If you ask any company that is building a new product today, very likely they will reply that one of the most important tenets is customer centricity. Product managers know the importance of developing empathy for their customers since empathy is a cornerstone of customer centricity. This allows them to remove the “I need” for new features, and instead use the “They need” point of view, rooted in a deep customer understanding of needs and desires.
Some techniques that product managers use to connect with their customers are empathy interviews, observations, and focus groups. But to really understand your users and the challenges they face, the best way is to spend “a day in the life” of a customer. Act, behave, and decide like one of your users. Use the tools that your users would use, perform the activities and make decisions like they would. This way, you can directly experience what it looks like from your customers’ point of view, rather than being told by them during interviews.
This means, get out of the office and pretend to be one of your customers (or User Personas). Sign up for your tools or services and use them to solve your (Persona’s) problem. Sign up for your competitor’s. Try to break (figuratively) your product and then call customer service for support.
How is the overall experience? What’s working well and what could be improved? How does your product compare to the competitor’s? Is it solving your needs or is there something missing?
A day in the life of your customers can be an exciting way to see what your company offers from a different point of view. And why stop there? To build context for everyone on your team, invite your team members to do the same. Take turns, or do it in pairs. Your developers often lack direct understanding of the customers and make decisions based on their personal intuition. Invite them to spend a day in the customer’s life together with you. It will create tremendous context for everyone and open up opportunities for new ideas.
The author of “Lost and founder”, Rand Fishkin, took this idea to the next level. At that time, he was CEO of a company that provided analytics and data tools for online marketing. He contacted the CEO at one of his client companies and suggested a “life swap”: for a couple of weeks they would live each other’s life. They exchanged email passwords, houses, and offices. And they acted as the CEO of each other’s company. This sounds crazy, and it probably was. But it offered incredible insights about what happens on the court, rather than watching it from the stalls.
By doing this, Rand shared, he was able to see with his own eyes the work that his client company was doing and how it was using the tools that Rand’s company sold them. He also noticed that the client was often using competitors’ tools and discovered what was missing in his own product. By fully immersing himself in the client’s life he was able to develop extreme empathy. And this gave him a deeper understanding of his customers’ needs, and created new opportunities for innovative solutions.