Uncovering Hidden Gems: How an Unexpected Technique Unlocked Surprising Insights

It’s funny how you sometimes unlock powerful work techniques without intending to isn’t it? So powerful that they become an important part of the way you work on future OSS/BSS projects. Or perhaps just an incisive tool that you pull out of your kit-bag in certain situations.

A few years ago I was helping a client to develop a 5-year plan and associated product roadmap. We were following a customised version of a methodology that I’d defined and honed across similar past projects. But on this particular occasion, a light-bulb moment happened.

One of the essential facets of the methodology was to take in a 360 degree view of the current state and future opportunities. That meant doing the typical introspection sessions with internal teams – from execs to developers to support crews to implementation teams and beyond. However, the light-bulb moment happened, perhaps not surprisingly, from the outward-facing sessions. The discussions with my client’s customers.

I wanted to gain an understanding of the past / present / future situation of some of this client’s customers. My client was a little skeptical. They felt they could already describe their customer’s sentiments well because they’d only recently interviewed one of their most important customers as part of a post-implementation review (PIR). Luckily, my client green-lighted the new interview anyway. They did insist that their account director sat in on the interviews as a silent observer though, just like he had for the PIR interview.

The interview started and I could quickly tell something exciting was happening. Within 5 minutes of commencing, there was a look of shock and awe on the face of the account director that lasted for almost the entire duration of the 2 hour interview. There was a constant stream of insights bubbling up – from changing sentiments during the implementation to up-sell opportunities to internal challenges and operational issues that needed to be ironed out. Even product improvements and new product ideas.

The account director had dutifully remained a silent observer apart from the introductions and departing salutations. However, he certainly didn’t remain silent after we left the room. Words to the effect of, “That was freaking amazing. How did you do that? I’ve spoken with these guys almost every day for the last year and I didn’t know any of X, Y, Z, etc.”

I didn’t really know why either at first. I’ve since come to two conclusions from that interview:

First, having sat in the shoes of the end-customer, I’d asked questions from a position of empathy of what they were going through, as opposed to the more cutover-performance-centric questions of the PIR.

However, the more important conclusion, the light-bulb moment, was that the power of the results had largely stemmed from it being an independent third-party review. The end-user provided un-filtered responses to me purely because I was independent. I hadn’t been involved in the recent OSS implementation project. I didn’t have existing relationships with the end-customers. I probably wasn’t going to have an ongoing relationship with them either. But most importantly, I didn’t have a vested interest in sugar-coating any negative comments or justifying any situations that had arisen during the project. I was just asking questions and listening to the responses, drilling deeper where required.

Independent interviews are now an important tool in my OSS/Batman utility belt.  Thinking about this more, it’s probably the third-party interview technique (and associated listening / distillation / presentation processes) that contribute to the benefits carriers derive from hiring external consultants.

I should caveat it by also saying that there were other factors that surely contributed to the success of that interview (and others that followed). My client had started off on a bad trajectory (eg a 3 out of 10) at the start of the implementation but risen to a position of respect (eg an 8.5 out of 10) through hard work to overcome the many negative situations and product shortfalls along the way.

Results have varied since, but always unlocked useful insights for the clients who’ve engaged me to interview their customers.

Have you had similar experiences in formal or informal third-party interviews? Have unexpectedly powerful techniques fallen into your lap, Alexander Fleming-style? I’d love to hear your stories.

Could third-party interviews be the secret weapon you’ve been seeking to better understand customer needs?

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