Observe Customers Where They Are

Observe Customers Where They Are

Are your students shy about conducting customer interviews?

Do your students struggle collecting information about problems from customer interviews?

Observing customers is another great way to gather customer information. In some important ways, it can provide even more and different information than an interview.

This Fly On The Wall exercise:

  • Introduces your students to a powerful tool to gather information on customers’ experience in real-life situations. This allows them to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it. Because actions speak louder than words.
  • Allows students to practice listening with their eyes, to understand what people value and what they don’t. Because behavior doesn’t always match what people think they will do.

Observing customers in natural settings is a powerful experience for students. They discover new business opportunities. They increase their customer empathy. They hone their behavioral analysis skills. All critical entrepreneurial competencies!

Students going through this exercise learn a technique to gain insight into the small details of a customer’s interaction with their environment that a customer may not think to express in interviews.

This exercise will span two class periods. For more details, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 1 – Redesigning a Product

Most students will enter your class with no clue how to effectively observe customers in their natural environment.  Before teaching them how to do so, we want them to understand why it is such a valuable skill. So we kick off the customer observation class with the Toothbrush Exercise, which teaches students that:

Entrepreneurs can’t trust numbers alone. In order to improve the world, we must see, feel and experience it for ourselves!

Quick steps for this exercise:

  • Organize students into groups of 4-5
  • Show this picture on the screen
  • Tell students (& write on board/slide) the average adult male hand, is 7.44″ long (measured from tip of the middle finger to the wrist) and 3.30” wide (measured across the palm). The average adult female hand size is 6.77″ long and 2.91 inches wide. The average child hand size is 5.5” long and 2.75” wide. (You can also give each group cutouts if you are feeling adventurous!)
  • Give each team an adult toothbrush and tell them they have 5 minutes to design the best-selling child’s toothbrush (they must include the dimensions in their design)

After their 5 minutes elapse, ask how many groups made a smaller toothbrush? Now play this video:

After trying to design a toothbrush for kids the wrong way, this video will drive home the point that the goal isn’t to make toothbrushes smaller for kids, but to actually make them bigger!

For more details on this exercise, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 2 – Making It Real

The homework consists of two steps. Step 1 is to watch the video below (click the image to launch the video) about the product development process, and read through Examples 1-3 here about how to make things people want.

Step 2 is for students, in groups, to observe customers for 20 minutes in a campus location where people are active. For instance, dining hall/food court, gym/rec center, makerspace, athletic facilities, etc. The point of this homework assignment is for students to observe students actively interacting with some products (gym, makerspace) or business (food court). In other words, you don’t want them observing students in the library, where they are likely to be sedentary.

Direct your students to take note, individually, of anything they observe about their subjects, without interacting with them. Each student needs to individually write down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

Class 2: Step 1 – Debrief

Start the next class with groups reporting what they observed. You will find students’ observations will likely focus on:

  1. Surface-level activity, such as “students were talking to each other” or “students were exercising
  2. The perspective of the product or business, such as “there were not enough seats in the food court” or “many treadmills were not in use

We want these observations, because it’s the perfect way to illustrate how to conduct useful observations. For a debrief of their homework, ask students how they can use the information they gathered during observations to develop products/ideas they could bring to market.

Students will not write down questions they will try to answer prior to the observation, or define major themes to look for. They will observe without planning a framework.

The aha moment we want them to realize is that they need a plan to effectively observe customers.

During the debrief, stress:

  1. Focus observations on the subjects’ problems (empathize)
  2. Identifying patterns where subjects struggle to do something
  3. Capturing images and/or video during observations

For more details on this debrief, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 2: Step 2 – Planning

The final step is for students to plan an observation they will conduct as homework in the same campus location they observed as homework after Class 1. Remind students to create a framework that includes:

  1. Questions they want to answer, and
  2. Themes they can look for

For homework, students should conduct that observation, again writing down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

They should notice a significant difference between their observations after Class 1 and Class 2.

This extended series of exercises gives students valuable skills to add to their entrepreneurial toolkit: customer observations and behavioral analysis.

Get the “Fly On The Wall” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Fly On The Wall” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we talk about our evolving experiential curriculum, how to teach students about approaching and mitigating risk, and how to enable your students to better identify opportunities!

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