I just read a really great article in Harvard Business Review by Steve Martin (not that Steve Martin) titled, Stop Listening to Your Customers. I got this from one of my colleagues here at Philips Laurens Massee via our internal social network.
The point is that people often report is that we’re not always very good at talking about causality of what we do or predicting whether we will do something in the future. From the article:
Not only are we pretty poor at recognizing what will influence our future behavior, we’re not that great at recognizing what persuaded us after the event either. In one well-known study conducted at a busy New York City subway station, after counting the percentage of commuters who donated to a street musician as they walked past him, researchers made one small change to the situation: Immediately before an approaching commuter reached the musician, another person (who was in on the act) would drop a few coins into the musician’s hat. The result? An eight-fold increase in donations. When interviewed afterwards, those who donated universally failed to attribute their actions to the fact they had seen someone else give money first, preferring instead to provide alternate (and incorrect) justification for their actions. “I liked the song he was playing”; “I’m a generous person”; and “I felt sorry for the guy.”
What I have to say is that
if all we do is ask & listen then we’re getting very poor data. Asking, especially survey work needs to be tempered and based on observation. Observation and getting people involved with actually buying, unpacking, and using our products and then asking them questions will yield yield much better data that can be used in powerful ways. This is not a quant vs. qual thing, it’s as my colleague Laurens says, the right tools for the right things.
In general organization have become over reliant on what is perceived to be cheap, easy to gather, often quantitative measures. This has to stop.
One last topic that we need to address is who does the studies. The article recommends small field trials. Who should conduct these? I suggest the use of outside agencies to help stage them and do recruiting as needed, but we actually conduct them by people inside the organizatoin, by someone who is on the team that will use the results, or someone trained to do them who is in-house who can then share them with the team. This way the knowledge of how to do them and the accumulated knowledge from study to study builds up inside the organization and not outside of it.
This is the power of both observing and asking. Doing just one or the other will not give you the best data.
What ration of observe to ask is appropriate though…. what do you think?