About four years ago, Solid Digital started doing stakeholder interviews for each of our projects. We started small and didn’t know what we didn’t know. Initially, we thought it would benefit our team to learn more about the companies we were working with, but didn’t think too far past that.
Now, years later, and with much trial and error, we’ve discovered many more benefits to the practice than we initially thought. By doing interviews with our customers and sometimes their customers, we made five key discoveries that surprised us.
Five Discovered Mysteries
- Teams disagree on the details: Still after completing about 100 projects, additional requirements were introduced late in the game despite having a robust discovery process. Why did this happen? We found that because we get different information from different people in different ways, this information often conflicts. Everyone in a meeting will tell you they agree and they are aligned, but separately, not so much. Getting a team on the same page earlier can be a game changer when it comes to ensuring the project goals are clear, and everyone’s needs are met.
- Desires are hidden: Without doing interviews, the desires of a specific individual on the team don’t always get brought to light. Different team members care about different details, which can lead to big problems. If you don’t discover the hidden desires of everyone on the team, good luck getting anything approved, and if you get approval, get ready to make changes down the road. Discovering hidden desires early will ensure that there are fewer surprises late in the project.
- Assumptions are inaccurate: Companies don’t always entirely know how their customers like to use their products and services. They assume what the customer values most and make decisions based on incomplete information. One thing we’ve learned by interviewing customers is that you need to create an experience that matches the needs of each customer group individually. Give all users a pathway, no dead-ends.
- Personas are flawed: Customer personas often distill down to the different flavors of your existing customers. Finding a product/market fit is difficult, as is identifying your ideal customer profile. When marketers create personas without engaging with their customers, important details are missed. By speaking directly with customers, you can update your data and validate your assumptions. If your data set is too small, we recommend finding a way to broaden the sample size the best way you can.
- Brand perception is inconsistent: This one really surprised us. If you ask five people on the same team to articulate their brand, I bet you get five different responses. We find that the high-level messaging is usually consistent, but when individuals describe how they would deliver on that messaging, it differs greatly. How a company delivers on its brand promise has just as much to do with its brand as the products or services they provide.
A Case for Stakeholder and Customer Interviews
At the end of the day, you should do customer interviews to get in the mindset of your customers. It’s much better to make decisions based on data rather than opinions. It’s easier to balance customer needs and business goals when you know definitively what they are. Every time we’ve done interviews, we’ve uncovered important nuggets of information that we wouldn’t have found otherwise.
When Solid Digital performs interviews for our projects, we return our findings to the project team. Everything that was said 1-to-1 is now out in the open, all assumptions are validated, and the team gets to see where they might be misaligned (and fix it). When the project team is large, not everyone’s voice always gets heard. Interviews tend to solve that dilemma. We haven’t perfected this process, but are committed to keep going because the benefits have been extraordinary.
We hope you find a way to incorporate interviews with your customers to gain better knowledge about them so you can get powerful alignment and make the most accurate decisions.
Remember, diversity of thought is important, which means you might need to talk to your critics in addition to your advocates.