What do you think of sweat shops which drive the exploitation of workers in third world countries and emerging economies? How about pollution; are you for or against pollution in our cities? Most people answer these questions without hesitation: most people don’t want to drive the exploitation of workers and typically, polluting our cities is not on people’s to-do lists.
However, take a look at what you are wearing right now. How much consideration did you give to the exploitation of sweat shop workers when you purchased each item of clothing. Have you ever chosen to drive your car out of convenience when a much lower-polluting option is available?
Welcome to the value-action gap. The value-action gap describes the gap between what peoples’ values are, and how they behave. It’s essentially the notion that what people say is not always equal to what people do. The value-action gap is a significant contributor to the reason that many innovations are unsuccessful, despite ‘customer research’ being completed. Customer research which focuses on people’s thoughts and attitudes might provide insight on – well, their thoughts and attitudes – and even their intentions, but it is inherently a poor predictor of their behavior.
A student in a lecture I was giving on this subject at a university in Melbourne last week raised her hand and said “Ah, that’s why all the polls are wrong when it comes to politics!” Whilst I wouldn’t go quite that far, the value-action gap is definitely at play as a contributor here too!
So if asking customers what they think is somewhat flawed, what’s a better approach? Wherever possible, ask people what they did (describe behavior which relates to what it is you are innovating around), rather than what they think. Become focused on learning about peoples’ behavior rather than their opinions. Ask them what they did and probe around the circumstances of each decision which they made. It’s a trickier piece of research to do well, but it is infinitely more accurate, in terms of predicting behavior, than asking customers for thoughts and opinions.
If you would like to discuss high-quality behaviour-based customer research and testing further, I’d love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org.