By Prashanth Padmanabhan
There are some basic principles that you can follow while telling your story to your customer.
1. Show up at the customer’s office, if you can.
It shows respect. It tells them that you care for their thought. It is money well spent. As a product manager or product designer you are the voice of the customer and that is your only advantage over every other function. So customer visits should be your number one priority. Nothing else is more important than that.
2. Always show a prototype or draw a picture on the white board.
Don’t show a set of slides. This forces participants to think differently, look at the prototype and imagine rather than go into a passive finger-pointing mode. The prototype must include a list of concepts that you want to confront them with for feedback. Organize those concepts in the form of a story you can tell by going through the different screens in the prototype. Pause for a few seconds after each concept is outlined and let the interviewees share their thoughts. Acknowledge any interesting thoughts that come up and move on to the next concept in the story.
3. After introductions, ask them what they plan to get out of the session, and write that down on a flip chart.
If the crowd is large, ask everyone they plan to participate or if they are merely there to observe. Differentiate between the participants and observers and direct the conversation to the participants.
4. Listen more. Speak less.
You should be talking for about ten percent of the time and listening for the reminder of the time. If you have a hard time keeping quiet, take on the role of the writer on the flip chart. This will help you talk less and listen more. It will force you to keep quiet and will nudge customers to think aloud and direct you writing.
5. Write or draw on a flip chart.
Don’t sit down in a chair and write in a notebook where no one can see what you are writing. Writing on a flip chart, conveys to customers that you are listening, synthesizing and are open for comments. They can see your thought process, point out gaps in your thinking and, if necessary, correct what you write. So take notes publicly. Not privately.
Tip: Avoid total silence when in a conference! If you are running a workshop via conference, while taking notes, please avoid silence. Tell the customer you’re taking notes so they know you are listening.
6. Display all the flips charts all the time.
Do not flip the chart over and go to a new page. Tear the paper you wrote on and tape it to a wall. Don’t worry. Customers do not mind you posting 4-5 flip charts on the walls of their conference rooms. Pausing to tape the flip chart paper on the wall will give you a logical break after about 15-20 minutes of conversation. If your colleagues are present, it will give them an opportunity to chime in. It will also give you a minute to collect your thoughts.
After your paste the flip chart on the wall, underline the key words in the notes, recap the conversation, point out who said what, and ask participants if you missed anything. It gives participants an opportunity to point of simple errors that are bothering them.
7. Document while at the session.
Not after you come back to the office. Use a (phone) camera to take a picture of all the flip board charts. That is you documentation. You don’t have to write elaborate notes after you come back from the session. Post the pictures to a collaboration site, such as Streamwork, SuccessFactors JAM, Yammer or SharePoint, along with the notes and share it with customers.
8. Capture customer quotes and share them with colleagues rather than writing elaborate reports. Your colleagues will appreciate the quotes from customers and users.