When we begin research for a new customer journey map, we always include an ethnographic component. While interviews, surveys, and other traditional research methods are valuable, the nuances captured during ethnography provide greater depth and understanding of the customer’s interaction with the organization.
One of the most difficult parts of ethnography is recruiting participants, mostly because people don’t know what to expect. And really, people are concerned about valid things like privacy and having someone in their way. When we go into an organization to observe, our biggest goal (behind learning the nuances of an individual’s day to day work) is to stay out of the way. But our reception has been consistently positive, which is great because we get some of our best information when we observe.
An ethnographic research day includes a lot of observing and asking questions, when it’s appropriate. There are so many things we can learn from just watching and listening—time constraints, work-arounds, and issues people can’t even articulate because they’re so used to living with them. We also see the things people can’t tell us in an interview, including the setup of their workspace, the body language when they’re communicating with their colleagues, and the general mood or feel of an organization. While we never know what we’ll find doing ethnography, we always know it will be valuable.
For journey mapping, ethnography means moments of truth—places where an organization’s eyes are opened to the possibilities and opportunities that lie within that customer interaction. Most customers can’t tell you what they need because they’re too busy doing all the things they need to do in a day; but if you can observe them, notice the opportunities, and tell them what you can do to help, then you’ve really captured something valuable.