This is long conversation and likely to be of interest to those of you who have experienced the limitations of knowledge as it is commonly understood. It may also be of interest to you if you glimpsed the radical difference between knowing and knowing about. If this is not you, then please go do something else.
How Useful Is The Knowledge Gained Through Market Research?
There is a huge industry that caters to the needs of business folks (often those in the marketing function) to know their customers or their target audience/market. I am speaking of the market research industry: qualitative (focus groups etc), quantitative (surveys), and a mix of each. In recent years, a new breed of player has entered this industry: the Voice of the Customer industry with its many technology solutions providers focussed almost exclusively on feedback through surveys. How useful is this research? What are its limits? What can you really know about your customer/s through this kind of knowing?
What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Short Answer
There is one well know market research organisation that sells and ‘supplies’ market research to many big brands who are keen to know their customers. This organisation knows it stuff: market research. Given this one would assume that the folks in this organisation would know all they need to know about their customers – those who commission the research (on their customers and target markets). What is actually the case?
One of the growth challenges, of this marketing research organisation, is a lack of understanding, knowledge, of its customers. How can this be? This organisation has an army of professional market researchers, an array of market research technologies, a broad range of tools that it uses every day; and history/track record of conducting all kinds of research.
Clearly, market research, that this organisations does and sells, does not provide the kind of knowing that it is seeking of its own customers. So the short answer is it takes more than market research whether through focus groups or surveys. Whilst this kind of knowledge may be interesting, even somewhat useful, it is not sufficient.
What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Long Answer
To answer this question it is necessary to clearly understand-distinguish between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing about’. Once you get this distinction you get why it is that the market research companies has no real understanding of its customers. You will also get why it is that most advice given by sales gurus to sales reps is useless.
Should you use your valuable time to master this distinction? Let me put it this way, I say, mastering this distinction is one of the most important distinctions, if not the most important, distinction to master for effective living. Once you master this distinction you can focus on what really generates knowledge. And you will no longer need to be bewitched and misled by the many academic articles, business books, guru, advisors and consultant. You may even see that this stuff is worse than useless, it is dangerous!
What distinguishes ‘knowing’ from ‘knowing about’?
I invite you to read the following passage with someone who has grappled with this question not theoretically but through lived experience:
When I was working on the Meaning of Anxiety, I spent a year and a half in bed in a tuberculosis sanatorium. I had a great deal of time to ponder the meaning of anxiety – and plenty of first hand data on myself and my fellow anxious patients. In the course of time I studied two books ….: one by Freud, The Problem of Anxiety, and the other by Kierkegaard, TheConcept of Anxiety.
I valued highly Freud’s formulations …… But these were still theories. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, described anxiety as the struggle as the living being with nonbeing which I could immediately experience in my struggle with death or the prospect of being a lifelong invalid……
What powerfully struck me then was that Kierkegaard was writing about exactly what my fellow patients and I were going through. Freud was not..… Kierkegaard was portraying what is immediately experienced by human beings in crisis….. Freud was writing on the technical level, where his genius was supreme ….. he knew about anxiety. Kierkegaard, a genius of a different order, was writing on the existential, ontological level; he knew anxiety.
- Rollo May, The Discovery Of Being
Have you gotten the distinction? Kierkegaard knew anxiety in the only way that generates knowing: through experiencing it, living it, being anxious. Freud, knew about anxiety.
Failing to distinguish ‘knowing about’ from ‘knowing’ compromises effective action and generates unintended outcomes
Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine that I can get a bunch of data about you: name, address, age, marital status, number of children, job, income, what you spend your money on, where you spend your time, your height, your weight, colour of your eyes…… Clearly I know about you. And I might get to thinking that I know you. Do I? Do I really know you as a living-breathing human being?
Before you answer that question, I ask you read and truly get present to the profound insight that is being communicated in the following passage:
The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus 9 spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being – an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman.
The only way to count the spines of the sierra unaffected by this second relational reality is to sit in a laboratory, open an evil smelling jar, remove a still colourless fish from the formalin solution, count the spines, and write the truth…… There you have recorded a reality which cannot be assailed – probably the least important reality concerning the fish or yourself.
It is good to know what you are doing. The man with his pickled fish has set down one truth and recorded in his experience many lies. The fish is not that colour, that texture, that dead, nor does he smell that way“
- Steinbeck and Ricketts, 1971, pp 3-3
Life occurs in the arena, is dynamic, is ALWAYS relational, and every observation and ‘lesson’ is context specific. Knowing occurs in the arena. Genuine, deep, insightful knowing occurs in and amongst those who spend sufficient time playing full out in the arena to transcend discrete objects-events and experience-see relationships, patterns and the deeper structures that generate the patterns and thus the events.
Most of what is spoken, written about and passes for knowledge in Western society is that which can be observed, relatively painlessly, by sitting in the stands observing what appears to be going on (as viewed by the observer with his particular ‘line of sight’) in the arena: knowing about. It is ok for non-relational objects. It is ok for abstract concepts. It is ok for that which is static. It is totally insufficient when it comes to the living: the individual, the social system, life in its fullest expression.
You can never know a human being (customer, employee) through focus groups or surveys. To know a human being you/i must walk in the shoes of that human being and experience situations, people, encounters as s/he experiences them. And this is not as easy as it sounds. Even when you walk in someone’s shoes it is useful to be aware that it is your feet doing the walking. Which means that to get an appreciation for how the other experiences ‘walking in his/her shoes’ you need to have the genuine openness-willingness-curiousity-patience to walk with the other for long enough to get a feel for the others feet such that you arrive at a place where you can walk in the others shoes.
I leave you with the following quotes:
There are certain things you can only know by creating them for yourself
- Werner Erhard
That which really matters in human life can only be known through lived experience; this knowing can rarely be communicated to those who have not created this knowing for themselves through lived experience.
- maz iqbal
Make it a great week. For my part, I find it a joy to be sharing that which I share with you especially after a wonderful experiential vacation in beautiful Dubrovnik.
Tags: customer experience, customer insight, experiential knowledge, in the arena v from the stands, knowing, knowing about, knowing your customer, knowledge, limits of language, market research, relationship, the limits of data driven knowledge, Voice of the Customer
I was introduced into the ethos of service around the age of 6. I would arrive back from school in the afternoon and be welcomed back by my mother. She would ask me about my day whilst offering me tea and sandwiches. Once fed, she would hand me a box of sandwiches. She would tell me to go and feed our elderly neighbours and help them with their chores. And this is what I did every day. I visited my neighbours, I talked with them, I moved things around for them, I cleaned up a little, I went shopping for them. My initial reluctance and shyness gave way to relationship – I looked forward to visiting my neighbours and helping them out.
Why did my mother make sandwiches every day for our neighbours? Why did my mother insist that I take the sandwiches to our neighbours and help them with their chores? Whenever, I asked these questions my mother simply said something along these lines: they are our neighbours, they are old, they need our help, it is our duty to help our neighbours, that is what human beings do for one another, we care for one another, we help each other out.
It occurs to me that my mother would find most of the talk on customer service, customer engagement, customer loyalty, and customer-centricity empty. Empty of what? Empty of a genuine empathy. Empty of genuine of compassion. Empty of wholehearted care for our customers and our fellow human beings. Empty of love.
It occurs to me that love lies at the heart of great service – the kind of service that generates empathic connections, heartfelt gratitude, and loyalty on both sides. Love of working for an organisation that pursues a life affirming purpose. Love of one’s role in that organisational purpose. Love of one’s colleagues. Love of the customer as a fellow human being. It occurs to me that love is the difference that makes a difference.
I leave you with the following passage from Miguel De Unamuno, it is my gift of love to you on this beautiful day:
Here you have a shoemaker who lives by making shoes, and makes them with just enough care and attention to keep his clientele together without losing custom.
Another shoemaker lives on a somewhat higher spiritual plane, for he has a proper love for his work, and out of pride or a sense of honor strives for the reputation of being the best shoemaker in the town or in the kingdom, even though this reputation brings him no increase of custom or profit, but only renown and prestige.
But there is a still higher degree of moral perfection in this business of shoemaking, and that is for the shoemaker to aspire to become for his fellow-townsmen the one and only shoemaker, indispensable and irreplaceable, the shoemaker who looks after their footgear so well that they will feel a definite loss when he dies—when he is “dead to them” not merely “dead”—and they will feel that he ought not to have died. And this will result from the fact that in working for them he was anxious to spare them any discomfort and to make sure that it should not be any preoccupation with their feet that should prevent them from being at leisure to contemplate the higher truths; he shod them for the love of them and for the love of God in them—he shod them religiously.
What is the most important question that one needs to grapple with when it comes to customers and the customer-centric orientation? Is it:
- how do we calculate customer lifetime value?
- how do we get the right offer out to the right customer at the right time?
- do we get just the basics right or do we deliver a wow experience?
- should we be using social channels to message or provide customer service?
- do we need a Chief Customer Officer to own the customer and advocate on his behalf?
- how do reduce/manage the costs of customer service through channel shift?
- how do we show an ROI from Customer Experience?
- how do we make the omnichannel stuff work?
- how do we get customers to stick around and do business with us longer?
- should we focus on taking care of customers or our shareholders?
I say that it is none of these. It occurs to me that the most important question is radically different. If you want to know what that question is then I urge you to watch the following video:
It occurs that if we all lived this question, then collectively we would build amazing relationships, amazing products, amazing organisations. And we would transform the quality of our lives and the world that we live in.
What is the question? It is the question that is fundamental to generating relationships, loyalty, and joy in the world. It is the question, if lived by us, generates a wonderful world for all of us. It is first and foremost a social question. What is that question? It is so simple that it took a 12 year old to pose and live even in her dying days:
How can we help them?
- Jessie Joy Rees
How far can you get in cultivating enduring customer relationships, delightful customer experiences, and ‘employee engagement’ without empathy?
What kind of world shows up when we put aside empathy? What kind of world shows up when we put aside kindness? The kind of world that arose as a direct result of the ‘age of machines’ – of the Industrial Revolution. When our way of life is centred on and around machines, we worship machines, and we go about life asking and expecting one another to be-act like machines. We have become great at showing up in the world as machines. And as result we have lost sight of kindness, generosity, empathy.
Why do I bring this up? Because it occurs to me that our age is calling out for empathy, for kindness, for the injection of the human back into business and our way of life. Also because, you cannot get far in cultivating meaningful relationships with customers nor designing customer experiences that delight customers, nor generating ‘employee engagement’ without grappling with these topics. Look you and I can make the world accessible, convenient, hassle free and fast. And, if such a world is missing kindness, generosity, empathy, friendship and love then it is a world that is not fit for human beings.
Empathy is central to customer experience, customer-centricity, and employee engagement
With this context I share with you the following video that was brought to my attention by LinkedIn where Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO shared it:
If this video speaks to you, if it stimulates your interest in empathy then I invite you to take a look at the following posts:
Is kindness born of empathy fundamental to cultivating customer loyalty and employee engagement?
I say it is. What kind of kindness am I speaking about? I am speaking what Werner Erhard refers to as “ruthless compassion”. If you want to dig into this a little more then check out this talk.
I want to leave you with a quote of a hero of mine, Albert Schweitzer:
Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.
A Final Word
I am putting together a course on communication-empathy-relationship. And there is one slide that I wish to share with you:
It occurs to me that we, the folks in the world of business, are blind to relationship, relationships, experience, and engagement. It occurs to me that we just don’t get it! Let’s start with relationships and work our way through to relationship (no there is no typo here).
Customer Relationship Management
Whilst we talk about relationships, sometime a lot, in business it occurs to me that we don’t get relationships. That was the whole issue with CRM and still is. Within the context of CRM, R stood for let’s put in technology that makes me more powerful and allows me to control you. That is still what relationship stands for! It take a genuine connection with our own humanity, our feelings, our existence to get relationships. If you haven’t seen this TED video then I invite you to listen to it. Enjoy!
Customer Experience and Customer Engagement
Now the talk has moved on. It is no longer cool to talk about customer relationships. Now the talk is of customer experience and customer engagement. And, who is doing the talking? The same people who didn’t and don’t get relationships. And they are equally ignorant of experience and engagement. Are you up for getting to get what experience is for human beings? Are you up for getting what engagement is for human beings? Are you up for getting the experience of relationship? Then I offer you this video – please see it through the end:
Relationship: life itself is relationship
Are the soil, the plant, the sun, the rain, the bee separate? Of course they are! Our language tells us that they are. But is that really the case? Can we treat these separately doing what we want without consideration of the bigger picture?
Of course, we cannot. They exist in relationship! What happens when we take out bees as we are doing right now? Who pollinates? Without pollination what happens to the plants? And when the plants that require pollination by bees collapse? What happens to us? All that is, is in relationship. That is the central point of ecology, of systems thinking. Get it?
The “I” is an illusion, a very persuasive one, yet nonetheless an illusion. You don’t believe me? Please allow me to put you in a vacuum and then I want you to tell me that you are an “I”. We exist in relationship. All there is, is relationship. Yet, we are not mindful of this especially when it comes to the world of business. And so I leave you with the following infographic on climate change created by: LearnStuff.com. Why? Because climate change (like our feelings) is an indicator of the health of relationship of life itself: