Imagine this scenario for a moment: The product team works feverishly to deliver some new feature or new product offering. They eat dinner together during late night working sessions; they work weekends; they meet their deadlines. They’re the heroes of the office.
When launch time comes, everyone celebrates: “It’s live! We’ve done it!”
The only the problem is, nobody has asked the most important question: “Do our customers even want what we’re building?”
After launch, the company finds that new users are stagnating. The customer support queue is silent. Customers don’t find it valuable. It’s not well-received. Sound familiar?
At KREE, we call this the “Expensive Oops!”
How do I build what my customers truly want?
Henry Ford is attributed with saying, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” This sentiment leads to what I call the “Faster Horse Paradox.” If you are creating a new market category (like the automobile), it’s possible that your customers don’t really know what they want. So the more you ask your customers what they want, the more you may feel obligated to build a more robust spreadsheet, or a faster horse, or a better app.
”Creativity thinks up new things. Innovation does new things.”Dr. Theodore Levitt, Marketing for Business Growth
But how can you deliver to your customers what they truly find valuable without asking them? You don’t want to end up like the dozens of companies who have experienced the “Expensive Oops!”
In Part 1 of our Customer Research series, we discussed the need to conduct “Customer Discovery” research, which is primarily focused on pinpointing the problems your customers face. The more you understand customer problems, the more you can innovate solutions that will benefit your customers. This leads us to our next type of customer research: Solution Validation.
The goal of “Customer Discovery” is to refine and regularly calibrate your customer intuition. The goal of “Solution Validation” is to present potential solutions to your customers and to determine their validity.
How to Validate Solutions with your Customers
After you have a solid grasp of what problems your customers face, take some time to draw up some potential solutions with the team. This could be in very basic wireframes using Balsamiq or Miro, fat marker sketches, or in a PowerPoint presentation. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever the format, make sure you spend enough time thinking about the problem and how this solution addresses the problem, and then get it out there to your customers quickly. Get feedback and iterate on it. Don’t spend too much time trying to get the perfect innovative idea. Many teams find themselves in analysis paralysis. Movement and iteration is key.
Solution Validation can be done in a few structured ways. It can be sent out via email to existing beta users. You can record a video demonstrating it on Loom.com or something similar and ask for your customers to respond in whatever format they choose. You can take screenshots and send it in a survey. You can schedule Zoom calls and get clear feedback in real time.
As you are conducing this Solution Validation research, here are a few tips:
- Establish context – Remind the user of the problems that have been described to you. Ensure that the user understands your overall goal in what problems you are trying to solve. Ensure that you have the right target customer.
- Create space for honesty – Find ways to ask questions that don’t make it uncomfortable for your customer to answer honestly. For example, rather than asking whether your customer thinks they would use this solution or not, consider asking, “How frequently do you think you would use this solution? Daily? Weekly? Monthly?” Find indirect questions to solicit direct answers.
- Accept feedback and iterate – One of the most exciting ways to engage customers is to quickly implement their feedback and review the changes with them once they’ve been made. Customers feel empowered and heard, and you gain their trust in the process.
- Incentivize for feedback (optional) – Find ways to incentivize your customers to give you feedback on these solutions. Offer them discounts on your product or early access. If you have the budget, consider giving them a reward of some kind. In the research we’ve conducted, we’ve found that our response rates increase up to 73% when a reward is offered to customers.
The outcome of solution validation research is to increase the odds of whether the solutions you are developing actually address the problems you’ve found.
Customer research takes too long
Customer research does take discipline and time. But it’s important to understand that it’s not so much a “measure twice, cut once” exercise as it is a “slow down to speed up” exercise. Yes, you conduct customer research so that you can “cut” more precisely. And you conduct customer research to make sure you are cutting down the right tree to begin with.
Customer research is a waste of time if you aren’t willing to pivot throughout the process.
If you think that Customer Discovery and Solution Validation are really just long design phases, you may be thinking about it wrong. These phases allow you to rapidly prototype solutions and come to a useful product sooner, reducing churn and burnout on the team. Ultimately, these activities prevent the “Expensive Oops!”