We hear consistent feedback from our clients that one of the most valuable services we offer is getting them face-to-face with their customers in the environments where they live, work and play via what we call “ride-alongs” during our ethnographic interviews.
It can be far too easy to rely solely on customer data and analytics to understand and predict their behavior. Quantitative data has its place – but walking in your customers’ shoes in a meaningful way? We believe that’s a game changer in terms of emotional experience and empathy-building that you’ll never find in a spreadsheet!
Getting our clients out of the office and immersing them in their customers' world is critical because it provides individuals from multiple disciplines (e.g., marketing, design) the opportunity to internalize their customers' experiences in their own way. This is key when it comes to socializing the customer perspective and changing mindsets during later stages of our process because stakeholders will have seen and heard the same things that we have.
Having stakeholders from multiple departments present during interviews, however, can also present one of the biggest challenges of in-depth contextual interviews – getting each stakeholder to widen their gaze and see the bigger picture beyond what matters most to them and their team’s goals.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one… there's an old parable about blind men and an elephant that we often reference that illustrates this well.
The earliest versions are found in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain texts, and they discuss the limits of perception and the importance of complete context. The parable has several Indian variations, but broadly goes like this:
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: "We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable". So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it.
In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said "This being is like a thick snake". For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said, "elephant is a wall". Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.
During contextual interviews, it’s easy (and natural!) for stakeholders from different disciplines to observe only what matters most to them. Executives will focus on one aspect, marketing will focus on another. Design sees one thing, engineering sees something different. They may become disparate vantage points, while the most meaningful insights are in fact assembled from multiple vantage points coming together to form something larger and more meaningful – not just the tusk or the ear, but the whole elephant.
We overcome this challenge by grounding these points in the voice of the customer, ensuring we capture every angle of the customer story to foster alignment. To serve this end, we generate transcripts for every interview. Transcripts enable us to slow the conversation down.
Following each interview, we break each customer story down, identifying every fact and feeling, and rigorously organizing it in an actionable framework. Much like the process of archaeology, we unpack the disparate pieces that were dug up and reassemble multiple skeletons piece by piece. And there are no bones left behind, nothing left to chance, because we have the transcripts. Following this rigorous process enables us to deliver the big picture. It’s a labor of love, to be sure, but it enables us to foster alignment among internal client stakeholders, which is invaluable in this age of the customer.
Bigger picture in hand, we accelerate our clients’ understanding of the challenges their customers face and identify new opportunity spaces for disruptive solutions. We map how the challenges all fit together, and track how decisions made in one area of the customer experience could potentially cause issues elsewhere. Transcripts are vehicles to capture what matters most to everyone involved and get teams on the same path to innovation.