How to uncover real customer insights

The importance of context and motivation

How to uncover real customer insights

How to uncover real customer insights 698 400 Use Design

In France when working around health/nutrition services, you will often hear the sentence “I’d like to eat at least 5 vegetables/fruits per day”*. Nevertheless, can we call that an “insight”? Simply extracted like this, absolutely not.

Is the person or the group of people saying this healthy, overweight, wealthy, or in financial need? Are they busy? What kind of lifestyle do they have? How do they feel when they say that? What is their personal attitude towards food? The context and the motivation behind this sentence can vastly change the insight and so the service you want to deliver or improve. Being healthy or losing weight (initiative trigger) do not come from the same motivation (even if those two are usually correlated).

Being customer-centric requires “real” insights. Not just extracted quotations, mere observations or loosely interpreted data. Customer insights need to be deep, full of meaning and should contain well hidden treasures about people. Because, after all, consumers are people.

Why do we need insights?

Insights are empowering us, they are the starting point for disruptive products and services — all those that create new markets or change the industry landscape.

The reason is simple: insights are crucial elements of understanding. Consumers (people) are complex and often carry hidden needs that are only uncovered with rich insights. In turn, these will allow businesses to improve their customer’s experience, increase loyalty or further grow their market.


Behind everyone’s behavior there is always motivation.

Motivation is the result of what happens in people’s hearts (emotions), minds (cognition), bodies (physiology) and surroundings (context). By being able to uncover each of these areas, we may find powerful insights that enable true innovation.


People are highly emotional. They get frustrated, upset and angry from negative experiences, or delighted and happy from positive ones. Each emotion may arise in a specific touchpoint with a product/service, or simply during daily activities that are taken for granted.

How to capture it:

In general, social media is a great source of data on people’s emotions towards a series of stimuli. It may require a good deal of interpretation or sophisticated data mining on larger scales. But unfortunately, people are often not able to express their own emotions, or perhaps are not open enough to do so in channels like social media.

In those cases, it’s important to engage them in closer conversations such as in-person interviews. Observation is the key to capture nuances in their reactions. Those will reveal how they feel when talking about certain subject or being introduced to unknown concepts. Therefore, it is crucial to give people our full attention during such conversations.

A good methodology consists in asking consecutive questions regarding people’s behavior and attitude towards something. Each answer may reveal a new layer of emotion that motivates people. For example**:

Why do you exercise?  Because it’s healthy

Why is it healthy?  Because it raises my heart rate

Why is that important?  So that I burn more calories

Why do you want to do that?  To lose weight

Why are you trying to lose weight?  I feel social pressure to look fit



People are rational (or at least try to be) and sometimes evaluate their own needs. Through their cognitive processes, we may discover how do they reach certain conclusions or develop certain preferences.

How to capture it:

Letting people express their reasoning is often enough to uncover the cognitive dimension of their motivation. Asking them questions in a simple but straightforward manner is a good start.

Another good approach is performing a cognitive analysis**. It may be done by identifying people’s informational sources, decision criteria and usual course of action during buying/consumption situations. This should give us a cue to their most rational behaviors.


People’s physiology plays an important role in their needs and wants. It forms the very base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basic feelings such as hunger and thirst may drive impulsion and shape the outcome of several different activities. Certain physiological conditions may also improve or limit many consumer experiences — regardless of whether people are physically disabled or not. After all, human beings do not (or rarely) have super powers, and usually rely on their body to engage with products and other people.

How to capture it:

Again, observing people in their day-to-day lives is very important. But I will emphasize the need for empathy and putting ourselves in others’ shoes. Similar to engaging extreme users, we may use Empathy tools** to identify people’s limitations during their interaction with products or services.

Genworth Financial has introduced the so-called R70i Age Suit as an empathy tool that allow users to experience the effects of aging on their own skin. Being an insurance and long term care specialist, Genworth is sure to profit from the insights enabled by this technology, just as much as its customers will.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember we should not always be limited by state-of-the-art technology. Simple creativity may sometimes be the only thing we need to reproduce other people’s experiences.

Context (surroundings, background, etc.)

What happens around people is as much important as what they think and do. It sets a context to their daily activities and influence them in several ways. Other people they interact with, usual objects, the atmosphere and physical environment. Those are all important factors and should be taken into account.

How to capture it:

A method that addresses this dimension very well is providing people with a kit (camera, recorder, notebook, or more) to document their surroundings. They should be instructed to capture moments that are meaningful to them, objects they often interact with, places in which they spend time. Seeing it through their own perspective will help dig up and select some of the most relevant factors of their motivations.

To reassure that you own a “real” insight, you need to capture the motivation. Attempt to understand people. Their hearts, minds, bodies and surroundings. Then, you will be on the right track.

* Rule of thumb pushed by the French Health Ministry initiative: – “eat better and move more”.

** source: IDEO Method Cards

Vivien Gauthier— Associé, Business & Design Strategist @ Use Design 

Dites-nous qui vous êtes et ce qui vous ferait plaisir. Pensez à nous laisser un email et/ou un numéro de téléphone, comme vous préférez, et on vous recontacte rapidement 😉