Customer Closeness – fancy methodologies need not apply

Many agencies have come up with fantastically creative ideas on how to get their clients closer to customers over the years. We’ve had shop-alongs, safaris, unboxings, sleepovers, board sessions, co-creation workshops, live focus groups and probably tandem parachute jumps as well. These sessions were no doubt entertaining and memorable, but how much did they actually inspire change?

Customer closeness comes in many forms and actual face-time with shoppers is only a part of it. We worked with a retailer who wanted to better understand the needs of the ageing population. We conducted extensive qualitative and quantitative research, as well as looked at purchasing habits of this age-group through the use of panel data. Our conclusions were robust and (we thought), simple. Stakeholders had already had face-time with shoppers. Some of them attended the research, and we produced film content for those that couldn’t attend to underline the main points.

However, despite the fact that stakeholders seemed to understand the messages, clear actions and next steps seemed oddly hard to tease out.
We needed something to make the story more real, so for a follow-up workshop, we used age-simulation materials (glasses that simulate eye problems and gloves that simulate arthritis) and asked participants to wear them whilst they chose, purchased and ate their lunch. That single hour gave them a better understanding of the needs of their shoppers than all of the films and interviews and we were able to use the research to then quantify the scale of the problem and the opportunity.

In another example, we worked with a retailer who had some stereotypical views of its shoppers that were deeply entrenched in the business. Had those stakeholders seen a shopper face to face that disturbed those views, they would have been too easy to dismiss. In this case, we used robust purchasing data that challenged the stereotypes, but communicated as single bite-sized facts in a poster campaign.
The purpose of this wasn’t to change minds on the spot, but rather to open a conversation and create a buzz, getting everyone in head office talking about how the data showed a view of the shopper that ran counter to their deep-seated expectations.
When a more open mindset was established, we could then move in with more robust research to help develop the thinking and promote change

Creativity is crucial to a good and memorable customer closeness programme, but sometimes being open-minded in your approach can actually result in quicker, cheaper and simpler approaches that will be even more effective at landing a point than face-time with shoppers. The most successful programmes draw on a wide variety of tools to deliver impact.

By knowing what you want your programme to achieve up front, you’ll be in the best possible position to choose a range of methodologies that land your point with devastating effectiveness