Observing (and listening to) your customer is a technique to personally witness facts and realities by stepping in your customer’s shoes. It helps you to understand what your customers do while using your product or service, but also when it isn’t used. You can learn through their actions, instead of their opinions.
Observing customers in their own environment helps to understand how they behave.
What do they do? Do they engage in any specific activities?
Do they act as they have said they would in for example a focus group?
Do you see emotions? What about body language?
Do they deviate from intended use? Which workarounds do they use?
How much time do they spend on a specific action?
It is important not to influence your customers during your observation. You want to have a good look of what is happening and be invisible at the same time, so your customer will follow their standard routine.
The following steps will help you to observe your customers in the right way:
Identify your customer’s goal. What action/job needs to be done for this particular project? This will be the goal you will try to accomplish during the observation process.
Visit the location(s) where your customer would go. Explore the service yourself and try to experience it from your customer’s perspective. If it’s about a train ticket booking system: buy a ticket and go on a journey, or if it’s about a construction zone: try to drive a shovel yourself.
Capture all steps, thoughts and observations during your safari in notes and pictures. Also collect artifacts such as receipts, tickets, brochures or any other material you come across.
Come back together with the project team and discuss all insights. Gather the most important ones, for example in a customer journey map.
And some tips:
Take photos/videos of the environment, other customers and the problem, so you can review them later and share with others on your team.
When you’re at the location where your customer is, take advantage. Take time to observe other customers’ behaviour and ask them questions about their experience.
Look for the ordinary, not the extraordinary, but do note the things that surprise you. Identify the details of the ordinary event, things that were never noticed or thought about before. You may see people finding ways to get around a problem or pain point they have.
Only record what you see and hear. Don’t start analysing what you think is going on, as you will certainly miss something.
Be patient, as people often change behaviour when being watched. At least at the start. Give them a chance to relax and feel comfortable with being observed.