Lee Carter on the Value of Direct Observation of Your Customers

A Q&A with Lee Carter where we explore the value of direct observation of customer environments to complement customer interviews. Lee shares details of a project he worked on where direct observation provided a valuable complement to a basic product specification.

Q: You are a strong advocate for the going onsite to be able to see the customer’s environment and how they operate in it as a complement to customer interviews. Can you tell me a little more about your experience with direct observation?

A: Well, the short answer is that observation will give you insights that you won’t get from just interviewing someone.

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I can confirm that watching user over his shoulder is very valuable. Especially if user is inexperienced with your software and you don’t jump to help but watch him/her struggle. However I only did it once a decade ago. I don’t have users in my country and would find it awkward to ask for such visit anyway.

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One of the stories Lee shared was about watching his customers use a competitive offering to get a better understanding of what features they would need to offer to avoid being viewed as a “downgrade” or loss of functionality. It’s often very useful to understand how your customers are solving the problem or meeting their need using an existing alternative–and sometimes you can see things they would not share either because they assume you already know or they are not aware of it.