Observations of a Frustration

In the world of industrial design the process of forming an idea for a possible new product always starts at the same place – The problem. Every new product (defined as the “solution”) must have a well-defined problem to solve, and the solution must be a unique one. In designing the new solution a designer must go through a process, and one of the key elements of the process is to observe the failings of current solutions available to the user.  It is amazing how much can be gained through the power of observation. Observing the user through a re-occurring irritation or frustration can tell us a lot about how to find the right solution.

In a customer service environment, we need the experience of our customers to be unique, memorable, and enjoyable. We spend considerable resources on analytical tools, our CRM systems, and survey mechanisms. They all have their place with many insights being given. However, I have recently been spending time with a design business and watching their process has been fascinating. They do not get straight onto their CAD System (design software), or go straight to the workshop. They get in front of the user, but they don’t start pounding them with questions. They take a comfortable seat out of the way and they observe. Then they get involved themselves – they get into the shoes of the user. Once they have done this, they once again take a seat out of sight and observe once more. They do this for as long as it takes. It could be an hour, a day, a week, a few weeks. Whatever the time, they are looking for that key area of the experience that causes the user frustration. For the retailer, this relates to the points of frustration for the customer within the customer journey – on or off-line.

Focusing on the customer, is more than asking your staff to drop tasks to approach someone when entering the store. It is to strategically take the time out to understand where your customer experience has friction. Where are the pain points in regard to servicing customers? In terms of layout, we may observe bottle necks. In terms of e-commerce, it may be the extra click that is not necessary. Whatever your form of retail, it is critical to track the customer experience visually in real time, and to experience it yourself.

Observing customer frustration can be done for busy times of the day, week, or year. It can be done for the slower times when skeleton staff are on. You could observe customer frustration at the changeroom, POS, or even within the shopping centre your business resides – the customer’s frustration may be that they are not able to find your store! There are multiple areas to observe, and there are multiple experiences to understand. Once there is a clear understanding of the problem to be solved, it is only then that we are in a position to work on a solution. Like a good designer be sure to start by being present and seeing things for yourself, and understand the customer frustration before hitting the workshop! When I was the manager of a large flagship, I would often set my team up during busy periods and float through the store. On occasion, I would take a seat next to the plant boxes out of the way. I became invisible for ten minutes, and would watch the whole process as customers entered all the way through to checking out. It was some of the best time I ever spent as it gave me insight into customer frustrations, as well as frustrations my team were suffering from, and where our internal processes may be falling down. In our world of retail, utilising such time wisely will save huge sums of resource. The retail industry is moving at such a high speed, so spending critical time on the wrong solution can be catastrophic.

Invest in being present and observing customer frustrations with your own eyes. By feeling it yourself the motivation for improvements will be stronger and the results for your customers will be ultra-focused and effective.