Many of us face complex business problems, but how do we solve them, and what role do human insights play in the process?
In this article, I discuss that topic, including:
- What is a complex business problem?
- How to solve for a better future of work and customer experience
- The importance of curiosity
- The process of solving complex business problems
- Why we must have customer conversations at scale
- How to get better human insights?
What are complex business problems?
Complex business problems are situations, behaviors, and issues that affect the business in one way or another. These are problems that can’t just be solved in a moment. They take:
- the ability to ask the right questions to people involved
- truly being able to listen to what people are saying
- understanding of the problem
- figuring out a phased approach to fixing the problem
One of the most complex business problems right now is the future of work, said Karen Mangia, Wall Street Journal bestselling author and vice president of customer and market insights at Salesforce, on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.”
“It’s the intersection of our values and beliefs along with our desire to grow and be profitable,” she said. “Really, at the core of the discussion – and in some companies debate – is the intersection of customer experience and employee experience.”
How to solve for a better future of work
Karen said at the intersection of that complex business problem is the human experience. To solve that and improve the customer experience, we have to understand not just the customers but also the employees.
“At the core, every leader is a qualitative researcher, ” Karen said. “When you think about it – leadership is listening. And whether your role is to listen to your colleagues for input on a project, whether that’s you listening to customers, or whether you are a senior leader listening to employees. At the core of leadership is curiosity, asking great questions, getting deeply curious about the answers, and then looking for trends. And where you are willing to take action.”
For example, Karen said that employees want flexibility, autonomy, and choice, and so do customers.
This is a complex problem because companies are trying to create a journey that works for their customers and employees.
“That is probably one of the most complex business problems – no matter what business you are in – you are facing this right now,” added Jenn Vogel, host of “Reel Talk” and chief revenue officer at Voxpopme. “You do see a lot of ‘the customer is first,’ so you can see the employee experience devalued.”
Voxpopme Chairman Lonnie Mayne said on “Reel Talk,” it’s about humanizing the business, understanding that employees are people, and seeing them as a whole person. Long-term, that makes the employees happier and businesses more successful.
The importance of curiosity
To create a good human experience, we must be curious to gather human insights.
“Choice moves us from limited to limitless, and it’s what gets us unstuck,” Karen said. “And at the core of that is curiosity creates choices. So what we are trying to accomplish is how to create choices to close the gap between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect. And between what employers and employees are willing to offer and what customers expect.”
The process of solving complex business problems
It all starts with understanding the problem we are trying to solve. For example, if we can’t see the employee and customer experience gap, it’s hard, if not impossible, to solve the problem.
That also means teams have to be aligned. Karen said to test the current alignment and get started, ask everyone to write down the answer to:
What is the customer experience problem we are trying to solve?
What is our customer experience strategy?
Karen said it’s not uncommon that answers vary widely, which leads to problems. How can teams act in a way to solve these problems if they don’t even have the same definitions or understanding of the problem?
“And beyond that, we have different definitions of who we are serving and why we are serving them,” Karen added. “There’s no journey map that will solve that. The root cause is: Do we see the problem the same way?”
Define your customers the same way. I’ve had this discussion more than enough in my career.
“Oh yes, we know who our customers are.”
And then come a host of different answers.
Next, we have to frame the problem correctly. How do we think about it? What’s the issue? Why does it exist?
Karen said that if it’s not framed correctly, we might not solve it correctly.
Remember that things shift – including who our customers are, how they are buying, and when they are buying.
“The definition of who our customers are shifts all the time,” Karen said. “The pandemic made that more pronounced. And we don’t always all stay current on who our customers are.”
Why we must have customer conversations at scale
We’ve probably all worked with people who ran into or lived next to one customer. Maybe they chatted with them during a social neighborhood event. And now they think they know the entirety of the customer base after talking to that one person.
“For what that customer at the backyard BBQ said must be true for all customers,” Karen said. “And we bring that lense into our thinking process. But the reality is that it’s very narrow. And we all know that one size doesn’t fit all and sometimes not even many in a situation.”
That’s one reason I love the weekly consumer studies we run and ask 100 U.S. consumers to show us or explain something using video surveys. So instead of me asking one person at the BBQ what the best mustard is, I heard varying opinions from 100 consumers.
How to get better human insights
Think back on the first time you ran a project, talked to a customer for the first time, or ran your first sales pitch. How was the preparation for that different than it might be today? Beginners sometimes prepare more because they need to catch up and learn what they don’t know. After all, they don’t know yet.
“When we are more senior in our roles, the more time we spend with customers, the more we believe we know,” Karen said. “Knowing is the enemy of discovering.”
On the other hand, a beginner’s mindset tries to forget everything they know when they review and analyze customer feedback, Karen said.
“So what I hear right now is fresh and first and therefore can shape me,” Karen said.
Also, don’t just use human insights programs to get customers to say what you want to hear.
“Instead, listen to what the customer wants you to know and needs you to critically hear,” Karen said.
One way around that certainly is to mine already existing customer conversations. After all, customers tell companies daily what they need and want when they contact customer success.
“You can hear what’s on your customer’s agenda,” she said. “That’s just one place. They tell you the difference between the promised experience and the lived experience.”
Don’t just jump to what you want to know, but listen to what they want to tell you.
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Consider acting small, Karen said, “instead of saying “5 years, 500 people, $50 million, what could you do with 5 minutes, 5 people, 5 dollars?”
When you do 5-minute experiments, over-investments don’t happen, Karen said.
“We see quickly what works, what doesn’t work, and we give ourselves permission to adjust,” she said. “The beauty of five minutes is that five-minute fixes create momentum.”
“It keeps you out of the grand gesture where you’ve over-invested, and now you have to stay the course,” she said. “Instead, how can we move as quickly as possible?”
Businesses succeed when their employees thrive at serving their customers. And sometimes, there are complex business problems that we need to overcome – no doubt, but with the right mindset and strategies in place, we can crush them and move forward stronger.