As a product manager, you could be asked to visit customers to help close a sales deal or to trouble shoot a customer problem along with a technical support person. None of these visits can be considered as part of your effort to listen to the voice of the customer. This is because in either of these cases, you role is to overcome the customer’s objections to close the deal or to find workarounds to the problem faced by the customer. In both of these cases, you are not listening to the unmet need of the customer, you are trying to sell or get your product to work. You are the one who is doing the talking.
When you visit customers to listen to their voice, you should be listening and not talking. Human beings cannot do both of this at the same time (sales people may think otherwise !). When you are visiting customers to listen to them, your role is that of an explorer. You have to keep your eyes and ears open. Customers do not always tell you the whole story, not because they are withholding information, but in many cases sometimes they themselves do not recognize the pain points they have. It is up to you as an explorer, to ask the right questions and to get the customer to tell you their real problems (not solutions) that if solved would create a product differentiation for your product.
Whenever you start talking to users whether it is face-to-face or over the phone, first of all make them feel at ease. Users tend to be a) skeptical whether vendors trying to sell them something int the guise of a conversation and b) fearful of exposing their ignorance of the product you are talking to them about (you hear them say”may be I am doing something wrong” or “I am sure I am doing something it was not designed to do” and so on).
To make users feel at ease, do the following things at the start of the conversation
1) Tell them that you are not a sales person (ie. if you are not) and that you are not trying to sell them anything. You are trying to get their honest feedback about your products so that you can make it work better for them.
2) Tell them that you want to hear both the good and the bad news about the product. Hence, tell the customer not to sugar coat anything. You are not here to defend anything about your product but to make sure that you get honest feedback from them about your product. However, make sure that if the customer blames your company for some issue that is not under your control, do not ratify (you are hearing only one side of the issue), but acknowledge that you have noted down the issue and you will make sure it is brought to the attention of the right people in your company who can resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction.
3) Once the stage is set, start with some softball questions. Not everyone likes to talk especially about your product. So ask them to talk about what they know best – their business and their products. This prevents them from starting the discussion with a laundry list of enhancements, but at a much higher level. After all they are ONLY using their product to get better at their business. Hence this helps you to understand their business processes, how your product fits into their processes and then allows you to slowly move the conversation towards pain points, unmet needs and then gradually bringing the focus to your products.
I have used this technique over the last several years and I have found that it works very well to build the rapport with the customer.
I have been working with customers for the last 11 years in determining their unmet needs and then creating products/solutions to solve those unmet needs. Over these years, I have learnt a lot about how to do these customer interactions while I have made several mistakes. I have decided to share these tips via my blog by writing on one tip per day over the next several days.