How childlike curiosity creates customer value

I've gained some first-hand insights on how babies think and act recently after becoming a dad for the first time. One of the many things that amaze me about my new son is the wonder with which he looks at the world around him, trying to understand the multitude of senses he's experiencing and starting to make sense of it all. I've often shared in Insight workshops the familiar technique of thinking like a child to unearth deeper insights about customers, asking the 'why?' question to discover the real human motivations that can unlock brand opportunities. However it struck me that there's perhaps even more we can learn from the behaviour of a baby in better understanding our customers. Babies can't ask 'why?' like an older child and start forming answers through a series of questions, but what babies do, is remain curious about everything all of the time.

This 'always-on curiosity' of babies is what Marketers need to truly understand their customers better rather than just relying on one off insight projects. It's a curiosity driven by an intrinsic desire to understand more about your customers' world… you're engaged in it, you don't need an immediate answer because you're simply enjoying the process of exploring, and as a result, you'll gain far more powerful insights that can be applied to deliver business advantage. Here are my top 5 ways Marketers can 'start acting like a baby' to create customer value…

1. Understand what drives your curiosity

Consider what you want to achieve as a Marketer and how this connects to your brand's purpose to deliver value to customers and society. These are searching questions, but it's critical for fuelling your desire to understand more and doing it more of the time without an instant reward. 3M is well known for giving employees 20% of their time to explore new ideas for customers, but this only works because they are already engaged with 3M's brand purpose to 'make life better and easier' through innovation.

2. Explore this curiosity all of the time through multiple customer sources

Don't wait for a specific insight or research project, there are windows to customers all around us to fuel our curiosity. Put some time aside every day to explore articles or customer forums online, talk to a colleague about a related world challenge, or just observe human behaviour whilst you wait for your train. Whilst a working day is busy, you could do all of these on the way to or from the office if you wanted.

3. Get curious out in the real world

Often the challenge I hear to this is time or specifically lack of it, but this is false economics in the long term as you can get more useful insights from an hour with your customer in their world than you can from months in the office. We learn better by experience, speaking to customers and understanding their values and habits. For example, Toyota has a philosophy of 'Genchi Genbutsu' which means 'go to the scene and confirm actual findings' with employees expected to spend time out in the field talking to car buyers.

4. Activate a customer-centred operating model

Every person in your organisation can become more curious about your customers and be a key asset for your business in delivering better value. Clarify the role of the customer in your business model and how all functions should interact with customers to identify new opportunities for value along the customer journey. Don't just tell them what they should do in a one-size fits all, one way communication. Segment this internal audience into groups, listen to what they want to achieve in their roles, understand what they need to stimulate their curiosity, and make the brand purpose relevant and actionable for them.

5. Be a curious leader

Sir Terry Leahy once commented about his time as CEO at Tesco "It's not too strong to say we became obsessed with customers". A culture of customer curiosity needs to be driven by leaders from the top down, who champion this passion for customers in the business, celebrate customer exploration even if it doesn't necessarily end in tangible business success, and keep challenging their teams to want to learn more.

Exploring my own curiosity, I've learnt that babies become calmer in life by building a better understanding of the world around them. Like babies, we'll all be much calmer and assured in our future strategies and plans if we can harness the power of curiosity to understand more about the world of our customers as well.

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