Bridging the saying-doing gap with design research

Yesterday I had the opportunity to host a workshop about the relationship between customer experience and the saying-doing gap. And how you bridge that gap with design research.

Workshop on the Saying-Doing gap

Three different types of the saying-doing gap

First of all, what is the saying-doing gap? It’s all about the mismatch between what people say and what they mean. I use the word mean instead of do in this case because in some situations the saying part isn’t as tightly liked to a direct action as one might think. You could describe 3 main types of the gap.

1. People behave differently than they say they do
This is literal sense of the saying-doing gap where people give answers that contrast how they actually behave. The typical scenario is where people try to give the “correct” answer to a question. Image how our world would look if everyone who says they want a healthy lifestyle actually would take action to get one.

2. People can’t visualize the future image
This saying-doing gap occurs when you ask people to describe the future. In many cases people will give you an answer but you should question the motive is behind their answer. The typical example is Henry Ford who asked people what they wanted and in reply they answered “faster horses”.

3. The world is miscellaneous
Give people choices and they will give you answers. Give different choices and you’ll get different answers. Do you prefer coffee or tea at breakfast? Well, if I have to choose it would be coffee but what I really prefer is my favorite fruit muesli with yogurt along with a newspaper.

How is this related to customer experience

The short answer is that when you’re not aware of the saying-doing gap, you might be getting incomplete or in fact misleading results while doing research on customer experience. The longer answer is that it’s hard for people to describe their emotions in certain situations (touchpoints) without losing a lot of the meaning in the interpretation of their answer. Adding to that is the fact that, like in example of Henry Ford, it’s hard for people to pinpoint what experience they actually desire.

What are design research strategies to bridge the gap

There are certain things you can do with design research to minimize the risk of falling in the gap.

1. Use tangible evidence
Help people tell their story using objects. It can be anything in their wallet, their groceries, or the toys their buy for their kids. Objects form tangible evidence of peoples actions. This makes it’s easier to get their story instead of “correct” answers.

2. Evoke interactions
In the same way objects can confront people with their actions, so can other peers. Even-though we try our best not to, as researchers we are always outsiders. We can miss subtle cultural or social cue’s that are hidden in the answers people give. Try to spark a conversation among people in their own peer group. They are the ones that are able to ask right questions at the right time.

3. Pay special attention to the things that aren’t said
A lot of the times people are just do things out of habit and are not aware of their own actions. Start by stalking someone and observe their actions very closely. Ask that person to describe what they did. Figure out what the things are that they don’t mention and why.

Share your examples of the saying-doing gap are the strategies you’re using to prevent from falling in the gap.

I uploaded the slides my slides from the workshop (sorry, only in Dutch).

Marc Fonteijn

Marc Fonteijn

Marc is co-founder of 31Volts and helps major private and public organizations to grow by designing services that cultivate a sustainable relationship with customers.

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31Volts [Service Design]