Innovation – Beware the Voice of the Customer
Malcom Gladwell, in his #1 national bestseller “Blink” (2005), recounts fascinating results from Columbia University professors Sheena Iyengar and Raymond Fisman’s speed dating studies. The professors ran speed dating nights across the street from Columbia University for university graduate students. The events were like other speed dating events in which attendees would meet members of the opposite sex for a short set period of time (four to six minutes) and check a yes or no box on a form listing all their “dates” for the evening. If both the man and woman checked each other’s names, they would given the information by which to meet each other and pursue a relationship.
But on a few occasions, in the interest of psychology and economics, Professor Iyengar and Fisman’s respective fields of study, attendees were asked to fill out a short questionnaire asking them to rate what they were looking for in a potential partner on a scale of 1 to 10 on six criteria that included attractiveness, shared interests, sense of humor, sincerity, intelligence and ambition. They were asked to do so before the event, shortly after the event, a month later and then six months later. In addition, at the end of each “date” during an event, they were asked to rate the person they’d just met on a scale of 1 – 10 and for the aforementioned attributes.
As you can tell, by the end of an event, attendees declared what they wanted, who they’ve chosen and how they rated who they’d chosen versus what they wanted. So what happened? Well, Mr. Gladwell reports that Professors Iyengar and Fisman found that the people to whom their subjects were actually attracted didn’t match the attributes to which they’d said they were attracted prior to the event. But now it gets a little trickier. If a subject said they wanted attractive, sincere mates but chose funny, intelligent ones, when asked after the event which attributes they preferred, they answered funny and intelligent. But when asked a month later, they could switch back to their initial preferences.
When the two professors were asked to interpret the results, the psychologist said she didn’t know what it meant while the economist said “the real me is the me revealed by my actions”. Given the stated preferences changed and there is no report of the same candidates attending a second event so their actions could truly reveal the real them, I’m with the psychologist.
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What does this have to do with anything about which we write on this blog? Well, I think the title says it all — “Beware the Voice of the Customer”. If we don’t know what we want in a partner in whom we might vest our time and emotions, imagine the challenge to clearly and consistently state our preferences for a product or service over the time necessary for a company to recoup the investment to develop and launch?
So how do we successfully develop and launch new products and services if we can’t trust what customers tell us? Well, we do have some tools and philosophies that more readily capture our fickle nature. Namely observation linked with rapid prototyping. Meet enough people and you don’t need a list of likes and dislikes. The process of evolving preferences and product or service attributes meet. If you wish to discuss VOC and or Design Thinking deployment models, feel free to contact me.