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This article was originally published by B & T
By Zoe Aitken
August 23, 2019
Zoe Aitken is the head of consulting at innovation consultancy Inventium and has over 15 years’ experience helping organisations to be more customer-centric. In this guest post, Aitken offers top tips to ensure brands are at their customer-centric best…
The most innovative companies involve their customers from the very beginning of the innovation process. However, while many organisations might describe themselves as customer-centric, how they are engaging their customers is equally important. The wrong approach can lead to ‘phantom opportunities’ or worse yet, falsely validating early ideas.
To help improve the quality of your customer interactions, here are three common mistakes that organisations make and some simple strategies to overcome them.

They ask customers for solutions

Organisations often look to customers for solutions and ideas. They might ask questions such as “if we were to create the perfect product for you, what would it look like?” or “what should we do differently?”. Questions such as these lead to mediocre ideas, as customers typically focus their responses around existing products and services. This leads to “obvious” ideas or only incremental innovations.
To generate bigger and more disruptive ideas, shake up the type of questions that you ask customers. Ask questions that get to the customer’s underlying need.
Questions such as “if our service was no longer available, what would you use instead?” or “what other products do you use to satisfy the same need?”. These questions provide clues to the underlying customer problem and help you identify new solutions to better solve it. They open your thinking to a realm of possibilities that extend far beyond existing offers on the market.

They ask customers to predict the future

In traditional customer research, it is common to ask customers how they think they will behave in the future. “How likely are you to buy this?” or “would you use this?” are common questions. However, the simple truth is: customers do not know.
Humans are unpredictable creatures and what people say they will do is often very different to what they actually do. Scientists refer to this phenomenon as the ‘Intention Behaviour Gap’. Two-thirds of the time, humans behave differently to the way they intend. Therefore, customers’ responses to questions which ask them to predict future behaviour is patchy at best and should not guide important business decisions.
To feel more confident in your research results, adopt an ‘experimentation approach’. This involves measuring customers’ actual behaviour, rather than asking them how they intend to behave. Running cheap and quick experiments around your riskiest assumptions, is not only more time and cost effective, it is also far more dependable.

They segment customers by demographics

Many organisations review their sales data by customer demographics and then base important innovation decisions on certain data correlations. For example, the data might show that ‘Mums with young kids are more likely to buy XYZ’. From this, they might conclude that they need to speak with Mums with young kids to understand how to sell more of XYZ.
The problem with demographic segmentation is that these data correlations fail to get to the ‘why’. Simply because two things are correlated does not mean that one is responsible for the other. Adopting this approach risks limiting the size of the opportunity to a single demographic group. It could also lead you to completely missing the mark with your innovation solution.
In his book, Competing Against Luck, Professor Clayton Christensen says “to elevate innovation from hit-or-miss to predictable, you have to understand the underlying causal mechanism”. Christensen claims that you must understand the ‘why’ behind customer behaviour to be able to identify the optimum solution.
Therefore, avoid basing your innovation decisions on customer demographics data alone. Always try to get beneath the data to understand the underlying customer problem, which you might find presents an even greater opportunity for your business.