I’ve always been interested in how people differentiate “hearing” and “listening”. I remember one of my Japanese colleagues warning me to get a commitment to action from the multi-national team because saying “Yes” in Japan only meant “I heard you”. I’m guilty, too, of nodding and saying “Yes” occasionally when someone asks if I heard them.
Hearing is the mechanical process of sound waves entering our ears and being converted to electrical signals. The electrical signal that registers in our brain allows us to “hear” speech, music, and traffic noises. Animals also “hear” noises – my cat jumps a mile if you clap your hands during one of his many siestas!
Listening, on the other hand, is a qualitative and emotional response to the sounds we hear. Listening requires an analysis and understanding of the words, a commitment to action, and/or a witty conversational response. In new product development (NPD), we often refer to “listening to the voice of the customer” during upfront research. We do not say we only “hear” the customer. We say we “listen” to the customer – gathering the qualitative and emotional responses.
Gathering Customer Needs
Of course, in product development and product management, customer needs drive design and implementation. As product development professionals, we also know that customers are challenged to accurately describe their needs. It is often easier for a consumer to make a complaint or to offer platitudes than to specify needs and wants. Interestingly, the voice of the customer is more about multi-channel listening than hearing sounds.
What is multi-channel listing in product development? It is collecting data and information (the voice of customer, VOC) that reflects a customer’s needs and problems. “Listening” may include focus groups, observation, or journaling. In this case, listening includes all our senses, not just hearing.
Some creative ways to gather customer needs include shadowing, A/B testing, and journey mapping. Shadowing is a market research technique in which members of the product development team follow customers (or potential customers) while they conduct daily activities. This allows the NPD team to observe all aspects of product usage as well as pain points and competitor product advantages. Shadowing, like many VOC methods, can generate a lot of data. So, the NPD team should be prepared with an analysis and sorting method in advance.
A/B testing can be direct or indirect. Product designers test preference for one or another feature in the new product. Alternatively, one set of customers is tested for acceptance of Feature A and another set is tested for acceptance of Feature B. In this method, you will need to ensure the sample size is adequate for the expected data integrity.
Finally, customer journey maps (see last week’s post here) are a great way to connect the customers’ decisions and emotions with the steps taken to research, purchase, and use a new product. Some organizations structure business functions around the typical steps in the customer journey map. For example, a digital retailer organizes IT projects by webpage presentation (customer shopping), customer ordering domain, shipping, and returns.
Listening is tricky business and even more challenging when our customers cannot explain -in words – what they seek as new product features and benefits. We use market research and design thinking tools to listen to the “voice of the customer”. Our skills as product development professionals include multi-channel listening, meaning we must hear and observe our customers interacting with a variety of product solutions.
Join me on 9 May 2022 for our free monthly Product Development Lunch and Learn webinar. This month’s topic is 3 Creativity Tools and you can learn how to better “listen” for customer needs. REGISTER HERE.
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