In the last six months this blog’s twice got close to discussing a problem for decision makers – not thinking like a “real” customer.

Back in December you met my colleague, fruitlessly working the sample of one.

And a couple of months before that you met me, hard at work as a corporate soldier… “meeting, meeting, fire fighting, missed meeting, meeting etc etc etc…”.

The bit missing from the corporate soldier piece? I was describing a time in my life when I headed product for a major telco. Part of my remit was to be all over the latest trends and products, shaping decisions based on existing and future customer behaviour. At the same time I was moving up the corporate ladder… this created a whole new challenge for me. The further I moved up, the further I became removed from what was really happening.

I tried to compensate for this by trialing every new product we took to market. I always got to play before they were launched, which meant my friendly tech team had to find a back door way to set them up for me.

And there’s the problem. As much as I thought I was under the skin of these releases I was fooling myself. I was NEVER the customer… I never once went through the buying process, never once had to have the benefits explained to me, never once had to set up a service. I never endured the service experience… let’s face it, I never even had to pay for a service, not quite being a “real” customer is it.

This never hit home til the day we shifted house. I had a new product ready to test, but my go-to tech man was away. I was forced to go through the experience as a real customer.

Shit it was grim. The process was hideous. Asked for the same information multiple times, said one thing and did another…. hold, hold, hold… the line’s gone dead… “are you still there caller??”. You name it, it happened to me.

And of course none of this disruption showed up in the product reports. It wasn’t present in the PowerPoints discussing the product in the numerous meetings I endured at that stage of my life. The real experience wasn’t even covered in our NPS reviews – it was no wonder the NPS in fact showed no sign of improving at this time.

I understood then, it is pointless to experience only parts of the customer journey. There is no point cherry picking, even if only accidentally, slices of the pie. This isn’t an obvious lesson – I watched a sharp CFO at a company I’m working with replicate this mistake a few weeks ago. After experiencing four failures in the customer process around their product, he didn’t bail – as any normal customer would, he persevered, and so perfectly missed the shoddiness of the service.

The key lesson here? Unless you are willing to rigorously test your funnel, how many of those customers you spend to acquire, are simply falling away due to bad process? And do you really have the testing in place to capture this effect?

I think author John Le Carre said it best “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Be a real customer – don’t push to the front of the queue, don’t play your VIP card, don’t have a mate sort it for you… be a customer and let your experience inform the value of your product.
  • Look at your processes as a real customer – I get as a marketer you are hungry for anything more you can learn about your customer… but does your process add value to the customer or just create friction?
  • Don’t justify the pain points in your process as ‘…we just HAVE to do it this way… ’. Your customers don’t care – they just want simplicity.
  • Spend time paying your bill yourself. This is the moment of truth for many customers. Do you see value for the price you’re paying? ,
  • As a side note… can you understand your own invoices? Can you read them and make sense of them? Or are you like my mobile company… somehow turning a simple plan (unlimited voice/text, and a data bundle) into an 11-page invoice?


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