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Be a Housekeeper for a Day

HousekeeperNumerous studies tout the effectiveness of ethnography as a way to understand customer needs and as a springboard for new product (or service) ideas.  The advantage of ethnography is that you can observe customer behavior in context.  Oftentimes, there is a disconnect between what people say vs. what people do.  Supplementing attitudinal research (focus groups, interviewing) with a behavioral component is a superior approach.

The typical approach to ethnography is to send a team of 2-3 people for observations.  Documentation is captured by video.  We are strong proponents of a participatory model, and this is our unique niche in ethnographic research.  Participation doesn’t work in all assignments, but when the opportunity arises it is worth the extra time and investment required.

Attitudinal research is useful to understand customer needs that are top-of-mind.  Impactful innovations often solve an unspoken need.  Skilled observation of behaviors will uncover these gems.

For years, one of our clients struggled to develop “new to world” or “new to company” products for the hospitality industry—one of its principal target markets.  Users of its products included housekeeping and facilities management.  Traditionally, the organization relied on attitudinal research only to find that the “needs states” were superficial.  They then migrated to traditional ethnography.  While this uncovered some new insights, they wanted more.  When we came onto the scene, we recommended a participatory approach.  For two days, engineers and marketing managers worked side-by-side with hotel housekeepers to empty trash cans, dust furniture, make beds, and so on.  The unarticulated needs were readily apparent after spending a few days “walking in somebody else’s shoes.”

This week, four of our team members are on two separate camping trips in Colorado.  I didn’t have much difficulty finding volunteers for this assignment especially among the young men on our team.  When I ask, “what did you learn today” the feedback is very rich and detailed.  I already know that our client will get more ideas and inspiration than they can possibly handle in one year.  In our world, that’s a strong return on investment.

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