Field Notes: A Lesson in Customer Discovery

This morning I had a customer discovery interview…(I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but in short: I’m working on a new independent project and working with foodies all day)…ok, back to the blog post.

So, this morning I had a customer discovery interview with a small grocery owner for said project. During the interview, she asked me to describe the product that I was building. My description went something like this…”blah blah blah, streamline, blah blah computers, software, blah blah blah technology.” Yeah, I really didn’t say blah, but I truly believed that’s what she heard. Her previously friendly disposition and body language had now become agitated. This wasn’t the first time I experienced a negative reaction to my words when talking to my potential customers.

See my potential customers are food entrepreneurs. They spend most of their day making, selling, or producing food. The first time, I had a negative reaction to my “techie startup jargon” was when I told a farmer that I was going to “followup” with him by “email”. The farmer then responded by letting me know he’s a simple guy, and “things nowadays” are too complicated, and asked if I could just simply call him by telephone. This one of my first interviews and really didn’t think anything about it.

In a few later interviews, I also noticed non-ideal responses to some of my startup talk. But honestly, I didn’t have the ah-ha moment until this morning. In some of the cases, where I experienced this response, I noticed that the terms, “app”, or “software”, even “technology”, implies that the user will be in front of a computer. This is not ideal for the food entrepreneur who for the most of their day are making or preparing food. And if they have to sit in front of the computer, its usually for the most unenjoyable part of their day.

What’s interesting is that when I ask the potential customer to describe their current workflow. They *are* using technologies, apps, and computers. Their language is just different from mine. One customer was explaining to me how she processes all of her orders through the phone. Loosely quoting her, she said “We don’t use computers at all, its so much quicker to pick up the phone. I process everything by phone.” I assumed that she meant she was making phone calls. However, as I asked more questions, it turns out she was using an app on her iphone. Gee Whiz!

So, the moral of this post is to learn your customer’s jargon. Most of customer discovery is empathy. And empathy includes the ability to truly understand. Which includes being able to speak and communicate like your customer. It’s really simple in theory, but so much harder in practice.   My ux consultant (ok he’s my husband) stated that I should start jotting down nouns and verbs that my customers use in the interviews. And practice saying those nouns and verbs in later interviews. He also went into this long discussion (very long) about how it will drive the design of my app, versus the ui of my application being database driven. But I’ll share those helpful tips in another post. (after I ask him for the cliff notes — cause I stopped listening when the ux person started talking about code)

One thought on “Field Notes: A Lesson in Customer Discovery

  1. Hi Hadiyah,

    Thanks for sharing your case study with us about your client discovery session. No worries, you’re on the right track as far as getting closer to understanding your customer as well as building and maintaining relationships going forward. I like that you weren’t afraid of failure and you just kept going strong. This is actually the best way to learn while out in the field. You can research all you want, but the best experience us going through like you did. Keep up the good work and keep us posted!


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About Hadiyah

Practicing loving God, neighbors, and myself daily. Leveraging venture capital to advance racial equity at HBCUvc.