Customer Understanding is Essential for Every Role

What do Lean Startup and Design Thinking have in common?   To me, both of these approaches are deeply focused on customer understanding, but they hide that fact at the surface level with their names.  This makes them more appealing to folks that aren’t in roles that traditionally have lots of customer interaction.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

When you say Lean Startup, many immediately think about MVPs-Minimum Viable Products.   For developers, that is often the focus.   But, as I’ve blogged about before ,  the essential element of Lean Startup is how those MVPs get created–by getting out and talking to customers and putting them at the center.   Design thinking is very similar—using things like empathy maps, customer observation, and more to provide a path to better products.

Recently, I was working on some research that we’ve published for the traditional Gartner audience, CIOs and IT leaders.  The research was geared toward the increasing trend of companies that aren’t typically thought of as tech companies introducing tech-enabled products and services.  The research, “ Deep Customer Understanding Is Critical for Successful Digital Business Innovations “, is available now for clients.  It seeks to put the idea of customer understanding on the forefront rather than the background.

As we were developing this and working through our peer review process, some of my colleagues were concerned that the target audience would not care about some of the ideas–viewing customer knowledge as the domain of sales and/or marketing.   We made some refinements to it as a result, but stuck with the premise—if you are going to be involved in the creation or support of products that are made available to external parties, you have to personally embrace the need for customer understanding.

In fact, this could apply to any role that directly or indirectly supports the customer.  By understanding your customer deeply, you are better able to anticipate needs, create solutions that matter, and display empathy throughout the process.

Sure, some teams may have more formal tools for collecting and managing customer information, but today, customer understanding is the responsibility of everyone.   We can create terms that hide this to some extent, partially because the customer element is one part of a bigger concept, but also because they help people become more willing to embrace the challenge of customer understanding vs. pushing it off because it is “someone else’s job.”

And that is a good thing.

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