Customer discovery never stops

Customer discovery never stops

Whether you are optimizing exiting products or services, creating something new, or rethinking your entire business, as a business leader, what’s one thing you can count on to deliver new and unexpected insights?

Before we answer this question, consider that if asked most businesses leaders will say and agree that constant communication with customers is one of the most important things they do and encourage in their business. But, constant communication doesn’t mean anything if you’re not discovering anything out of the ordinary from conversations with customers.

Cindy Alvarez, designer at Microsoft, and author of Lean Customer Development, talking on the O’Reilly Podcast on how design is how users feel when experiencing products brought up a great point about doing customer development: businesses don’t talk to their customers because they believe they already know them.


Granted, in established industries customer development is more of a sales process than an innovation process. There’s a huge difference between the two perspectives, one leads to delivering more of the same and the other to discovering new opportunities.

As is the case in most interesting things in life, discovering new stuff requires digging deep; that means asking new questions and seeing anew.

Digg deep to find insights

Insights, the type that reflect an opportunity for new and better are rarely found in your head, rather you find them by talking and observing people; like you actually care. This is an important point because opportunities for innovation come from spotting unarticulated needs, the type that even customers have a problem articulating.

Digging deep means going beyond what you already know and think you know; it means opening your eyes and ears to discover. It’s about the Why, not the What of a person’s motivations.

Don’t just ask, observe.

One must dig deep to find those unarticulated needs, one way to do so is by talking to customers. Still, simply talking to customers isn’t enough. Similar to the conversations you have with loved ones, where you have a good idea what you’re going to talk about, same happens when most people talk to customers; they don’t dig deep because they assume they know them.

But to observe a new requires a shift in mindset, one where you must…

Stay a beginner.

Tony Fadell, the creator of the iPod and Nest thermostat, shared his mantra for innovation at a recent TED conference:

“It’s seeing the invisible problem, not just the obvious problem, that’s important,” Fadell said onstage. “There are invisible problems all around us. First we need to see them. To feel them. Then we can solve them.”

The point he makes is that we become habituated to our surroundings, including other people, and thus stop paying attention to the little things.

As I said above, it isn’t enough to keep asking customers the same questions over and over again. You have to dig deep by spending time with them, observing their behavior, and asking different questions that get you new answers.

Remember, the most powerful technique available to innovators is observing people in their domain. So, whether you are optimizing exiting products or services, or creating something new, take the following to heart: customer discovery never stops.

Below is the interview, I recommend you hear it in its entirety because this is an important topic that all innovators should take to heart:

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