The Camera Doesn’t Lie: Rapid Observation to Create Better Customer Experiences

Editor’s Note:  PARC recently released the new white paper “The Camera Doesn’t Lie: Rapid Observation to Create Better Customer Experiences.” Below is an excerpt and the entire paper can be downloaded here.

Table of Contents
Customer Experience – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 3
Rapid Ethnography for CX Innovation – – – – – – – – – – – 5
Case Example:
Transforming Parking CX With Dynamic Pricing – – – – -6
Approach and Findings – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –   7
Opportunities and Recommendations – – – – – – – – – – -9

the_camera_doesnt_lie_first_page_parc_250Customer Experience
Customer Experience (CX) has become not just a business driver, but an imperative for organizations. Yet there often remains a huge disconnect between
the commitment to designing for CX and actually delivering truly differentiated products and services. It’s because companies aren’t looking at (and learning
from) what’s right in front of them – the customer actually experiencing, well, the experience.

Forrester Research’s Kerry Bodine recently addressed aspects of the design “mindset” for CX and “the most significant of these is the practice of putting people at the center of the process through ethnographic research and the development of empathy. (It’s no accident that CX design is commonly referred to as ‘human-centered design.’) Also key to design is the recognition that you don’t immediately know the answer to the problem at hand — and, even scarier,
that you don’t even understand the problem itself.” (1)

Ethnographers are on the frontline for collecting customer insights, spending
a lot of time in the field observing people taking part in everyday activities
everywhere from shopping malls to their offices and living rooms. This
practice helps uncover real, but often hidden, unmet needs that can be solved
with innovative technology. If you don’t know the solution, then you have an

But too often organizations have a familiar refrain: “We don’t have time for
that!” One of the largest misconceptions is that all ethnography is a long,
time-consuming process. While some projects are much more successful with
months of research, it isn’t true for all. This is where rapid ethnography enters
the picture.

parc-innovation-lab-ad-JANIn reality, organizations do have the time. Since the mid-2000s, corporate ethnographic projects are becoming more commonplace and crucial to product and services development. According to a recent Forrester survey of 100 CX professionals, nearly half of respondents said that their executive team’s strategy for customer experience is market differentiation.

The findings also stated “a whopping 73% of interviewees plan to launch ‘innovative’ customer experiences in the coming year, and two-thirds claim to have already delivered such experiences in the past year…But despite their ambition, most firms that believe they’re innovating are actually thwarting differentiation and wasting massive amounts of time and money in the process. A startling 58% of respondents say their firm drives customer experience innovations by watching what direct competitors are doing, and another 62% report that technology advancements drive their firms’ innovation activities.” (2)

So in an age where CX reigns and innovation needs to take hold, rapid
ethnography can produce the customer-centered and truly differentiated
products and services companies must now provide.

Rapid Ethnography for CX Innovation
PARC’s Rapid Ethnographic Assessment and Communication Technique
(REACT) compresses the ethnography process into a relatively short period of
time (5-8 weeks). The observation phase involves intensive video-taping that is
used both in the analysis and the delivery of recommendations.

REACT and any rapid assessment are best used when an organization has a
very focused area of inquiry; the activity of interest can be easily observed and
recorded; and the findings are meant to directly impact the design of a product
or service. One of the most important aspects for success is inherent in the
observational video – it just doesn’t lie.

However, REACT or any ethnographic project for innovation doesn’t occur in a
silo…. Download the white paper to continue reading.

(1) Forrester Blogs, “You Asked, Forrester Answered: Questions About Customer Experience Design,” April 19, 2013

(2) Forrester Media Center, “Customer Experience Innovation, You’re Doing It Wrong,” June 26, 2013

Join us at the PARC Innovation Lab, March 13 – 14, 2014. Register today!

Additional information

Focus Areas

Our work is centered around a series of Focus Areas that we believe are the future of science and technology.

Licensing & Commercialization Opportunities

We’re continually developing new technologies, many of which are available for Commercialization.


Our scientists and staffers are active members and contributors to the science and technology communities.