Don’t overlook these 5 observations that’ll improve your product. Cars were being rented – 230,000 users! Many companies would celebrate the success. Orix, a Japanese car-sharing service, however, discovered some oddities in the mileage reports. They found that a high-percentage of vehicles were being returned as having traveled zero distance.

Costing less than $4 to borrow a car for 30 minutes, Orix discovered customers weren’t actually using the cars for driving. Renters were using them as a quiet place to watch TV, eat lunch, get dressed up for Halloween, or even practice their rap verses.

The way we think people use our products compared to how they are actually used in the real world can be shocking. It’s important for everyone in your company from sales to marketing to engineering to get out from behind their desk and get in the trenches to understand how customers use your product. It’s these valuable insights that develop, evolve and improve your product offering.

Things you might discover in the trenches:

In 2005, Apple launched the MacMini. While it started as an easy way to port PC data for new Mac users, people started connecting a MacMini to their televisions to watch movies or listen to music in the living room, or to have the real estate of a larger monitor.

Apple observed these trends, and in 2006, they added an HDMI port to the MacMini to make it easier to connect televisions. These early adopters created their own rudimentary device that would later become known as Apple TV.

While there are lots of Analytics and digital tools you can use to monitor customer behavior, it’s important to pop out from the cubicle or data stream. Talk to customers and get a hands-on feel for how your product truly performs in the real world. As this article points out, “changing the checkout button in an e-commerce website to appear white on a white background will not be caught by any automated test. But it still will drive revenue to zero.”

5 Ways to Discover How Your Product is Really Used

Aggregate customer service calls.

Don’t answer the phone, briskly answer questions and forget about them. Even with limited resources, you should keep an Excel spreadsheet of common customer problems or FAQs. 96% of customers don’t complain, so simply going by memory, that 2-4% could be an easily forgettable radar blip. Implement a way to observe trends, because there could be a flood of disappointed customers that simply decided to no longer do business with you.

Get outside.

Where are the people that are using your product? Have an idea for a stroller accessory? Keep an eye on how people rig up strollers when walking the park. If your product benefits runners, go spectate your city’s marathon or 10K. Seeing how people subconsciously interact with your product can yield powerful intel.

Polls or Surveys.

Unless you have a very specific question in mind, improperly administered polls can yield skewed results. In the example of the Japanese rental cars, asking “on a scale of 1-10,  did you enjoy using this service?” might not provide actionable information. If I had a nice nap in the car, I’d give the experience a “10” and move on without giving any hint that I never actually drove it. Without knowing more about what you are looking for, surveys can mislead actions.

Pay attention to social media.

With so many photos and videos curated to perfection, the experience portrayed on social media might not be a truly realistic representation. With so many examples of people not even doing what they were pictured doing, it’s easy to get an unrealistic portrayal. Another mistake made when mining customer-use data from social media, is that companies are prone to paying closer attention to accounts with big followings or videos with the most views. While these can be helpful, find videos with 50, 5…even 1 view, to get a full picture.

Keep using your product!

I’ve met with many top executives that haven’t ever used any of the company’s key offerings. Constantly try it for yourself, under different conditions, over-time, etc. If feasible, make sure your entire team does the same.

As a small business, it’s not necessary to hire a pricey firm or commission an expensive focus group, but getting as close to you can to physically observing your product in-use can be the key to long-term success. The best way to lose sight of success is to think you know everything – so position yourself as a lifelong learner of your product experience.

To keep learning, visit SMEI’s online learning center.

Photo credit: MarekPhotoDesign.com for Adobe Stock

Larissa Lewis is the founder of Jargon Gist, working with engineers and other tech-laden businesses to shorten and sharpen their marketing messaging to better attract and connect with customers. Her ability to marry technical content with customer-attracting strategy combats the oft-held belief that marketing is “the stuff of fluff,” and propels a refreshed interest in jargon-laden products and services by explaining them in powerful ways that people understand and love.