Imagine this: The year is 1983. You’re at the mall and just purchased this remarkable new household appliance known as the personal computer. It promises to do things that had previously been relegated to paper, pencil, or clumsy pocket calculators. One of the things these new personal computers excel at is calculations, and you hope to get ahold of your family budget with this device you just spent a comparative fortune on!
As you walk through the mall toward your car, a nicely dressed man stops you and introduces himself as Scott, a computer programmer who has a piece of software that will simulate the experience of a paper checkbook on your new computer. All he wants to do is watch how you install and use this new program he’s working on called “Quicken.”
This is how Scott Cook, Intuit co-founder, began our company’s practice of customer-backed research that exists to this day. Stories like this permeate the early history of Intuit, which in 1983 was just launching its first product, the Quicken personal finance program. It was the birth of what would become a formalized practice within the company called “Follow Me Home,” and you’ll still find Scott Cook spreading his belief in practice through Intuit’s halls, virtually and literally.
A customer-backed lens
How well do you know your customers? What are their pain points? Why do they use your product? What challenges do they have with your product, and how do they feel about it? These are important questions—so much so that there is a national Get To Know Your Customers Day, which is observed the third Thursday of each quarter (January, April, July, and October). Understanding your customers is paramount to your success, but it’s not always easy.
Thankfully, Intuit has something that can help, the same Follow Me Home (FMH) practice that Scott Cook used in 1983 when he wanted to see how people would interact with Quicken in their home offices, dens, or even kitchen tables.
What is the Follow Me Home program?
FMH is a way to step into our customers’ shoes in order to understand the full picture of how they run their business with our products. The most important element of a successful FMH is walking into it with no assumptions or expectations on how the interviewee will use the products or what set of challenges they face on a daily basis.
By observing our customers in their “natural habitat,” we’re able to glean what they like, what they don’t like, what challenges they may encounter, and how they use the product. The result is a personalized and intuitive software product. Scott Cook’s mantra for a good FMH was “look to be surprised” by what a customer does when they’re engaging with your product in that natural habitat.
Can any business use the Follow Me Home program?
If you’re wondering if any business can use the FMH program, the simple answer is “yes.” Obviously, your business must have a product or service that a customer can be observed using, and your customer must be willing to be observed. When these factors are both met, then setting up the program is fairly simple.
You’ll begin by setting up a team. Don’t worry, it doesn’t require a huge investment in additional employees. The most basic team consists of an Interviewer and a Note Taker/Timekeeper.
The Interviewer is the main person talking to the customer. He or she explains the process and asks the questions. The Note Taker/Timekeeper takes notes on what the customer says and does, and ensures the FMH session ends on time. If you have more than two team members present, everyone should observe and take notes, but only one person should talk; it makes it less confusing for the customer.
Here are the steps to set up a virtual FMH:
- Draft a list of topics and questions in advance.
- Decide who on the team will set up the interview and ensure they schedule a date and time, as well as send out a calendar invite or email invitation that includes how they should show up – for example, via Zoom, Google Hangouts or even a regular phone call.
- Decide who will be responsible for technology. This person is responsible for a sound check at the beginning of the call, making sure the recording is on, and taking screenshots.
The next four steps take you through the FMH agenda:
- Introduce yourself and explain why you are there.
- Ask the customer to show you activities you’re interested in and observe those activities, noting every detail possible.
- Ask the customer “why” questions to understand their feelings and motivation; this directly correlates to Intuit’s concept of Design for Delight, which focuses on falling in love with the customer problem and not the solution.
- Wrap up, and let the customer know you appreciate their time and willingness to be observed.
You’ve done an FMH—now what?
The FMH program is a simple and effective method for understanding your customers and gathering data about their needs. Once you’ve completed an FMH session, it’s time to share your observations with your entire team. Seeing your product or service in real-world situations allows you to make necessary improvements and enhancements without wasting your time and efforts on suppositions.
To further ensure that your FMH session is successful, here are a few tips:
- Have an open mind. Even if you think you already know about the customer and their problems, try to set that aside.
- Be curious. Ask “why” to find the cause of the “what.”
- Don’t offer solutions. Even if you have a great idea, save it for later. Right now, you just want to learn.
- Remember it’s not about you. Try not to compare yourself to the customer. It doesn’t matter if you agree or don’t agree with them. And if they say something that really surprises you, make a note of that—surprises offer important insights.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to implement a FMH program in your business? Here at Intuit, we believe every company should be doing FMH, and have found that it provides an immeasurable benefit to us and to our customers. You can read about one of those customers in Follow Me Home: OneTen.