I love listening to NPR in the morning. Without fail, there's an MBM connection that screams out at me. Last weekend, it was customer focus.
An NPR reporter stumbled upon "a special suit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab…. meant to help 20-something engineers feel the aches and limitations of an average 75-year-old so they can design better products for them." [Read or listen to the story here.]
Talk about putting yourself in another's shoes. I thought it was fascinating to what extent this group was willing to go to find out what their customers experienced and valued.
Here's how it worked:
"I pull a harness around my waist and Puleo starts attaching things to it. First, stretchy rubber bands connect from my waist to the bottom of my feet.
"'It will limit your hip flexion,' Puleo explains.
"Finally, Puleo fits me into a hard hat and attaches yet more things to that. And that's when this all starts to feel like a bad idea. It has become work simply to stand up straight…. More stretchy bands restrict my arm movements. There are knee pads and Velcro wrist braces; rubber gloves to lessen sensation in my fingers; yellow goggles to limit my depth perception. Everything on the suit is carefully calibrated to mimic the loss of function that happens as we age."
The group has fitted a handful of grad students with these comical-looking suits and sent them out grocery shopping for what a typical senior might buy.
"'What we found,' she says, 'was a lot of the low-sugar, low-sodium items were either at the top of the shelf or the bottom of the shelf — not in a place where an older adult would have the easiest time locating.'"
This got me thinking about what I haven't been doing with my projects and customers lately. Have I asked my internal customers what I could be doing better? Have I spent time just hanging around and observing to get a better sense of their day and needs? Have I made an effort to walk a mile in their shoes?
More often than not, the answer is 'no.' Or, at least, 'not enough.'
Here's my challenge to you: do one thing this week–take 2 minutes to write it down right now–to better understand your customer. Give them a call, hang out around their coffee machine, check out their FaceBook pages, etc. I think we'll be surprised at what a few minutes of customer focus–one of the Guiding Principles–can yield.
Let us know how it goes!
[p.s. This restrictive suit reminds me of the new short film coming out that Ann posted about recently. The movie 2081, based on a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, explores a society where total equality has been reached by placing weights on the strongest and masks on the most beautiful. With the suit described above, of course, the intentions are much more pleasant.]