We have tons of data. But do we understand what it’s telling us, what it means?

Knowledge without understanding is useless.

You’ve heard me write/say it before: You can’t transform something you don’t understand.

Do you understand your customers’ needs, expectations, the jobs they’re trying to do, and their desired outcomes?

There are really three ways to achieve that understanding. There may be more, but I tend to focus on these three. I’ll review them in a second, but the problem with these approaches (or any others) is that, if not done correctly, you’ll be no further ahead in terms of understanding than if you hadn’t done them.

The three approaches are:

  1. Listen. Don’t just ask customers about the experience, listen, as well. There are a lot of different channels and ways for customers to tell you about their needs and desired outcomes and how well you are performing against their expectations. Understanding these expectations and identifying key drivers of a great customer experience are important outcomes of this exercise.
  2. Characterize. Research your customers. Identify the jobs they are trying to do. Compile key personas that represent the various types of prospects and customers that (might) buy from you or that use your products or services.
  3. Empathize. Walk in your customers’ shoes to get a clear understanding of the steps they take to do whatever job it is they are trying to do with your organization. Map their journeys to understand the current state of the experience.

These are all learning exercises, critical learning exercises. We walk away from them with a lot of knowledge about customers, but we need to make sure we truly understand what we’ve heard about customers, their needs, and their expectations. Without that understanding, the exercises have failed. Make sure they’re done right.

A couple tips…

  • When you listen, ask the right questions at the right time of the right audience to elicit the feedback you need to understand what’s going right and what isn’t. And then do something with it.
  • When you characterize, ensure that the research is rooted in the right data, i.e., relevant prospect and customer data and interviews.
  • And when you empathize, when you walk in your customer’s shoes to understand his experience, you need to make sure you capture the experience from his viewpoint because creating from yours defeats the purpose of this process. And then fix what’s wrong.

To wrap up today’s post, I thought I’d share some insightful quotes about understanding, with the first one really hitting home for that last bullet point.

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. -Harper Lee

Understanding human needs is half the job of meeting them. -Adlai E Jr Stevenson

“Understanding” is much deeper than “knowledge.” There are many people who know us, but very few who understand us. -Author unknown

It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow’s viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences. -Harry S. Truman

There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it. -Charles F. Kettering

If you want the people to understand you, invite them to your life and let them see the world from your window! -Mehmet Murat ildan

Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t so. -Lemony Snicket

Those who know, do. Those who understand, teach. -Aristotle

Any fool can know. The point is to understand. -Albert Einstein