How To Really Get to Know Your Customer

It’s not enough just to provide for carpet time – you must work at it to make it effective. Simply spending time with customers alone won’t do the trick.

Regardless of what kind of “carpet time” you choose to engage in, there are some guiding principles I suggest to keep in mind. You may recognize these principles as similar to those found in almost any general treatment of interpersonal relationships. That’s not coincidence, because learning what customers think, feel and do with your products is a matter of getting close to their thoughts and feelings. Anyway, here’s a short list:

Have an open mind. Most people have a natural bias towards thinking they’re right, and thinking that their products are right for their customers. That bias and the cognitive dissonance that can surround it can cause you to miss important signals from the customer. If you find yourself feeling “angry” that a customer “dissed” your product, or simply doesn’t “get it,” get over it. You must open up to their feelings and their responses.

Stop, look, and listen. It seems pretty basic, but I find over and over again that people don’t really listen when they are in the face of a customer, or they listen for what they want to see or hear, not what’s actually happening or being said. Also, practice active listening, that is, ask good, supportive questions to try to get the customer to disclose more in a non-threatening way.

Be perceptive. Don’t just listen, but also watch for nuance, body language, signs of comfort or discomfort. Try to discern whether the customer is or isn’t really having a positive experience. It’s usually not hard to tell.

Be empathetic. This follows the “open mind” point closely. Learn to see, feel, touch, hear the customer experience from their side of the fence, from their end of the phone, etc. Obviously, someone missed out on this notion – if they did carpet time at all – when setting up the Internet service provider experience I shared above.

Aside from these behavioral tenets with carpet time, it is also essential that you focus on the whole product experience. Get as much observation as you can about the complete experience, from initial brand noise and first touch all the way through disposing of the product, walking out the door, hanging up the phone, and so forth. Think about important elements peripheral to the product itself – instructions, documentation, packaging, service, cleanliness, appearance, ambience, and so forth.

Also, employ your carpet time to not only find “baseline” expectations, but also what creates delight or surprise with your customers. Find the unexpected benefits and the little snags. Sweat the small stuff – don’t just focus on the dominant elements of the product or service but also the little things like unpacking time for a product or wait time for a service call or even the manners and positive attitudes of the people involved. Finally, measure what you can, but realize that most of what you observe probably isn’t measurable. Don’t ignore something just because you can’t measure it – and don’t go to contortions to measure everything.