Putting the user at the centre of your business

Clients and users are the cornerstones of your organisation, that’s what we preach. But even though we might preach this, it doesn’t mean that it’s a globally rooted approach. We strongly believe that this needs to change if these companies want to continue to grow and survive in the long-term.

Customer centricity was an unusual concept back in the days when customers were still loyal to their local supermarket and Amazon was just an online bookstore. 

But times change and the reality nowadays is that clients are not married to a company or brand, nor to their products. They switch quickly from one brand to another to get a better offer elsewhere.

The hardest lesson we all learned these past years is: You do not own the client.

Venkat Ramaswamy (keynote speaker at our Human-Centred Design Summit of 2017) and founder of the co-creation principle stated it like this: 

“A fundamental shift is underway that will change how we conceive value. In an era of increasing interconnectedness, individuals, as opposed to institutions, stand at the centre of value creation.. To adapt to this tectonic shift, organisations can no longer unilaterally devise products and services. ”

Peter Drucker already stated earlier: “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.”

Ethnographic research

I can already hear you thinking: but we already put our customer first, we have call centres to deal with our customers’ queries, we do market research, we organise focus groups, we do surveys, we create customer journeys, we even do some usability tests on digital applications! And that’s a great way to start. But we need to see the broader picture.

Creating products and services that are relevant, meaningful and successful requires a specific and more in-depth approach. This approach takes you into the world of your user. Ethnographic research is educational and very inspiring. It helps you discover latent needs by mapping the whole environment of the user, not only focusing on attributes and functional features. Based on experience, we all too often see that companies still focus too hard on checking their hypotheses and are only interested in finding out the answer to their questions which is rather a blinkered approach. People are however a lot more complex than what a simple marketing question implies. A user has more needs than just functional ones. If you match their values, your product will gain such an emotional advantage that it will lead to a greater impact on a positive customer experience. That is the power of ethnographic research.

Different cases prove how powerful innovations are when they are based on real user input. Think about Gillette when they created the Gillette Guard for the Indian market. There are many other examples like this: P&G, Porsche, Disney, …

Why ethnographic research? According to John le Carr: “Because a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” Behind your desk you cannot gain empathy for your user.

When you perform ethnographic research there where your user is living and using your products, you will gain valuable insights about their conscious and unconscious behaviour, their rational and irrational emotions and about their past and present. By doing so, you’ll develop empathy for them, you will learn to understand them and perceive and feel things as they do.

Centralising the user, always and everywhere

But you don’t only need to include your user at the beginning of an innovation project. To benefit maximally from their input, they need to be included throughout the whole process. Co-creating solutions and testing concepts, prototypes, putting the user around the table with designers, developers and marketeers, that is the core of a customer-centred business.

If a company states that they are customer-centred, they need to know that this is not a one-off exercise. You do not gain muscles from going to the gym once, neither do you change a habit because you tried something else once.

Being customer-centric needs to be stimulated top down and rooted in the mission and KPI’s of the organization. It needs to trickle into every cell of the organization. Centralising the customer breaks silos, it needs to become the mantra of the organization which connects employees across departments, it gives them one goal: offering the user the best possible solution.

Make the difference

The value of user research is more than the input for new or improved products and services. It gives deep insights into the ecosystem of your user: which stakeholder is important to get your products to the market? It’s a great source for marketing, communication, distribution and even new business models.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple says: “Most business models have been focused on self-interest instead of user experience.”

And who are we to doubt that?

Apple doesn’t ask its users what they want. They observe, analyse and then put all these learnings into a blender to gain ideas out of alternate worlds, create prototypes and test and test until they are satisfied, they launch them with a great touch of marketing which plays on the emotions of users.

But we don’t need to go to the Silicon Valley to learn all of this. We also know that if you can live up to expectations, and even beyond, you get happy customers. Happy customers equals happy employees and happy employees, built on a financially healthy organization.

Ethnographic research gives you insights which inspire and trigger creativity, it offers many opportunities and new ideas to your company.