Why Brexit is a good reminder to speak to customers

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Our Senior Consultant Graham Allinson explores how looking at the world from a different perspective is not only useful in politics, but for understanding customers too.

When was the last time you spoke to a customer? Or someone that’s two steps removed from your friendship group, type of work, social class or geography?

Brexit has been a striking reminder of how easy it is to have an inside-out perspective. Remainers had no idea what was coming; likely because many are so far removed from the lives of Leavers (and vice versa). How can we really hope to understand the position others are coming from if we’ve never spoken to them and actively listened? If we haven’t empathised, really trying to understand the situation from their perspective, considering all the circumstances, beliefs and challenges?

In a fascinating TED Talk by Alexander Betts, he challenges his own perspective on Brexit - recognising he’d spent less than 4 days of his entire life in the combined top 50 areas with the strongest leave vote. He argues that even people who consider themselves inclusive, open and tolerant don’t know their own country and societies nearly as well as they believe.

At The Foundation, we often talk about this ‘inside-out’ mentality as a force of gravity, constantly drawing us back in. That’s because it’s incredibly difficult to maintain an outside-in perspective. People tend to be drawn to others like them. We get accustomed to our own industry and social norms, the language we use and the way things have always been.

But taking an outside-in view, whether in business or politics, can help us see the world from different perspectives. It’s about understanding the whole context of customers’ lives - empathising with what they think and feel and why they see the world the way they do. It’s about identifying the outcomes they are trying to achieve and the problems they need to solve, not just what you’re offering them today.

Fortunately, maintaining an outside-in perspective doesn’t require expensive and lengthy research projects. It’s about doing things little and often, continuously challenging your own beliefs and assumptions. Here’s a useful framework to keep in mind when structuring your approach.

  • BE them – what is it like to be them and have their experiences? (e.g. mystery shopping)

  • Ask ABOUT them – what do other people know about what customers think, feel and do? (e.g. expert interviews, frontline colleagues, academic papers)

  • ASK them – what do customers say they think, feel and do? (e.g. informal conversations with friends or social media groups, or speaking to your own customers directly)

  • OBSERVE them – what do people actually do in reality? (e.g. accompanying customers on store trips, visiting their homes or listening to contact centre calls)

  • LISTEN to them – what do people shout about or search for online? (e.g. reviewing social media groups, hashtags or search trends)

  • REMIND yourself – what do we already know and is it still true today? (e.g. reviewing past research studies from a new perspective)

So next time you are designing new or improved products, or someone asks you what customers think – ask yourself: is that your own assumption, likely influenced by unconscious bias, or is that an outside-in perspective you’ve gained from immersing yourself first hand?

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