The 4 Hour Customer Insight Hack

Design a better best selling product with only 5% of the effort.

In Business Innovation School, we get taught that in order to get great customer insights, we need to talk with tons of people, sometime spending thousands of hours and cash. While this is a great way to increase your probabilities of success, it is heavy on time and resources.

Last year while re-visiting one of Tim Ferris talks on Creative Live, I realized that you can use the same process he uses to design his wildly popular bestsellers, like “The 4-Hour Chef” and apply it to any other product.

Please note, that while this is indeed and amazing hack, it works amazingly well when you want to design a new product, but it’s harder to make it work when you want to disrupt an Industry. Why? Because we are going to be exploiting existing and underused insights that people already give for products they already consume.

Exploiting existing customer insights.

Tim uses one of his most useful principles: If you study any process well enough, you can get 95% of the result with only 5% of the effort.

He wanted to write a book about learning anything and he used cooking just as a metaphor. Since cooking was at the center of the book’s theme, he needed to create one of the best cooking book out there. While the process was used to create a series of bestselling books, you can hack it to virtually any product.

Hacking Customer Insights

Instead of spending thousands of dollars and hours talking to customers, he did something wickedly smart. He hired a few virtual assistants and asked them to do the following:

  1. Visit every best selling cooking book on Amazon and go to the reviews section
  2. Filter the reviews and take note of the top 10 most useful reviews (both good and bad). But remember, they need to be amongst the most useful.
  3. Ignore the bad reviews that haven’t been mark as useful, Tim’s team found out that those people simply hate everything and leave nothing but bad reviews.
  4. Take note of what are the most common requests and suggestions. Such as what content did the customers felt was missing, what annoyed them and most importantly they loved.
  5. Once you start figuring out a pattern of things that work, and things that are missing, your are set to design a superior product.

Is it really that easy?

There are a lot of questions and critics that may arise from this pr0cess. Specially about the information’s depth and resolution, or how about all the insights and stories that we are missing. I agree, this is not the most solid customer insight gathering method. Specially if you want to design a service or a non commercial project. In which case I would advise not to use it.

Yet, when it comes to design a better commercial product, this process is the leanest and most effective insight discovery process. Why? Precisely because you are not exploring an entire universe of insights, you are getting a laser-focus on what matters while creating a commercial product: only the best-sellers.

¿ Why would you need insights on how to improve the worst selling products, when you can focus on improving what generates the most revenue, and with only 5% of the effort?

I was a bit skeptical, at first. So I had to make sure it really works as good as Tim claims. After reviewing Tim’s selling numbers, and start using the process myself, I’m now an evangelist.

A final note:

In this case, we used Amazon because it has an Amazing product review system. But if your market/product is elsewhere there is no reason why you can’t use it there. Simply go where your market share reviews about the products and follow the same process:

  1. Find the most useful reviews
  2. Look for patterns
  3. Design a better solution

You can hear a bit of the process by Tim Ferris himself in this conversation extracted from Creative Live.

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