’ to “Elmo each day the abyss we stare into grows a unique horror. one that was previously unfathomable in nature. our inevitable doom which once accelerated in years, or months, now accelerates in hours, even minutes. however I did have a good grapefruit earlier, thank you for asking.”

Wow.  Thank goodness for that grapefruit.

There are a lot of theories about why Elmo’s post touched a nerve – it’s January and we’re tired, it’s easier to share our struggles online than in person, or we still enjoy “that wholesome and sincere bond from childhood that makes us want to share.”

I’m sure all those are true, and I think it’s something more, something we can all learn and do.

Now, the secret

Elmo may be a red, hairy, 3.5-year-old muppet. Still, he nailed the behaviors required to get people to open up and share their inner worlds – the very thoughts, beliefs, and motivations that enable others to create and offer impactful and innovative solutions.

Here’s what Elmo did (and you should, too):

  1. Show that you’re genuinely curious:  Elmo didn’t open with the standard “How are you?” that if answered with anything other than the socially acceptable “Fine,” results in awkward silence and inner panic. Elmo opened by declaring his intent – checking in – and then asked a question. Because of that, we understood his motivation was genuine, and he wanted an honest answer.
  2. Ask open-ended questions: Elmo didn’t ask a closed question that can be answered with yes or no.  He asked a question that allowed people to share as much or as little as they wanted and that could act as a springboard to a deeper conversation.
  3. Listen silently and without judgment: Elmo didn’t follow up his original tweet with options like “Are you doing ok, or not ok, or are you happy, or sad, or mad, or…”  Elmo asked a question and then listened (read the responses) without jumping back into the conversation or firing off follow-up questions.
  4. Acknowledge and thank the person sharing: On Tuesday, Elmo responded but not by skipping off to the next scheduled post.  He acknowledged the response by opening with, “Wow!  Elmo is glad he asked!”  He didn’t share his opinion or immediately ask another question.  Instead, he thanked people for sharing, acknowledged that he heard their responses, and was grateful.
  5. Do something with what was shared: Even if you do #4, it’s tempting to move on to the next question.  Don’t.  Elmo didn’t.  Instead, he wrote that he “learned that it is important to ask a friend how they are doing.” He also wrote that he “will check in again soon, friends!  Elmo loves you.”  You don’t have to profess your love but do respond with what you learned and what it makes you wonder.

People can’t tell you what to create because they don’t know what you know.  But they can tell you the problems they have.  If you’re willing to listen (just don’t talk about yourself in the third person, you’re not a muppet).

Image credit: Dall-E via Bing

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How well do you know your customers?

How well do you know your customers?

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

Early in my career, I had the chance to lead a product development team in creating a new kind of internal communication platform for large accounting firms. Our target users were auditors and tax consultants. We worked with those types of people often, so we felt we knew what they needed.

We “checked the box” that we knew our customers, got creative and came up with the idea that we loved. It was innovative, creative, exciting. It still brings a smile to my face, remembering how awesome an idea it was. We worked eighteen hours a day for months on that idea. We were inspired and committed to the product fulfilling its potential. We were on a mission.

So, what happened when the product launched?

The features we thought were so fantastic were of marginal importance to our users, and we had overlooked some of their critical needs. Also, the product had some major usability problems, because we didn’t fully understand all the circumstances under which the product would be used. It was a disaster; our sponsors pulled the plug. We couldn’t believe it! We had cared so much! We had tried so hard! But truthfully, it was entirely predictable.

We fell in love with our idea, instead of falling in love with our users. We wanted our product to fulfill its potential, instead of thinking about how to help our customers fulfill their potential.

These mistakes are not uncommon. According to Nielsen, 85% of new products fail, no doubt for multiple reasons.

Imagine this: your next product has a set of features that solved a huge problem for your customers. Those features were communicated in a way they found easy to understand, and the product was available at a price they were ready to pay. Do you think that product would have an 85% chance of failure?

How well do you know your customer? What does it even mean to “know” your customer?

The Front End of Innovation conference (FEI) asked me to speak at once of their conferences about the five key challenges large enterprises face around innovation. Lack of true customer insight is second on that list. Here are a few quick tactics to help you incorporate the “Voice of the Customer” into your product development process:

1. Humility

Have you ever bought something expensive, that you totally intended to use, but once you bought it, you only used it once, and then barely ever again? Or you committed to a gym membership, and then never went?

The reality is, we don’t even know ourselves all that well! Acknowledge that it’s no small feat to understand someone else well enough to predict their future behavior.

2. Get Specific

What do you need to know about your potential customers or users of your product that would really make a difference?

  • Why do they do business with you?
  • What are their unmet needs?
  • How is their world changing?
  • Who else is courting them?
  • What do they like least about your product/service?
  • There’s something that, if you could do, would make them pay double: what is it?

3. Involvement

It’s not enough to have one market research person who supposedly understands the customer. Ideally, you want everyone on the team to have a tangible understanding of your product’s user. Just reading someone else’s PowerPoint overview really doesn’t give you the kind of gut understanding. I like to have everyone on our product design team spend at least a couple of days trailing customers and watching them in their native habitats. This allows the team to really understand the customers’ world and their current reality. Team members always come back from that type of personal experience full of ideas.

4. Iteration

The world is changing fast, and so are your customers. You have to keep studying them and learn how their needs are changing. As your product moves from an idea to a prototype, to beta, take every opportunity you can to study how users react.

5. 4D Listening

Lastly, when you’re studying your customers, try to see past the surface of what they’re telling you they need to what they actually need. Henry Ford once said, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would say ‘faster horses.’” Which is exactly it! Your customers may not be able to envision the kind of solutions your product team can conceive. So listen past their stated requests, to fully understand their underlying concerns and needs. Your customers want to go faster, and hopefully, you can come up with a far more practical solution than trying to breed faster horses.

Which of these is most important in your experience?

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pexels

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5 Essential Customer Experience Tools to Master

5 Essential Customer Experience Tools to Master

by Braden Kelley

There are so many different tools that customer experience (CX) professionals can use to identify improvement possibilities, that it can be quite overwhelming. Because CX is a human-centered discipline, it doesn’t require a lot of fancy software to do it well. Mastering these five (5) tools will help you and your customers:

1. Customer Research

Go beyond surveys and purely quantitative measures to include qualitative research that helps you uncover:

  • The jobs your customers are trying to get done
  • Insights across acquisition, usage and disposal
  • Their most frequently used interfaces
  • Their most frequent interactions
  • Where customers diverge from each other on these points

2. Customer Personas (Go beyond the demographics!)

  • Include THEIR business goals
  • What they need from the company
  • How they behave
  • Pain points
  • One or two key characteristics important for your situation (how they buy, technology they use, etc.)
  • What shapes their expectations of the company

3. Customer Journey Maps

  • Make sure you map not only the customer touchpoints and pain points, but any points where lingering actually creates value. Focus each journey map on a single customer persona.

4. Service Design Blueprints

  • Uncover the hidden layers of a service’s true potential. Service design blueprints can become a visionary force to steer the course of exceptional customer experiences. Weave a masterful tapestry of intricate details into a big picture that creates a clarity of execution.

5. Customer Experience Metrics

  • Every customer experience (CX) leadership team must decide how to measure changes in the quality of their customer experience over time. This could be customer churn, first-contact resolution, word-of-mouth, CSAT, customer effort (CES), or whatever makes sense for you.


The right set of customer experience (CX) tools will enable you to create a shared vision of what a better customer experience could look like and empower you to make the decisions necessary to create the changes that will realize the improvements you seek.

Great customer experience tools will also help you identify:

  • The moments that matter most
  • The tasks your employees need the most help with
  • The information, interactions and interfaces that are most important to your customers
  • Where different customer personas are the same and where you need to invest in accommodating their differences
  • How to efficiently prioritize your CX improvement investments

Let us help you supercharge your customer experience!

Reach out to us at:


Download the Customer Experience Tools Flipbook

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Are Your Customers Actually Happy?

Are Your Customers Actually Happy?

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Are your customers happy, or not? How do you know? How often do you ask them? If you do ask them, and they tell you, what do you do with that information?

This is all about customer feedback. If a customer is willing to take the time to give you feedback, good or bad, it’s a gift. Treat it as such. It’s an opportunity to know what’s working and what’s not. And there are many ways to get that information.

A common way to seek feedback today is through a survey emailed after the customer interacts with the company or brand. Unfortunately, some companies go to the expense of designing and sending the survey, asking the customer to spend their precious time completing the survey, and then don’t act on the customer’s suggestions. Our annual customer experience research found that 57% of customers assume the company won’t make any changes based on their responses to a customer satisfaction survey. And some customers will stop doing business with a company or brand because of their surveys. Our research found that 20% of customers stopped because they sent too many surveys, and 18% stopped because the surveys were too long.

Recently I had my car in for its annual service, which included an oil change, fluid checks, filter replacements and more. Within an hour after I picked up my car, I received an email requesting feedback. From past experiences, I knew this would take five to 10 minutes to complete. I chose not to respond, because I had many other things to do in the short time I had left in the office that day. I don’t know what percentage of customers complete the survey, but maybe there is a different way to get feedback.

Notice I said a different, not necessarily better, although I’ll let you decide whether it is better. When I picked up my car, there could have been a tablet with four buttons to select from, asking me if I was very happy, somewhat happy, somewhat not happy or not happy. It would have taken me three seconds—probably less—to tap on one of those buttons. By the way, there could also be an option for me to leave feedback if I wanted to take a moment to do so. Regardless, the quick press of a button is much easier than a 10-question emailed survey with quantitative and qualitative feedback questions.

I recently interviewed Miika Mäkitalo, the CEO of HappyOrNot, one of the leading customer feedback solutions used by more than 4,000 brands in over 100 countries, on Amazing Business Radio. There’s a good chance you’ve seen HappyOrNot feedback technology in a store, restaurant, stadium or airport. It is a small tablet or kiosk with four large buttons as I just described in my auto repair center example. This simple technology gives you fast and actionable feedback that can be used and taken advantage of almost immediately—and at the same time, it respects your customers’ time.

And as powerful as that instant feedback is for customers, Makitalo suggests his HappyOrNot technology is also a perfect solution for employee feedback. Imagine a terminal or tablet in the breakroom where employees can anonymously (unless they want to share their names) leave a simple “I’m happy or not” message with the quick push of a button. Consider all the feedback you could gather, such as, “How happy are you with the new personal time (PT) policy?” Or, “How happy are you with the new food vendor in the cafeteria?” You get the idea. Get feedback from employees. Their happiness will be felt by customers. And the opposite is true. Unhappy employees will taint the customer experience. As I often say, “What’s happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by customers.”

So, if you want to know what your customers—and employees—are thinking but aren’t sure where to start, this simple solution could be the answer. Ask one question at a time … and don’t forget to act on the feedback!

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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Don’t Waste Your Time Talking to Customers

(until you answer these 3 questions)

Don’t Waste Your Time Talking to Customers

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You know that customer insights are important.

You spend time and money to collect customer insights. 

But are you using them?

And by “using,” I don’t mean summarizing, synthesizing, discussing, PowerPointing, and presenting the insights.  I mean making decisions, changing strategies, and rethinking plans based on them.

I posed this question to a few dozen executives.  The awkward silence spoke volumes.

Why do we talk to customers but not listen to them?

In a world of ever more constrained resources, why do we spend our limited time and money collecting insights that we don’t use meaningfully?

It seems wild to have an answer or an insight and not use it, especially if you spent valuable resources getting it.  Can you imagine your high school self paying $50 for the answer key to the final in your most challenging class, then crumpling it up, throwing it away, and deciding to just wing the exam?

But this isn’t an exam.  This is our job, profession, reputation, and maybe even identity.  We have experience and expertise.  We are problem solvers.

We have the answers (or believe that we do).

After all, customers can’t tell us what they want.  We’re supposed to lead customers to where they should be. Waiting for insights or changing decisions based on what customers think slows us down, and isn’t innovation all about “failing fast,” minimal viable products, and agility?

So, we talk to customers because we know we should. 

We use the answers and insights to ensure we have brilliant things to tell the bosses when they ask.

We also miss the opportunity to create something that changes the game.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

What do you NEED to learn?

It’s easy to rattle off a long list of things you want to learn from customers.  You probably also know the things you should learn from customers.  But what do you need to learn?

What do you need to know by the end of a conversation so that you can make a decision?

What is the missing piece in the puzzle that, without it, you can’t make progress?

What insight do you need so badly that you won’t end the conversation until you have it?

If the answer is “nothing,” why are you having the conversation?

Will you listen?

Hearing is the “process, function, or power of perceiving a sound,” while listening is “hearing things with thoughtful attention” and a critical first step in making a connection.  It’s the difference between talking to Charlie Brown’s teacher and talking to someone you care about deeply.  One is noise, the other is meaning.

You may hear everything in a conversation, but if you only listen to what you expect or want to hear, you’ll miss precious insights into situations, motivations, and social dynamics.

If you’re only going to listen to what you want to hear, why are you having the conversation?

Are you willing to be surprised?

We enter conversations to connect with others, and the best way to connect is to agree.  Finding common ground is exciting, comforting, and reassuring.  It’s great to meet someone from your hometown, who cheers for the same sports team, shares the same hobby, or loves the same restaurant.

When we find ourselves conversing with people who don’t share our beliefs, preferences, or experiences, our survival instincts kick in, and we fight, take flight, or (like my client) freeze.

But here’s the thing – you’re not being attacked by a different opinion. You’re being surprised by it. So, assuming you’re not under actual physical threat, are you willing to lean into the surprise, get curious, ask follow-up questions, and seek to understand it? 

If you’re not, why are you having the conversation?

Just because you should doesn’t mean you must.

You know that customer insights are important.

You spend time and money to collect customer insights. 

But are you using them to speed the path to product-market fit, establish competitive advantage, and create value?

If you’re not, why are you having the conversation?

Image Credit: Pexels

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Innovative Ways to Gather Customer Feedback

Innovative Ways to Gather Customer Feedback

GUEST POST from Chateau G Pato

In a competitive marketplace, understanding the voice of the customer is crucial for innovation and sustained business growth. Traditional methods of gathering customer feedback, such as surveys and focus groups, often fall short in capturing the nuanced and spontaneous nature of customer experiences. In this article, we explore innovative ways to gather customer feedback and illustrate their effectiveness through two compelling case studies.

Leveraging Social Media Listening

Social media offers a vast river of unsolicited, real-time customer feedback. Companies can tap into this stream to discern customer sentiments, identify emergent trends, and detect potential issues before they escalate.

Case Study 1: Starbucks

Starbucks, a global coffeehouse chain, harnesses the power of social media listening tools to refine its customer experience. By monitoring platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, Starbucks captures real-time reactions to its products, services, and marketing campaigns.

For instance, Starbucks introduced the Unicorn Frappuccino, a limited-edition beverage, that took social media by storm. The Starbucks team monitored hashtags, comments, and reviews, quickly identifying common themes and sentiments. Customers loved the drink’s vibrant appearance but there was mixed feedback on its taste. With this information, Starbucks promptly engaged with their audience, adjusting their messaging to emphasize the drink’s adventurous and whimsical nature rather than its flavor profile.

The insights gleaned from social media listening not only helped Starbucks understand customer preferences but also enabled the company to engage with customers directly, showing appreciation for their feedback and fostering a sense of community.

Utilizing AI Chatbots for Interactive Feedback

AI-driven chatbots are another innovative way to gather customer feedback. These intelligent agents can engage customers in natural, conversational dialogue, collecting detailed and context-rich feedback without the constraints of formal surveys.

Case Study 2: Amtrak

Amtrak, America’s national rail operator, implemented an AI-powered chatbot named “Julie” to enhance the travel experience and gather valuable customer insights. Julie assists passengers with ticket bookings, schedule inquiries, and travel disruptions. Beyond these functions, Julie is programmed to ask customers about their travel experience upon completion of their interaction.

For example, if a passenger inquires about train delays, Julie might follow up with questions about the overall travel experience, such as the comfort of seating, cleanliness of the train, and the quality of customer service. This conversational approach allows Amtrak to capture specific, actionable feedback in real time.

Furthermore, Julie’s AI capabilities enable her to analyze the sentiment behind the responses, flagging particularly negative or positive interactions for further review by human agents. This dual-layer feedback mechanism ensures that critical issues are swiftly addressed while also recognizing aspects of the service that delight customers.

The implementation of Julie has provided Amtrak with a continuous stream of high-quality feedback, allowing the company to make informed decisions about service improvements and operational adjustments.

The Role of Gamification in Feedback Collection

Gamification, the application of game-design elements in non-gaming contexts, offers a dynamic way to engage customers in the feedback process. By making feedback collection an enjoyable and rewarding experience, companies can significantly increase participation rates and the quality of the insights gathered.

Case Study 3: Duolingo

Duolingo, the language-learning app, uses gamification to motivate users to share their learning experiences and provide feedback. The app incorporates points, badges, and leaderboards to encourage regular usage. Periodically, Duolingo invites users to complete short, in-app surveys or participate in feedback challenges to earn additional rewards.

These gamified feedback mechanisms not only enhance user engagement but also provide Duolingo with a steady stream of user insights. For instance, when Duolingo launched a new feature, the company implemented a feedback challenge where users could earn special badges by completing targeted feedback tasks related to the feature. The responses helped Duolingo understand the feature’s impact, identify any usability issues, and gauge overall satisfaction.

By turning feedback into a game, Duolingo ensures that users are more willing to participate and more honest in their responses, resulting in richer and more reliable data.


In an era where customer preferences and expectations are constantly evolving, it is paramount for businesses to innovate in their approach to gathering feedback. Methods like social media listening, AI chatbots, and gamification provide richer, more immediate insights than traditional approaches.

The success stories of Starbucks, Amtrak, and Duolingo underscore the power of these innovative techniques. By meeting customers where they are and transforming the feedback process into a value-added interaction, companies can foster stronger relationships with their customers, drive meaningful improvements, and maintain a competitive edge.

Finally, innovation should permeate every aspect of a business, including how we listen to and learn from our customers. By embracing new technologies and creative strategies, businesses can unlock deeper customer insights and pave the path for continuous improvement and success.

SPECIAL BONUS: The very best change planners use a visual, collaborative approach to create their deliverables. A methodology and tools like those in Change Planning Toolkit™ can empower anyone to become great change planners themselves.

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