Woo! Another article brought to me by a connection on LinkedIn. Or, maybe it was LinkedIn’s own algorithm. Either way, the source is on point! This article is written by Sahar Hashemi (a LinkedIn Influencer, entrepreneur and author) – “Are They Customers or Aliens?
Hashemi writes how she started her companies Coffee Republic and Skinny Candy out of her own “selfish” needs. She took the approach to work backwards from a customer’s perspective and needs, and growing up to building a business. Indeed, this is a pretty common approach of many entrepreneurs – personal headaches. However, what she really hones in on in her article is the need for her own team to consistently put themselves in the shoes of the customers. Market research, focus groups, mystery shoppers, and other means can be expensive propositions. Only getting in the face, in a positive way, of customers did they learn. However, putting themselves in their customers’ positions was a key ingredient to Hashemi’s success.
Hashemi noted how once upon a time, her customers were viewed more as “market segments” rather than living, breathing people. Customers were “behavioural patterns” versus humans. This is where she realized the bridge to her customers had been lost.
Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes is not a novel idea, but sometimes, it’s a concept startups (okay, general companies) fail to employ. I’ve noticed this to great effect in many ways, and I believe some of the below can be good advice as you’re building your startup…
(Source: http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/business/2013/02/8512907643_3573889703_b1.jpg)
  • “Eating your own dogfood”. This is a term endeared to many where company employees from the top down (CEO to… everyone below) use the company’s product or service as means for testing. You can see this all the time like Google’s Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass everywhere prior to launch (yes, partly as marketing, too).
(Source: http://images.usatoday.com/life/_photos/2006/09/05/irwin-topper.jpg)
  • Observe like you’re on an episode of National Geographic. The late Steve Irwin and this crazy guy hugging lionstaught us to really understand the focus of our attention, we have to get out there in our subjects’ elements. Hashemi also noted that the key to understanding customer insight is to be out in the field observing customers, not behind a desk.
(Source: http://customerlensconsulting.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/j0431794.jpg)
  • Step into your Customers’ shoes. Hashemi’s article and the notion of a customer as an alien is funnily familiar to me. With Body Boss, none of us are Strength Coaches. We’ve had light experience training others, but that’s about it. Sadly, that was a big problem. When we started out, we originally built the app how we saw would be best. Watching our customers interact with it, though, we quickly learned we failed in building an app that engaged them appropriately – everything from look and feel, down to the how to track.
(Source: http://www.optimizebusinessgrowth.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/devlopmentpartners.jpg)
  • The importance of communicative customer-partners. I think I’ve said this before where I truly look at our customers at Body Boss as partners. This is because for our success, they must be successful, too. And to do that, you need that feedback loop from your partners on what they like and don’t like to make iterations. Not all customers will be the partners you’re looking for, but if you’re going to really reach a mass audience, you need to get buy-in from your customers to help you with iterations (be okay with some hiccups), and you should be able to reach out at some frequency that doesn’t make you a stalker.
I just want to hammer this home – even pretending to be your customers and using your product or service is a huge step towards building the right product/ service. In my prior life in consulting, putting myself as an audience member to a presentation made me think about how to perfect my slides. In Body Boss, it’s critical to pretend I’m a coach who may not be as tech savvy and with limited time to work with athletes. As such, design is so critical to get buy-in and engagement. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and eat your own dogfood. Your customers (and your company) will thank you for it.

What are your thoughts on the concept of dogfooding and looking at your product/ service through the lens of your customers? How else could you observe and get valuable feedback from customers? 
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