I consult for a small startup company whose core product is a software solution for customers in various vertical markets within the construction industry. They recently held an off-site event for their employees (and a few of their consultants, including yours truly) where they encouraged us to try to get into the mindset of their customers.
How did they do this? We were all issued hard-hats emblazoned with the company logo, and we operated earth moving equipment for the day. We literally spent the better part of a day operating the equipment that their customers use every day, and one of the company’s actual customers came out and showed us how to do it. Yes, it was a fun exercise (what kid didn’t watch construction sites with a sense of awe?) but the idea was to give us a better sense of how the customers’ employees spend their days. It was an unqualified success: everyone had a fantastic time, and left with a better understanding of the customer. (Surprisingly, the customer seemed uninterested in a swap: he didn’t think his foremen and laborers would be interested in coming to the company’s office and spending the day behind a desk operating a computer. Imagine that!) ;-)
It’s always a good idea to step outside your daily grind as a business owner and try to look at the world through the eyes of your customer… and this is the best (and most concrete) example I’ve ever seen of achieving that goal. For some businesses, it’s easy (even restaurant owners eat out occasionally, and owners of video rental shops watch movies just like the rest of us) but there are some businesses where this process is more abstract. The key is to find a way to walk a mile in your customer’s shoes… it will help you understand what motivates them, what bugs them, and how best to solve their problems with your products and services.