Published February 6, 2024

Elevate Your Business with Customer Discovery 

12 min read

Hey there again, space explorers! Have you ever pondered over what your customers *really* want? Not just a wild guess or a shot in the dark, but a deep understanding of their needs, pains, and desires? 

That’s where the magic of Customer Discovery comes into play. It’s not just a new tech buzzword; it’s a critical foundation for any business that aims to hit the bullseye in meeting market demands.

Customer discovery is about stepping into your customers’ shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and crafting solutions that resonate with them. Whether you’re a startup on the brink of something great or an established company looking to innovate, customer discovery is your golden ticket to creating products people can’t wait to get their hands on.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of customer discovery. You’ll learn the steps we use to uncover valuable insights at Helio, how to ask the right questions, and the tools to make this process as smooth as peanut butter. 

So, let’s get started and turn those educated guesses into informed decisions!

What is Customer Discovery?

Our customer discovery is a four-step framework savvy entrepreneurs can use to build and scale successful businesses. It’s all about understanding who your customers are, their needs, and how they behave. It’s not just about collecting data; it’s about gaining genuine customer insights.

Why is customer discovery so critical? It’s simple: you’re essentially wandering in the dark without it. You might have the best idea in the world, but if it doesn’t align with what your customers are seeking, it’s like a key without a lock. Customer discovery ensures you’re creating a value proposition that’s as compelling as a page-turner novel – impossible to put down. 

The Four Steps to Effective Customer Discovery

I recently shared our significant success with a university customer using continuous discovery methods. We achieved an 80% increase in website user engagement and a 30% growth in new applications received.

Here’s how we did it.

The university customer experienced a year-over-year improvement after employing continuous discovery to redesign its website. This process unfolded over ten weeks and involved a “Jump” each week. In each Jump, we collected 2,500 responses from various student audiences. This equated to feedback from about ~300 different students every week.

Designing and gathering such a large volume of feedback demands a well-coordinated effort from a compact team that iterates rapidly. Simultaneously, a group of 10 stakeholders monitors the progress every week.

Let’s break down the Helio customer discovery process into four actionable steps. And remember, this isn’t a one-and-done deal. It’s an iterative cycle that aligns you with your customer’s evolving needs.

Here’s how a process looks week to week:

Step 1: Forming Hunches

This is where your journey begins. You start by shaping ideas into tangible concepts. You may be sketching out wireframes on Figma or drafting service blueprints. The key is to create multiple iterations. Why? Because your first idea might not be the winner, but it’s a starting point. Think of it as sculpting clay – you must mold and remold until the form takes shape.

Develop five distinct concepts in Figma, each featuring various iterations to demonstrate an idea effectively. For instance:

  • Student needfinding
  • Nav label tests
  • Nav card sort
  • Homepage degree tests
  • Brand imagery

To illustrate this process, we’ll take the last concept on this list, brand imagery, and describe how the team moved from forming hunches to surfacing signals.

The university team felt that they needed an imagery refresh during their site redesign because most of their students were online, remote learners. The previous site imagery had focused on in-person success and learning on campus, so the team developed a hunch:

  • Using site imagery that reflects students in their current, remote environments at home will more successfully relate and align with the university’s target audience.

From there, the university worked with the Helio team to determine what kind of questions they could ask of visitors to determine the right direction for their brand image.

Step 2: Defining the Right Questions

Questions are the pickaxes of discovery – they unearth the gold nuggets of insight. But not just any questions – the right ones. Crafting these questions is an art. They should be open-ended, probing, and, above all, relevant to the current stage of your project. Whether in the ideation phase or preparing for launch, your questions should guide you to clarity.

Utilize Helio to generate questions. The type of questions will differ based on the current phase of the project. In this week’s example, we had the following:

  • Multiple choice
  • Likert
  • Click tests
  • Card sort
  • Tree testing

With three variations of brand imagery in hand, the team knew they wanted to maintain the overall appeal of their website while improving certain impressions such as relevance and success.

The first question asked of each imagery variation asked participants to rate their satisfaction with the visuals on the page:

Then, to gauge emotional reaction to the images, participants were asked to indicate what impressions they felt from 8 positive and negative options:

Along with each quantitative question type, participants were asked to explain their choices:

This way, the university team understood the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of visitors’ emotional reactions.

Step 3: Surfacing Observations

Here’s where things get exciting. You’ve asked your questions; now it’s time to sift through the responses. Imagine you’ve collected 2,500 pieces of feedback – that’s a treasure trove of data! But it’s not about the quantity; it’s about the quality. You’re looking for patterns, trends, and outliers. Each piece of feedback is a piece of the puzzle, and your job is to assemble the picture.

Examine the feedback for each concept. This includes comprehensive data summaries from multiple variations, totaling 2,500 responses. 

In the case of our university example, the quantitative emotional reactions were captured in Helio’s data report:

Along with each choice from participants came their qualitative follow-up response:

“The pictures make me feel students are happy at this school. It makes me excited to put in the hard work and graduate. This translates to relevance for me and makes me respect the school.”
– Graduate Student (US)

With all of their responses collected, the Helio team was able to enter the data into a comparison framework for easy analysis across each imagery variation:

With the full breadth of responses in front of them, the university team was able to draw signals from the comparison framework with the help of Helio’s advocates.

Step 4: Finding Signals

In a sea of data, you need to spot the signals – the indicators that show you where to steer your ship. This means scrubbing through the feedback, identifying what’s actionable, and discarding what’s not. It’s like panning for gold – you must wash away the silt to find the nuggets. 

Once you have those insights, it’s about crafting a set of recommendations that will guide your next steps. This could mean tweaking your product, pivoting your strategy, or even starting from scratch – but with the confidence that you’re moving in the right direction.

Scrub the data and qualitative feedback to identify valuable insights that guide future actions. Based on this analysis, recommendations for the next steps are presented. 

In the university’s case of their brand imagery testing, the data comparison framework allowed them to see the patterns of participant’s reactions to different visuals:

Despite V1 images maintaining satisfaction with V2, the emotional reactions favored the Higher Education theme rather than the concept of remote Online Education.

→ V1 – Online Education produced the increase in relevance that the team expected, though did not match the success and respectability of V2 – Higher Education.

→ V1’s use of at-home imagery feels boring compared to the success and professionalism displayed in the other two versions.

The clear signals indicating success from the Higher Education team gave the university a clear direction for their imagery. Despite having a predominantly online audience of remote learners, the success and respectability shown by the Higher Education team proved more important to the university than direct relevance to their end users.

These repeated efforts improve the signals and amplify the results by applying this method consistently over ten weeks.

Tools of the Trade for Customer Discovery

Figma is your go-to for visualizing and prototyping your ideas, and it’s fully supported for prototyping and grabbing assets in Helio. It’s a collaborative platform where you can bring your concepts to life and iterate with testing.

When gathering those all-important customer insights, Helio allows you to generate questions and capture responses at scale, ensuring you always ask the right questions at the right time.

But it’s not just about these tools. Integrating resources like customer feedback platforms, analytics tools, and even social media listening tools can provide a multi-faceted view of your customer’s world. The trick is choosing tools that complement each other and align with your needs.

The heart of asynchronous customer discovery lies in collecting real-time feedback and quantitative test data. This is your opportunity to hear straight from the horse’s mouth. But it’s not about bombarding them with questions; it’s about engaging in a dialogue.

Pay attention not just to what is written but how it’s conveyed. The nuances, the hesitations, the excitement – these are all clues. Use the language your customers use to describe their problems. This will help you empathize with them and frame your solutions in a way that resonates deeply.

Analyzing and Acting on Feedback

After collecting survey feedback, it’s time to put on your detective hat. Analyzing customer feedback is a mix of art and science. You’ll need to look for patterns, categorize comments, and prioritize them. Some feedback will signal that you’re on the right track, while others might challenge your assumptions. Embrace it all.

Then comes the critical part – acting on the feedback. This is where the rubber meets the road. You must decide how to incorporate this feedback into your product development or service enhancement. It’s about making informed decisions that are grounded in real user experiences.

Common Pitfalls in Customer Discovery

Navigating the customer discovery process can sometimes feel like walking through a minefield blindfolded. It’s fraught with potential missteps that can lead you astray from the valuable insights you seek. Let’s talk turkey about the common pitfalls you might encounter and how to sidestep them gracefully.

Confirmation Bias: The Deceptive Comfort of ‘Yes’

The human brain loves to say, “I told you so!” This leads to confirmation bias, the tendency to search for, interpret, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. During customer discovery, it’s like wearing rose-tinted glasses; you might ignore the red flags waving right before you because they don’t fit your narrative.

Combat Strategy:

  • Challenge your assumptions: Actively seek out evidence that contradicts your beliefs.
  • Involve a diverse team in the analysis process to provide different perspectives.
  • Set up ‘devil’s advocate’ sessions where the sole purpose is to question the prevailing assumptions.

The Love Affair with First Ideas

Ah, first love – it’s passionate, it’s intense, and it often doesn’t last. The same goes for your initial ideas. You brainstorm, something clicks, and you’re convinced it’s the one. But here’s the rub: your first idea is rarely your best. Getting too attached to it can blind you to better alternatives that may arise from customer feedback.

Combat Strategy:

  • Embrace the ‘fall in love with the problem, not the solution’ mantra.
  • Regularly revisit and reassess your ideas in light of new data.
  • Create a culture that celebrates evolution and learning, not just results.

The Hidden Gem of Negative Feedback

Nobody likes to hear they’re off the mark, especially after pouring their heart and soul into an idea. But here’s the twist: negative feedback is a goldmine. It’s the sand in the oyster that eventually produces the pearl. Without it, you might never push beyond ‘good enough’ to reach ‘great.’

Combat Strategy:

  • Reframe negative feedback as constructive criticism.
  • Create a systematic approach to analyze and act on negative feedback rather than dismissing it.
  • Remember, the goal is not to validate your ego but to validate your business idea.

Analysis Paralysis: Drowning in Data

In the era of big data, it’s easy to feel swamped by the sheer volume of feedback. When you’re drowning in data, the shore of actionable insights can seem miles away. Analysis paralysis can set in, stalling your progress as you struggle to understand everything.

Combat Strategy:

  • Prioritize data based on your objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Break down the data analysis into manageable chunks.
  • Use tools and methodologies that streamline the process, such as data visualization and customer feedback analysis software.

The Echo Chamber Effect

Sometimes, without realizing it, you might end up in an echo chamber where the feedback you collect comes from a skewed or homogeneous group. This can lead to a distorted view of your market and prevent you from seeing the full spectrum of customer needs and desires.

Combat Strategy:

  • Expand your customer discovery efforts to include a broad and diverse audience.
  • Seek feedback outside your immediate network to include people with different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints.
  • Use segmentation and stratification in your sampling to ensure you cover the breadth of your target market.

Overvaluing Expert Opinion

While experts can offer valuable insights, relying too heavily on their feedback can lead to skewed results. Experts might have biases based on their experiences and may not represent the views of your actual user base.

Combat Strategy:

  • Balance expert feedback with input from actual or potential users representing your target audience.
  • Remember that experts can help validate the feasibility of your idea, but your customers validate its desirability and viability.

Ignoring the Lifecycle Stage

Different stages of the product lifecycle require different types of customer feedback. What’s essential during the ideation phase might not be as critical during the scaling phase. Failing to match the feedback with the lifecycle stage can lead to misdirected efforts.

Combat Strategy:

  • Clearly define the lifecycle stage of your product or service.
  • Tailor your customer discovery questions and focus to suit the current stage.
  • Be prepared to shift your strategies as your product moves from one stage to the next.

Falling for Vanity Metrics

It’s easy to be dazzled by metrics that look impressive on paper but don’t contribute to meaningful decisions. These vanity metrics can mislead and distract from the metrics that genuinely matter.

Combat Strategy:

  • Identify and focus on actionable metrics directly correlating to user satisfaction and business outcomes.
  • Regularly review your KPIs to ensure they remain aligned with your business objectives.

By acknowledging these pitfalls and implementing strategies to avoid them, you can ensure your customer discovery journey is as effective and insightful as possible. It’s all about staying vigilant, being adaptable, and focusing firmly on what truly matters – creating value for your customers.

The Continuous Cycle of Customer Discovery

Customer discovery is not a one-off checkbox but a continuous learning, adapting, and evolving cycle. It’s a journey that, when navigated wisely, can lead to unparalleled innovation and success. Keep these common pitfalls in mind, and you.

‘ll be well-equipped to steer clear of them. Now, with the map in hand to sidestep these stumbling blocks, you’re ready to embark on genuine discovery. Embrace every piece of feedback, good or bad, as a precious clue on the treasure map of your business adventure. Stay curious, stay agile, and let the real experts – your customers, guide every step.

Customer discovery is not just a phase; it’s a mindset. It’s the art of listening closely and the science of interpreting wisely. It’s about building bridges between what you think you know and what you need to discover. So go forth, ask boldly, listen intently, and let the insights you gather light the path to innovation and growth.

Remember, the ultimate goal of customer discovery isn’t just to validate your business idea; it’s to create a product or service that fits so seamlessly into your customers’ lives that they wonder how they ever lived without it. Now, that’s a destination worth striving for.

Customer discovery should be continuous

Customer discovery is an ongoing conversation with your market. It’s about being curious, staying responsive, and constantly iterating. Whether you’re in the trenches of startup validation or navigating the seas of market research, customer discovery principles remain the same.

So, take these steps, use these tools, and embrace the journey. Remember, every piece of feedback is a stepping stone to a product that your customers can’t live without. As you wrap up this post, what will you discover today?

Go forth and discover, and let your customers light the way!

Customer Discovery FAQ’s

What is customer discovery?
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Customer discovery is a foundational step in the Customer Development model that involves deeply understanding customer needs and behaviors to ensure that a product truly resonates with its target market.

Why is customer discovery important?
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Customer discovery prevents businesses from relying on assumptions, guiding them to create products with a compelling value proposition that effectively meets the real demands of the market.

What are the four steps of effective customer discovery?
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Effective customer discovery involves forming hypotheses, defining key questions, surfacing observations from feedback, and finding actionable signals to guide product development.

How can customer discovery impact a business’s success?
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Through continuous customer discovery, a business can significantly increase user engagement and market fit, as evidenced by improved metrics such as website engagement and application rates.

What role do tools like Figma and Helio play in customer discovery?
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Tools like Figma assist in visualizing concepts, while Helio helps in generating relevant questions and capturing large volumes of customer feedback for analysis.

How should customer feedback be analyzed?
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Customer feedback should be analyzed by looking for patterns, prioritizing based on objectives, and using insights to make informed product development decisions.

What are common pitfalls in customer discovery and how can they be avoided?
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Common pitfalls include confirmation bias and getting too attached to initial ideas. They can be avoided by seeking diverse perspectives, being open to criticism, and adapting based on feedback.

Build something your users truly want