The Challenges with Conducting Customer Discovery
Updated: Jul 10
Arguably, the most challenging fragment of the customer discovery process is the task of arduously collecting information during customer interviews. These interview sessions are designed to gain a human perspective on the actual problems faced by customers, and ultimately, to filter them into meaningful insights that inform the product management process. So the importance of this step cannot be overstated.
Customer Interviews: The Manual Process
The act of transcribing meaning from customer conversations is both time-consuming and effort-intensive. Even the most diligent note-takers can miss nuances in a conversation. Learning from your customers seems simple, but in practice, the waters are muddied by bias and overlooking valid details.
Alexander Cowan puts it best: “you need natural behaviour for quality observational learning”.
Trivial as it may seem, it’s not always easy to take a back seat and let the customer topple your product with disparate opinions. However, that is what customer discovery is all about; drilling down to the core of your design for problems, in an attempt to learn and develop better products.
Exposing the Flaws in Your Logic
While unwise, it is a lot easier to build and launch a product into an unknown market and hope for the best. The reason many companies fail to incorporate customer discovery into their planning is that it may mean exposure to a truth no one is willing to hear about a product that has already been internally vetted. No matter how established your business and cultivated your brand, new products will always run the risk of failure if research isn’t properly carried out.
Cognitive bias represents our innate desire to see the world as we are, and not the way it is. This means we aren’t always objective, and will often seek out information that confirms our beliefs, whilst neglecting any information that challenges them. Therefore, a potential risk with assembling information from interviews is that we hear what we want to, and look to confirm our ideas instead of testing them.
The Case of the Yellow Walkman
A fitting example on the art of talking to your customers is the famous little anecdote about Sony’s Yellow Walkman. This cautionary tale often circulates product design spaces because it perfectly sums up the challenges faced when conducting market research.
In brief, market researchers at Sony decide to test the new yellow Walkman out on the street and arrange a sample group of potential customers. When asked whether the bold new Walkman was something they would buy, the group as a whole contributed highly positive feedback. In a stroke of fortune, a member of the Sony team suggests that each participant will receive a Walkman as thanks. So on a table are two piles, the sleek black flagship Walkman, and the new yellow option.
Despite the positive sentiment, each person went with the black Walkman. So what exactly went wrong?
The information collected was essentially nullified because true behaviours were subsequently exposed, and they differed from the initial reactions. In short, people lie. This is especially true when they are being prompted to, or when placed in a group setting. It’s always harder to dissent in a crowd. The major takeaway from this story is that you need natural behaviour for customer discovery to yield useful insights.
Depending on how you frame it, maneuvering the scenario above is both a challenge to overcome when manually conducting customer discovery, but it is also an argument for the move towards customer discovery over the old feedback mechanisms.
Solving the Problem
Looking forward, the answer to some of the pain points experienced during customer discovery will be mitigated with the help of automation. Voyc is designed to help teams unpack qualitative research and generate expert insights faster.
Explore our features to learn why we’re the world’s smartest customer discovery platform.