Shouldn’t You be Shadowing Your Customers? Whys, Whats and Hows for Success

Have you ever been shadowed?  Have you ever shadowed?  I am talking about customer shadowing of course and if you are not doing it, you might want to add it to your toolkit.

Imagine not only asking your customers what they want or need from you but also getting permission to watch your customers as they go through the functions for which you might be of service.

While most commonly used as a service or product design technique in the business-to-business space, customer shadowing has application in business-to-customer circumstances as well.

So here’s a 30,000 foot view on the whys, whats and hows of customer shadowing:

Customer shadowing is a process of naturalistic observation and inquiry that explores how your customers actually do their work – so  you can design service or product solutions that will make their work easier, problem free, or more productive

So how do you go about the process of shadowing – after you get permission to “shadow” your client?

  • In as unobtrusive manner as possible, observe the work processes that connect to the problem you will try to address for your client.
  • After making initial observations, begin to ask probing questions to understand the rational behind the way tasks are done.
  • Document observations.
  • Analyze findings to create an interface between your business and your customer’s needs so you can decrease your customers errors, effort, waste etc.

Let me give you one simple example to get you thinking.  Let’s assume the way you bill your clients hasn’t changed for 10 years and it seems to work fine for you.  Assume you now go out and shadow the payment processes of 3 of your key clients and determine that  your billing methods are cumbersome to all of them.  These shadowing observations will allow you to make key changes that are client-centric even though your clients have never asked you to change.

For the cynics out there who might say, “why would I want to put all that effort in to fix a process for my clients when they haven’t even complained that it’s broken,”  let me simply say you should definitely NOT try customer shadowing.  Instead, your focus should be rapid acquisition of new clients to make up for all those slowly churning out your back door.

For the rest of us, I ask who are you going to shadow today?

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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