• twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • linkedin


Away From My Desk – Observing Customers with a Purpose

James thought leader in product marketing and product management leader

James Luizzi

November 30, 2017
Some say that Stonehenge was built 5,000 years ago…5,000 years!?  How is something still around that was built that long ago? I know it’s simply a pile of rocks but I mean, the other day I was told that I am lucky if the water pump in my house lasts a total of 8 years.  I was just having a conversation with a friend who was told that the high-end stove that he owns only has a life of less than 5-8 years.

What is going on with the quality of products that we are bringing to the market?

Have we sacrificed product quality for speed?

Are we launching Minimum Valuable products as opposed to Minimum Viable Products within our development process?

The only way we, as product managers, can make our products better is to first identify the problem, and the best way to do that is by getting observational feedback. In this episode of Away From My Desk, and in this blog I discuss how purposeful observation can help us truly understand issues and challenges that could be taking place with our products in order to make them more successful. This critical piece of product management and product marketing can help you succeed in the product lifecycle.

product management video product marketing away from my desk stonehenge panoramic view of stonehenge, the prehistoric monument

My Story


As a subject matter expert at Sequent Learning Networks, I often facilitate product management training courses in both a public and a corporate setting. I recently facilitated a public Product Management Essentials workshop in London and had decided to bring my parents along with me for the trip. In order to do a little sightseeing around the countryside, my mom and dad had decided to reserve tour bus tickets. So as we prepared for the unseasonably cold day in the UK I put on few layers and we all grabbed a warm coffee on the way to the tour bus. As we boarded the bus we picked a few seats and knowing that we had a long drive to get there I needed to get myself comfortable.

My first problem was that I needed a place to put my coffee, so reached for what looked like a great invention. On the back of each seat, there was a plastic cup holder meant to securely hold my coffee. There was one problem… it was broken. Not only was the one on my seat broken, so was every single one I saw on the bus. So I put my coffee on the ground and proceeded to take off my coat. After doing that I naturally to hang my coat but… no hooks, actually no place at all to put my coat. This wasn’t a school bus; this was a beautiful coach bus. As I slid across one seat to the next to put my coat somewhere, forgetting my coffee was on the floor, I then knocked that over causing a mess – all before we have even left for the trip!!!

product marketing blog broken cup holder on a bus

While en-route to the beautiful Stonehenge, I looked to my right and observed that the passenger in the row ahead, reclined in front of my father so far that it looked like he was resting in his lap. My dad is not a small man, but thank goodness he is a patient man. He literally would not have been able to get up without projecting the person in front of him forward out of his seat (which I recommended). So as you can see, this trip on this tour was less than excellent, and because of my experience with their associated product (the coach bus), I would not be using this tour company again.

With that experience in mind, my product manager brain began to turn. I put myself in the shoes of a tourism-based product management team, and think to myself, next time I am going to travel, and do some sightseeing, what would my experience look like? What could have been done differently?

What if there was an eager product manager who stepped away from their desk, and observed the experience that I went through on the bus to observe my experience? What if they saw that every single coffee cup holder was broken? What if they saw everyone on the bus scouring for a location to store their coats? What if someone from the tour company or even the bus manufacturer saw how totally uncomfortable my dad was on this 2-hour trip? Observation is the key to seeing and fixing issues like this or others to make a great product.

Keys to Observation


As with anything else, we obviously don’t want to observe our customers, consumers etc. without a good plan of attack. We need to plan, and take some key factors into consideration:

  • Overt or Covert – Does the person or team know you are observing them or is it covert, like a secret shopper?
  • The Mission – What are you looking to accomplish? Is there a particular type of usage or part of the product experience that you want to observe more then others?
  • Repetitive Actions – Is there a particular action you would like to observe over and over (for overt observations) to be sure you understand any issues
  • Location & Setting – Where will the observation take place? Controlled environment, real life setting?
  • Tools & Equipment – Do you want video, audio or take pictures of the product interaction so that you can look even more closely after you leave?

These are just a few topics you want to consider when planning for a purposeful observation of your products. You can download the Customer Observation Planning Tool Template here in order to fully plan for your observations in the future.

To learn more about the power of observing your customers, and many other powerful techniques to uncover Voice of Customer, contact Sequent Learning Networks ask about our Gathering Customer Insights Workshop.

About The Author

James thought leader in product marketing and product management leader

James Luizzi

Get Actionable Tips from Industry Experts Delivered Weekly!

Sequent Learning Networks

More than 300 product managers have already subscribed!

loading form...

You May Also Like

Sign In
Your shopping cart is empty