Design Thinking: what we’re learning about our customers

Real World Group is passionate about is delivering good solutions that meet the real needs of our customers. In a busy, constantly changing IT space, how do we do that?

Around 18 months ago, we were introduced to the concept of “Design Thinking”. Design Thinking works by changing the way you think about what you do. Instead of looking at the products and services you offer and how they can be “fit” to your customers, it starts with the reverse questions – who are your customers, and what do they need?

In some senses this isn’t a new concept to us. We’ve always been responsive to customer needs and demands – but what we lacked was a structure and rigour to our processes as they think about what our customers really want, and how we should shape our service delivery.

We began by formally sitting down and reviewing our CloudPBX product set, and thinking about who was using it, what they wanted and what the needed. We looked at pain points and how we could re-image our processes, products and service framework to address these. We went in with our eyes wide open, but a level of child-like enthusiasm. We thought to ourselves that this process would be easy, and that we would get some quick wins that would revolutionise the way we thought and did business.

Unfortunately, the journey has been anything but that. A lot of our initial work addressed some of the wrong challenges, we looked at the wrong areas, and in the end the entire process, while valuable, resulted in minimal actual change.

So when we had the opportunity for myself and Dinuka to attend a Design Thinking workshop; with a view to improving our skills and re-learning, with an increased level of professional and academic rigour, how to take and apply these thoughts within our business we jumped at the opportunity.

So, for the last 10 hours, we’ve been working with our friends at Telstra Wholesale (and a number of other IT and Telco businesses) as part of a course from the UNSW Graduate School of Management.

We’re at the end of Day 1, and I wanted to share a few of my key take-aways from today.

It’s not as hard as we thought

One of the highlights of the day for me was re-visiting how we think about our customers. We worked on a process to describe a generic imaginary customer of an imaginary company.

The thing that surprised me the most today was how easy it was, with the right framework, to describe a number of the customers we regularly work with. The descriptions are generic, and the framework isn’t perfect; but once we had a few people around the room, and we got the ball rolling, we were able to articulate a number of the key things that our chosen customer needed/wanted.

Once we had started the map, it became immediately apparent that there were areas where our fictitious company’s customer weren’t getting what our fictitious customer needed. Of course, every good story has an element of truth buried inside it – and so we’ve already begun to talk about the things that we’re not doing well on our side. I already have things that we need to take back, look at more closely and change about how we work.

Communication is so critical

No matter how much I know that we need to keep talking and engaging with our customers about what they need, and how much we need to keep talking to them about where they are going – it’s hard. We know that our customers find the same challenges in their own businesses; but the presence of the challenge is no excuse!

The value of positive communication, robust discussion, and real dialogue about what our customers need, where they are going and how we, or our partners, can help them is so essential. I want to see us do this better and find new ways that we can deliver value in this way.

It’s easy for us to have the wrong story when we don’t have a positive feedback loop

We are pretty good at imagining and hypothesising about problems and pain points – but we don’t always do a good job of actually engaging and listening and changing. One of the course attendees pointed to Amazon’s customer first engagement model. He explained the lengths that Amazon will go to (with some examples) to ensure the customer is satisfied – and I was gobsmacked.

While we collect feedback from our customers and input in some areas, we don’t routinely use this to validate our preconceived ideas, and make real change to what we do until problems become too big.

We’re going to look at how we can better harness the existing touch points we have, account meetings and conversation points to engender positive change in the way we interact. It’s going to be slow – but I’m confident that as we run through this process we’ll be able to maintain and improve our position as a Leader in Human Centric IT solutions.

We’ve still got a long way to go

Today was just the first part of a course, and we still have more learning to do – but more than that, our business, as it grows and changes, still has a long way to go. We’re excited to be on the journey, and I’m looking forward to talking about what we’re learning and how we’re going to put it into practice.

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