Get Back Out There

By John Mitchell

Last month marked three years since the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world. Overnight, innovators worldwide confronted a new reality of physical separation from customers. One of our best sources of insight, visiting customers and watching them experience the problems our products must solve, was totally closed to us. To stay in touch with customer needs, phone-based interviews replaced one-on-one meetings, and mobile ethnography replaced on-site contextual observation. We adapted and for the most part, overcame a huge challenge and kept innovating.  

Now, with the worst of the pandemic behind us and life close to normal in most, but not all, places, perhaps it’s a good time to resume gathering customer insights right at the source. In other words, it’s time to get back out there. If you are considering returning to the field, that’s great! Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • First, not everywhere is completely open to visitors. Some companies and institutions, especially in healthcare, continue to restrict outsiders from their sites. Policies and personal preferences may mean that a customer you visited before March 2020 might refuse you today. Meanwhile, customers that do allow visitors may insist on added precautions, including mandatory vaccination and mask usage while on site. Expectations vary by industry, by region, and by individual. Whether you are a guest in a place of business or someone’s home, be sure to understand and follow your host’s rules. 

  • Second, the pandemic has changed where and when people work. While in the past you could count on a customer working onsite most days during typical business hours, in the “new normal,” many work onsite only when necessary and often with a flexible schedule. When planning a visit, make sure the people you want to meet are going to be there, and even then, be ready to accommodate a last-minute adjustment to accommodate a remote participant. Keep in mind that if meeting with you means a customer must commute when they otherwise might work remotely, make sure you’re well prepared so it’s worth their while.

  • Third, your skills must be up to the challenge. If you have never done on-site, in-person research before, you may be surprised to learn it requires more than just showing up and asking questions. (And if you’re just returning to in-person research after a three-year hiatus, you might be a little rusty.) Make sure you have a structured approach for who to visit, what to observe, how to ask good questions, how to collect data, and how to analyze your findings. Preparation and planning make the difference between so-so research and research that illuminates actionable insights that drive innovation in products and customer experiences. 

If you’re ready to get back out there, we can help. Applied Marketing Science (AMS) offers a suite of training and capability-building services to enhance your core Voice of the Customer skills in customer interviewing and observational research as well as consulting to help you execute a successful project. Workshops can be delivered on-site or virtually. Build your team's insights capabilities with interactive training and coaching from AMS's expert consultants. Learn More

Refresh your knowledge of VOC, customer needs, and customer interviewing with these related resources: 

Tags: Insights Training , Consumer Products , Ethnography , Voice of the Customer , John Mitchell

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