No one is immune to cognitive biases. Cindy Alvarez, Principal Researcher at Microsoft and Author of Lean Customer Development wanted us to recognize this fact at #mtpcon San Francisco 2018. In this Sunday Rewind, we look back on this talk and what we learned from her keynote.
In her talk, Cindy explained how our brains are not very good at making nuanced decisions. So cognitive bias creeps in and impacts the questions we ask, what people tell us in response, and how we interpret what we have heard. Cindy talks us through several common biases, how they manifest themselves in our work, and what questions we should be asking instead.
Types of Bias
With confirmation bias, we look for evidence that proves us right, and avoid or ignore evidence that contradicts our beliefs. Instead of asking “How likely would you be to use (a solution)?”, ask “Tell me about what you’re currently doing in (a situation).” Hearing people’s stories is a better way to discover what they really need and what they really care about.
Cognitive dissonance is the feeling when we’re trying to hold two contradicting views at the same time. This helps us feel better by saying it’s the users’ fault, not ours.
We want to talk to happy customers because it makes us feel good. This is the heart of survivorship bias, or “Happy Customer Bias.” But your happiest customers are not typically the best representation of what needs to change in your product. Instead, talk to churned customers, low-usage customers, or non-customers using competitor products.
The curse of knowledge
Once we have a fact or skill, we cannot remember what it was like to not have that fact or skill. So the people who have used your product for a long time don’t know what it was like before they started. To counter this, ask, “Suppose you had a new coworker join your team – what advice would you give them to get started?”
Social desirability bias
When you ask people, “How often do you go to the gym?”, many will say 5 or 7 days a week with a straight face even if they only wish they exercised that often. This is social desirability bias – we (unconsciously) edit what we say to make ourselves look good. So think about if your questions have a socially-preferable answer that might bias your results. For example, “Do you have hard time meeting deadlines?” Who wants to say yes to that?
The backfire effect – presenting rational evidence against our beliefs can make us reject it, and believe in our original thought even more strongly. Or put simply: you can’t fight feelings with facts. If a customer thinks they need a feature, you can’t convince them otherwise.
Get to the real answers
Cindy wraps up by talking us through an example of asking questions in the right way to avoid common biases. She gave us some key questions that will help you understand if your customers truly need what they are asking for:
- “Just to be sure I’m clear – if you had that already, how would it make your job/life easier?”
- “Since you don’t have it today, what is your current workaround?”
- “In the last 6 months, how often has that happened?”
- “You’re right, (our competitor) does offer this feature. I’d love to hear your impression of the solution.”
- “You mentioned it might come in handy in the future. How are you anticipating your needs changing?”
- “If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about (a situation), it doesn’t have to be possible, what would it be?”