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From the archives: B2B ethnography

By July 12, 2022August 2nd, 2022Customer experience, Insights

Chantal Rapport is currently CMO and head of growth at Upstart, based in San Fransisco.


By Chantal Rapport in 2016 | How Chantal’s immersion with customers helped her deliver customer-centric recommendations

At SATOV, when we talk about getting to know the customer, we mean digging deeper than your data.

While transactional and financial data is a crucial input, it is only one part of a customer story. It’s important to develop a true understanding of what drives a customer to you, and what keeps them coming: their needs and desires, their perceptions of your brand and product.

Sometimes, the best way to truly understand your customer is to get your hands dirty. Observe your customers. Engage with them. Listen to what they say. For me, this meant my first six weeks in the management consulting world were spent undercover as a telecom technician trainee.

Admittedly, it was not what I had pictured consulting life to be. I swapped my pressed suit for a yellow safety coat, my computer for cable cutters, and my spreadsheet for a listening ear. Somewhere in between drinking Dunkin Donuts and fixing cable wires, I learned several important lessons that would shape both our case and my consulting career.

The devil is in the details.

I was told early on in my career to pay attention to any detail that could unravel a quantitative model. On my first assignment, I learned that the small things I observed on the ground would make a big difference too. If I had not quite literally gotten my hands dirty on the trucks, I would not have been aware of operational details that impacted the customer experience.

These qualitative details that I learned from working with the wires and embracing technician culture would turn out to materially impact that large quantitative model of ours.

Empathy rules.

By observing and engaging with over 300 customers, I started to empathize with our customer. I felt their frustration when the product wasn’t working, their disappointment when they received something different from what they expected, and their relief when it was finally all fixed.

I brought these feelings to the table when it came time to make recommendations about our service to the customer. Because I understood why the customer acted as they did, we were able to better determine what they needed and how to service them.

A customer first, an employee second, and a consultant third

At every case team meeting, I was able to wear three hats: a customer, a technician, and a consultant. That broad perspective was important to create a sound and implementable recommendation.

Although an in-depth ethnography may not always be feasible, open conversations with customers and observations are.