The trend towards greater and greater customer empowerment requires a deeper and deeper understanding of customer needs.

“When people, teams, and organizations develop new products and services, they tend to have endless discussions about what users or customers need, who customers are, and what features the design of their offering should have,” Tomer Sharon, Search UX Researcher at Google and author of recent book, ‘It’s Our Research’, states. This is what I call designing with five smart people in a room drinking lattes syndrome.

“Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley and a Stanford university professor, says there are no facts inside the building,” Tomer says. “Development teams cannot make decisions without developing customers first. Not products, not technologies: Customers. He coined the mantra, "Get Out of the Building". What he means by that is that developers of products should get up from their comfortable chairs and proactively seek opportunities to learn from their customers about their needs to be able to understand what the company's business model should be.”

Tomer cites “intuition” as one of the primary reasons people don’t get out of the building. In a modern, complex, constantly changing world, intuition is a dangerous thing. Intuition is essentially learned behavior patterns. It speaks to the past. If the same basic event keeps recurring then intuition is great. But if the world is changing rapidly, intuition can be disastrous.

“Some people are just scared of what they'll hear,” Tomer states. “They are afraid of failing and of invalidating their assumptions. Actually, they don't consider their assumptions as such. They think they are facts. It is our jobs (UX practitioners) to help people recognize their assumptions.”

One very interesting technique Tomer uses to combat ‘stay in the building’ syndrome he calls Field Fridays. “Field Fridays are an excellent opportunity for software engineers to meet users face to face, see how they use their products, and learn about their behavior. During these events, a team of engineers moderates 20-minute interview sessions with real users, speed dating style, on a Friday morning once a month. I started this program since I was amazed to learn that some engineers work on products for 3 years without meeting a single human being who actually uses their code.”

Tomer says that divergence between what the team thinks the customer will do and what the customer actually does happens on a daily basis. And don’t trust what customers tell you, either.

“Navigational search queries are ones where users use Google to search for websites or webpages,” Tomer states. “For example, when I enter "netherlands wikipedia" into the search box, I am conducting a navigational query. When I am entering "population size netherlands" into the search box, it is not a navigational query since I don't have a specific site in mind. When you explain this concept to Google users and ask them if they conduct navigational queries, they usually tell you they hardly do them. Yet, when you ask them to complete a certain task or if you analyze usage logs or even the same person's web search history (after getting their permission of course), you find they do many navigational searches. Humans are very bad at analyzing their behavior (past, present, and future) and they tend to rationalize it so they look good, reasonable, and smart. I try to focus my research on observing behavior rather than listening to what people say.”