Scott McCall
Escaping the Product Strategy Abyss with Customer Curiosity
Scott McCall
August 9, 2017

Escaping the Product Strategy Abyss with Customer Curiosity

It’s no secret – designing, building and maintaining effective digital applications is hard work. Your product might be years overdue for a redesign. Your organization might be making a shift to agile development or design thinking. Perhaps your product team is beginning to apply a more strategic focus in their approach. Any way you slice it, one of the hardest things for an organization looking to make an impactful shift is just getting started. There are so many customers, so many backlogged feature requests and so much technical debt. Where do you begin? How do you know what problems to solve first, or who to solve them for? How do you measure success?

How do you navigate your way out of this abyss? Begin at the beginning and start developing a culture of customer curiosity in your organization. Not just a one-off research assignment or a single study outsourced to a third party firm but a change in the way your organization approaches problem solving—by basing product decisions on understanding and solving real problems for your customers.

A Culture of Customer Curiosity

Fostering a culture of customer curiosity is a critical first step in transforming your organization’s culture, paving the way for digital transformation. At Pointsource, a common theme we hear from organizations is that they know they are out of touch with their customers and they want to change that. They want to discover answers to the questions they have so they can build the right solutions to the problems their customers face. But, these organizations are not exactly sure how to get started because they are not equipped with the tools, staff or experience to plan and execute research with their customers.

Another theme we see is that teams that regularly work on these applications, from developers to designers to product managers, have very limited views into how people actually use their products. They may be aware of big problematic issues in general but there is little clarity as to:

  1. Who are the users from a behavioral standpoint?
  2. Who are we primarily serving? Where is there potential to grow?
  3. What are our users’ top problems?
  4. How do we prioritize these problems based on relevant, meaningful metrics that affect both the users and the business?
  5. How do we solve these top problems?
  6. Will users actually use these solutions?
  7. Do customers actually want to use the solutions we design?

Make a Research Plan and Recruit Participants, Together

To figure out the answers to these questions, we have to start talking to customers, regularly. We start by figuring out the most important things we think we need to learn. What are the key questions we need to answer? Who do we need to talk to, to get those answers? How can we connect with them most effectively and efficiently, considering the scope of the project? What format or method should we use to get the most accurate and useful data?

When we start working with an organization, planning research and recruitment together is a great way to get the whole team working as a seamless unit, and it focuses the project on problem solving as opposed to specific features or business requirements. We also begin to discuss how we can effectively measure success going forward. We’ll begin building a measurement framework consisting of key metrics and KPI’s relevant to the business goals and the user experience.

Do the Research, Together

Once we have a solid plan, a focused script, and the right participants scheduled, we begin our customer research. The method we select will serve the research plan and can take the form of open-ended exploratory interviews, observing customers in their environment (contextual inquiry) or remote phone interviews.

We recommend working alongside our customers during this process and find it to be mutually beneficial: we benefit from the industry knowledge and product history from our clients, and our clients are able to learn firsthand by participating how to engage with customers in an unbiased and user-centric way.

Distill the Research Findings, Together

During the research, our cross-organizational team “distills” what we observe and experience each day. We identify elements that were surprising or challenged our assumptions, potential ways the organization can serve the users and potential hacks customers use to currently solve their problems. We’re not in the solution phase yet but we’re beginning to identify patterns as we go.

It’s All Based on Research and Customer Feedback

After the initial research period, we run a multi-day workshop with the large, cross-organizational team that allows us to fully distill, process and share the research data we’ve accumulated. From that data, we form behavior-based personas and user journeys and we begin to identify the key pain points and opportunity areas we’ll explore with design sprints, lean experiments and prototyping. The team will continue to work together with customers through this process, building a shared understanding of the right problems and solutions as we test and validate.

Get Out of the Abyss

Just because you’re in the abyss now doesn’t mean you need to stay there. Connect with your customers and begin building a sustainable culture of customer curiosity for your organization. It’s hard work, but once you start, you’ll gain clarity and a path going forward that can be used to continually improve your product and transform your business.

Stuck in a product strategy abyss? Let’s chat!


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