Have you ever been frustrated with the design of a product you’ve purchased to use at home or at work? Do you sometimes wish companies put as much effort into listening to their customers as they put into marketing to them?
One of the most commonly discussed Change Agent topics when it comes to product-oriented companies is innovation.
There has been plenty written about how Change Agents can help teams light a spark, stoke a flame or pool their energy to come up with the next big thing. But in the highly competitive marketplace, customers often find themselves at a loss to understand what those who create new products could possibly have been thinking when they designed things.
Listen Up! One hallmark of the best change-oriented product companies is that they don’t just innovate great new gizmos and apps; they actively engage their current customers to constantly improve their existing offerings. Some would say that this form of product support is actually harder than innovation because teams are working within the constraints of an existing product.
Today, I’ll offer five ways that Change Agents who support those who create and maintain products ranging from gadgets to software can optimize the potential gold mine of feedback their customers can offer.
If you find yourself in a midst of a product development or support organization, whether you are in charge or not, consider these five ways your team can gain better insight into the things that matter most to your existing customers:
1. Get to Know The Right People: (I mean the real right people…) Foster relationships that position you as near as possible to the actual user of your product. Whether your customers are out in the field or right there in your building, seek them out and identify them by first name. Go beyond the designated representatives many overly corporatized processes may hand you. Work your way through the maze of “middle men” and “translators” until you get the actual humans who interact with your product day-to-day.
– Observe their habitual application of “your baby” to their work.
– Avoid interfering or asking too many questions.
– Make note of areas where they work around elements of the product because they’ve discovered a better way to get things done.
– Watch also for how they directly leverage their favorite features to be more productive.
– Finally, keep track of which features appear to be unknown to them – but could be of great utility if they had only known about them and how to apply them.
3. Be Thoughtful About the ‘What’ and ‘How’ of Your Questions: Ask open-ended queries and clarifying questions routinely. Avoid phrasing them in a way that implies a “right answer” or reflects a bias toward how you want things to turn out.
4. Mix it Up! Fully integrate your customer into the development process – but watch out for the danger of over-familiarity. It’s great to work consistently with the same team, but also consider switching up the players from time to time. Fresh ideas and new perspectives are easier to generate when fresh eyes and ears are in the room.
5. Actually Use The Feedback You Get: The only thing worse than not asking your customer for feedback is collecting this information and then not using it! Be sure to apply the best observations that you gather and don’t forget to circle back and communicate with your customers about what they helped you learn, how their input lead to improvements as well as how critical their role is to future product enhancements.
Wrap Up: Some of the most useful ideas for those who create and maintain products are those changes suggested by actual users that help customers improve their daily use of those products. Some of the best ways to identify improvements and apply what we learn to make things better are relatively simple – but we must take the time to actually do them if we want to reap the rewards.
Questions for Chatter:
- Have you dealt with a defective or poorly-designed product only to find the provider had no interest in hearing your feedback? Did you struggle on with the original product or abandon it for an alternative?
- What other techniques have you applied to improve the process of gathering direct feedback from your customers?….