Tammy Sachs is the founder and CEO of Sachs Insights, a strategic UX research consultancy. Having had the good fortune to enter the world of branding and market research with the advent of the PC, Tammy has been fascinated from day one about how technology continues to shape how we communicate, learn, transact, and relate to brands and one another.
Sachs Insights is her sandbox to channel her curiosity, try out research techniques, and collaborate with an amazing group of colleagues and clients. While discovery is exciting, Tammy’s favorite part of each project is telling a story with the voice of customers to ensure their perspective shapes experiences that matter. She was kind enough to share the five skills she uses daily while helping clients uncover new ways to improve their products.
1. Practice Active Listening and Playback
People rarely mean what you think they do. So asking very open-ended questions and giving them the space to really share is invaluable. Then ask why what they said is important to them. Ask about the context, the environment, and the situation. Find out who the stakeholders are and what each of them want.
Then play back what you heard to ensure you understood what they said or meant. We often feel misunderstood or not listened to. So, the sheer fact that you heard what they said builds trust and rapport. It also identifies gaps between what you heard and what they intended. Often in product development, clients will insist on a method, market, or strategy that doesn’t seem to make sense. The first inclination is to tell them the fiv e reasons why you have a better idea. Before you do that, ask what the situation is. This provides a context with which to offer the solution that best addresses their needs.
2. Develop A Thick Skin
This comes with time. Clients may sometimes say things that at first seem aggressive or offensive, especially when operating under time pressure or when the direction they’ve been given is vague. Taking any of it personally is not useful, as it is rarely about you or intended to offend.
The more even and non-reactive your voice, the faster you get to the source of the issue. I teach our staff of consultants to trust their gut, and to approach the situation based on what feels right. Here are some options:
Empathy: “Wow, that sounds like a really challenging situation. I don’t know how you handle it. It must take a lot of patience.”
Humor: “This sounds like a great reality show. Who should we cast?”
Direct Acknowledgement and Engagement: “This is a difficult situation. It is no wonder there are conflicting opinions. You are taking on something no one has done before, so there is no template. How can we collaborate to create a strawman for the team so they can each give us feedback on how closely our solution addresses their goals?”
3. Use Positive Framing
Most of us, when very close to a situation, can become myopic. We have been looking at the same problem for a long time. We’ve probably lost perspective. What could be obvious to an outsider isn’t obvious to us. All this often leads to is identifying issues, problems, limitations, etc. It isn’t conducive to thinking outside the box.
The best thing you can do as a consultant is to reframe the situation as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. We all know that the glass can either be half empty or half full:
“Wow, it looks like anything we do is going to result in a positive uptake in acquisition”
“This is exciting – you have two challenges that are really compelling. It would be great to identify a solution that addresses them both. It’s like a twofer!”
“This has never been done before. It would be awesome to be the first to crack this opportunity.”
These approaches provide a different lens that is far more liberating and conducive to creativity and ideation.
4. Know When to Join the Resistance, Instead of Fighting It
This is a variation of number two. Clients will sometimes say, “Gee, I’d probably be better off hiring so and so (as in not your firm).” First, don’t react. Ask why they feel that way. Is it a safer choice? Is it one management is more likely sign on for? Is it just cheaper?
My take goes something like this: “I certainly hear you, and if that is the decision you opt for, I completely understand. Why don’t we propose our best alternative; we’ll come meet you and your team in person and walk through our approach. Then, if you feel that the other firm is a better fit for whatever reason, I’d go with them. Your gut is always right.”
What we never do: say anything negative about another company. What we do is mention is how our strengths align with the client’s priorities. This identifies what differentiates us most effectively from other companies in a positive way. It also affirms our integrity and builds trust, both of which are invaluable assets for a consulting firm.
5. Demonstrate the Power of Passion and Authenticity
As researchers, we are insatiably curious. Any situation has some unique angle that makes it exciting. It could be the 15th e-commerce site you’ve tested. However, there is something about the brand, the market situation, the customer base, and the opportunity for growth that is new and different. By keying into this, you reignite a client’s enthusiasm for the project and create positive momentum.
For example, a client came to us when building a new e-commerce site for shoes. The site was designed to appeal to two very different audiences: hipsters and hardcore construction workers (think steel toe). The idea of shaping an experience that would engage both and justify a high price point based on the value prop to each was incredibly interesting. Keying into what is fascinating and different about a UX project infuses the entire team with energy. And we are all, as a team, entering a new terrain that provides borrowed interest to what is essentially another homepage, browse experience, buy flow, and check out path. Thus, everything old becomes new again.