Adam Slawson is lead consultant at Fluxx for Good, one of our delivery partner businesses who provide support and expertise to those attending events such as our speed mentoring. Here he gives some top tips on how to understand your customers, what you’re actually selling and how to find the time to do this..!
‘I don’t have enough time,’ said most of the businesses Fluxx for Good speaks to. The most common themes we’ve noticed during our conversations are, people:
- don’t know enough about their customers (and often think they have only one type).
- aren’t aware of what they are actually offering — the importance of ‘value exchange’.
- haven’t considered the detail of the emotional journey their customers take.
Fluxx for Good helps companies with a social purpose to grow and move forward. Helping them change direction, pivot, think differently, transform, grow, whichever verb you’d like to use. In short, helping organisations gather evidence, in turn, gain the confidence to make (important) decisions.
The tools, exercises and processes which aid decision making have a crucial kicker — they will give you time back in your day too.
Each tool used individually will help develop your business. The real power comes from combining them. Doing so will maximise time to spend thinking about the direction of your business rather than getting bogged down doing your business.
Granted, there is an irony in suggesting more things to do to give you time back but the return on investment will be manifold.
The conclusion of the exercises will be:
- You’ll waste less time attracting the wrong customers.
- A list of how to make improvements to your service (so the customers you do attract will be happier).
- Plus a simple structure for your time/brain…and sanity.
Understanding your customer
The first question we often ask at the British Library is ‘Have you spoken to a customer to get feedback recently?’
<insert blank face> (not every time but — certainly more often than is advisable)
Customers hold a lot of information which is simple to gather, and when turned into insight is an essential aid in serving them better. If you don’t do this, your competition will — if they are not already. So, it’s important to define who your customers are — and who they are not.
Exercises & Tools:
- Interview customers. It needn’t be overwhelming, aim for ten in the first instance. Keep the questions open-ended, don’t ‘lead the witness’ — let them do most of the talking and if you can, video them (people often say one thing while their expression says quite another).
- Survey as many customers as you can — begin with your friends’ friends and their friends (via email and social media). Keep the questionnaire short and remember, no leading questions. We want honest answers.
- Customer (user) research tips from Fluxx.
Output: The industry term is Personas: Characters created from real insight. See an example below, online examples here and more detail of how to create one here.
Note: It’s likely you’ll have more than one customer persona e.g. people that buy from you (e.g. neutral navigator, frequent buyers, one-off buyers…), people that supply you, and so on. It important to also remember that your team are ‘customers’ of your business too — internal ones — if they aren’t happy, your customers are unlikely to be.
Value exchange (what you are actually selling?)
If you think you sell a product alone, you’re mistaken. You implicitly sell a range of value exchanges throughout the experience of your product, and in turn, service.
At the centre of the Business Model Canvas is value propositions — and there’s a reason it’s positioned there. It shows the exchange between what a customer wants/needs, and the service you offer (why a customer would hand over their hard-earned cash). It’s so important, it has its very own canvas. See below.
Exercises & Tools:
- Value proposition canvas — Start with the customer profile circle — think about what happens in your customers’ lives, what are they trying to achieve (not just in relation to your product — think wider)? Then do the other product (value map) square — in general, what could happen to make your customers lives easier? How then, can your business help with that?
- For more on this, see How to use the Value proposition canvas in more detail
Output: A deeper understanding of your customers and more detail of what you’re offering to make their lives better (and make you money).
The (emotional) Customer Journey
You have defined your customer(s), and you know more about what you are actually selling. The next step is to map out the journey each persona takes through your service. ‘You don’t sell a bed, you sell a good night’s sleep.’ It’s an old cliché, and it’s fundamentally true. While the product is of key importance, it’s the comfort and security the customer feels that ultimately makes the sale.
Sales only happen when there’s an emotional step change, for example:
I desire something > I gain confidence in your product > I’m convinced to purchase > I love using your product/service > I’m happy to purchase again (I tell all my friends how great it feels to use it).
A customer journey map is a timeline of value-exchange opportunities. The reason to map your customers’ journeys is to break down your service into bite-sized stages. Then you can look at how to enable improvements at each stage (your to-do list), and change each customer’s emotional response towards being happier. As you increase the chances of your customer wanting to progress from stage to stage, you ultimately improve their overall experience.
Exercises & Tools:
- With your team, map out the stages of your entire experience: think about a person who has never heard about your business (someone who’s ‘cold’) from initial contact (discovery), to point of purchase, after purchase care, through the service you provide, customer care, and beyond. What does your customer want/need/desire at each stage? Is it a positive or negative experience? How can your service enable an exceptional, frictionless service (make them ‘hot prospects’)?
Output: An even deeper understanding of your customers and a to-do list (enablers backlog) of service improvements.
Ask the next person you see about your product/service for some feedback and build from there. The above might sound like a lot but if you break it down it’s not. Keep the customer at the heart of your business and taking those steps will give you time back to spend on the growth of your company. If you discover you need to grow in a different direction exercises 1. and 2. can be used to sense check desirability (combined with experimenting, using a Minimum Viable Product method) before investing in making any, perhaps vital, changes.
Adding structure to your day to carve out even more time… To undertake your to-do list from all the work above, structuring your day will help.
Fluxx uses the Agile structure in our projects — because it works. It gives structure, allows for surprises and builds team communication. Lack of communication is the cause of a lot of problems in most businesses. Agile isn’t complicated, and you can read about the Agile manifesto here.
There are subtleties within Agile that, with an understanding of the basics, help. Any Agile aficionado will tell you, that understanding them in greater detail will serve you well. For the purposes of this article, we consider one important aspect of Agile, the meeting structure. It’s something which can be applied to a business with ease — after all a business is just a big project!
The structure is cyclical: one cycle is made up of a sprint, a sprint planning meeting, daily stand-ups, and a retrospective meeting — each is equally important and shouldn’t be overlooked. The bonus here is that these are the only doing meetings you need.
The diagram below shows how these cycles fit together, and also how this tool helps bring together the steps in this article. That’s because each cycle is fuelled from the doing backlog — the to-do list you created — but also a thinking backlog which would come from your strategic mission and vision plus the roadmap you’ve created to get there. If you don’t have those, they will be needed to be done first.
- A sprint is a set period of time work will happen in. It can vary according to your needs but they tend to be a week or two weeks (however for a small business a month might work well). Test and learn what is best for you.
- A sprint planning meeting happens once a sprint, at the end of one/start of the next. They last around thirty minutes and ‘do exactly what they say on the tin’. From the backlog(s), you plan what you’re going to commit to doing in the next sprint.
- A daily stand-up is a work-day meeting that happens each day. They help productivity and communication because people verbally commit to stuff and the team knows who’s doing what. They are quick, around fifteen minutes. The team literally stand-up around their to-do list (see KanBan board — Trello is a digital KanBan board. Although I’d recommend a physical one, mirrored, if necessary, by Trello). In Daily stand-ups each person, in turn, answers these three questions:
1. Yesterday I did…
2. Today I’m doing…
3. I have these blockers (things that are preventing me from doing what I need to do)…
How might this play out?
Over sprint cycles, as a team, you move your to-do-list /enablers backlog from to do, through doing, to done.
Note: In a daily stand up meeting don’t go into detail around points, have a brief clarifying chat, if more is required have the conversation afterwards. They are short for a reason (no-one likes meetings).
- A retrospective meeting happens directly before the Sprint planning meeting. Again about thirty minutes. Its job is to look back at how the last sprint went and to make things better. Its purpose is to encourage team communication and discuss what they think they should Drop (stop doing), Add, Keep doing, and Improve on, or DAKI for short.
Exercise & Tools:
Write your DAKI’s, in secret, on Post-Its (use one for each (and the same colour helps)). Once a team has exhausted their ideas group the Post Its, then openly discuss each one. The goal is for the amount of DAKI’s to reduce over time. Try it for four sprints, test and learn (that’s the point).
The last thing to add is a structure to know who’s doing what (to avoid duplication). A RACI matrix (the last acronym, promise) is a list showing what needs to be done operationally to keep your business afloat and who is Responsible (going to do it), Accountable (head’s on the line for it), Consulted (about it), Informed (about the outcome i.e. they don’t need to consult on it they just need to know the outcome).
Exercise & Tools:
Make the list of day-to-day operational tasks with your team vertically, list the team horizontally and put an R, A, C, I against each action. Discuss the overlaps (there will be some) and push for clarity — generally a single letter under each name for a given task (although a person can be R and A). Note: not everyone needs a letter, just means they aren’t involved in that task.
Talk to your team and suggest using this structure for four sprints. The trick is to do it enough until a habit is formed — ease and repetition are key to that. Share the responsibility of who drives the flow of the meetings each sprint. Remember it’s a structure to aid communication — to know who’s doing what- not the time to do the things. Keep the meetings as brief as possible — a habit will form and things will improve.