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5 common mistakes you make when getting to know your customer

Time to read: 6 min

We're going to become a customer-centered organization! We always put the customer at the center! We develop all our services and products according to needs! You've probably heard the statements at corporate conferences over the past decade. Still, although many organizations have made progress, some common pitfalls exist. Let's go through the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: you get mentally stuck with your hypothesis

Cognitive psychology speaks about confirmation bias, the tendency to absorb information confirming one's worldview. If someone, against scientific evidence, is convinced that the climate crisis is a hoax, they will also seek information that proves just that. Similar patterns quickly arise when organizations are getting to know their customers. If you start with assumptions about the customer experience, it's easy to find data confirming the same assumptions.

How to avoid the mistake

  • Write down your hypotheses before conducting a study, and actively challenge them by seeking information that disproves them

  • Be flexible with your interview guide – delve into where the interviewee has a lot to say and ask why until you fully understand the customer's perspective

  • Be aware of internal political influences that may underlie the study and strive to represent the customer's voice as objectively and honestly as possible

Two circles overlapping. One circle says Objective Facts and one says What confirms your beliefs. The over lapping part is marked with the text: What you see.

Mistake 2: you miss representation in recruitment

When conducting the study, including individuals representing the entire customer base is essential. It can be tempting to recruit customers who are easy to reach, but it's necessary to include different characteristics relevant to the study.

How to avoid the mistake

  • Describe which characteristics are essential to cover, such as loyalty level, geodemographics, and socioeconomic factors, and ensure that the study group represents a mix of them

  • Be aware of accessibility and include individuals with varying functions and abilities, especially in product and prototype testing

Mistake 3: you use too few data sources

To truly understand your customer, you must combine several data sources and perspectives. Each has different types of data with both strengths and weaknesses:

Internal data such as sales and conversion statistics provide a current picture and allow for comparisons over time. The downside is that they don't offer insight into the customer's own experience. Market data such as trend and competitor analyses provide an understanding of the context and indications of general customer expectations. The downside is that they don't consider the specific product or service. Quantitative customer surveys such as Net Promoter Score (NPS), brand index, and surveys provide a statistically validated picture that can be compared over time. The downside is that they don't fully describe needs, emotions, or overall experience.

Two people interacting in a conversation. One talking and one taking notes.

Photo: SHVETS production Pexels

Qualitative customer surveys such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, and usability tests provide deeper understanding of expectations, drivers, needs, and challenges and allow for follow-up questions. The downside is that they require a large and representative sample for the result to be accurate and reliable.

How to avoid the mistake

Combine several different sources, methods, and perspectives to get a picture that reflects the customer experience.

Mistake 4: you get stuck in symptoms and miss the cause of the customer's challenge

A common purpose of customer surveys is to identify challenges that need to be addressed to improve the customer experience. However, it's equally important to understand the causes behind the challenges in order to address them properly.

How to avoid the mistake

  • Engage colleagues with different perspectives and experiences to define the causes of problems

  • Categorize problems based on what can be influenced – there's a difference between problems caused by poor design and problems caused by, for example, legal prerequisites, and by categorizing the causes, you can mentally let go of what can't be influenced and focus problem-solving where it makes a difference

The word Why repeated three times.

Mistake 5: you skip testing

Not testing a product or service before launch often leads to bigger problems and costs in the long run. Therefore, invest time in testing and validating ideas and prototypes with users as early as possible.

How to avoid the mistake

  • Plan for testing at the start of the project so you have plenty of time to recruit customers

  • Ask to contact the test subjects again for follow-up tests later in the project

  • Remember that a usability test doesn't have to be extensive or time-consuming – after five tests, you've identified the majority of the problems

So, with these perspectives in your backpack - go out and get to know your customer for real! Chat GPT and AI are great, but your best tools for this task are curiosity, empathy, holistic thinking, and humility towards being wrong. Good luck with your research! Read more about how we work with Service Design and accessibility.


  • Service Design,
  • Data,
  • Alalysis,
  • Customer insight,
  • Data colllection,
  • Qualitative interviews,
  • Focus groups,
  • Target audience,
  • Consumer centric,
  • Hypothesis,
  • Empathy,
  • Needs,
  • Driving forces
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