By Kevin Dunne, Director of Product Strategy at QASymphony
Developers are responsible for many phases in a product's development - from concept to implementation - but when it's marketing's turn to do its magic, developers can start to poison the well.
As marketing and customer service channels begin to receive and even encourage customer reviews, developers can cut off this invaluable source of information by using the phrase, "It works as designed." A response like that coming from a development team just might guarantee that there will never be an honest response from the customer again, which is much more important than defending a product's design or intended use.
Valuing customers' opinion and channeling their voice while in the development process can be daunting. With an open mind and willingness to develop a better product, however, the customer can be the key to overall project success. Right, wrong or indifferent, fresh opinions (especially unsolicited ones) are important opportunities to step back and re-evaluate the assumptions that went into designing a product.
Many organizations today want to focus on customer value but do little to deliver on this goal in practice. They continue to develop products that focus on achieving technical feats and adding a "wow factor" without focusing on the day-to-day needs of the customers who will actually use the product. When architecture does not align with customer needs and expectations, value is not delivered and the product will fail to reach its full potential.
3 Steps to Drive Agility
To succeed in a fast-paced world with increasing customer expectations, development teams need agility. Agility means adapting product to customer, and that agility can only come from visibility into what the customer really wants. Gaining that understanding is a challenge, as an incredibly small portion of customers ever leave feedback. It is important to make the most of every customer interaction and encourage customers to provide feedback again in the future.
The following three strategies will help drive greater value from every contact, for both the customer's benefit and for a brand's bottom line.
Step 1: Keep the best customers close, and their opinions closer
The customers who are considered power users of the product are the ones that it is most valuable to foster close relationships with. It is important to make sure they are comfortable in sharing what they really think about the latest products, and that they are aware as early as possible of new ideas or features - like through email or social, for example. The best way to raise their comfort level is to communicate clearly that their opinions are taken into account and that negative opinions will not change the overall relationship.
Step 2: Understand how customers are really using the product
There's a difference between real product usage and intended product usage. Rather than dictate how the workflow feels and customer usage should proceed with the product, it's necessary to understand that a majority of customers may be using the technology in ways that might have never been thought about. Always be willing to challenge assumptions and gather customer intelligence to influence future product development - not to merely validate it.
Active monitoring tools - think customer relationship management systems, analytics software, etc. - can track overall event frequency and traffic in the application or website (and even predict churn), and it can be done without introducing opinions. This can be a more effective method than customer interviews and focus groups, which can introduce bias based on the types of questions asked.
Step 3: Align with the customer, and stop defending your product at their expense
One of the business world's most common cliches is also one of the clearest paths to customer satisfaction- the customer is always right - at least in the sense that their opinion of the product, not the product itself, is what matters most. It's important to realign the organizational motivation to focus on this, instead of defending the fact that the product "works as designed."
"Works as designed" curtails honest feedback. When the customer does not see the value and performance of the product, however, there are three ways to handle the issue.
++Make sure to consider their feedback honestly. If the customer is suggesting a new and valuable feature, then provide feedback to the customer that their suggestion is valid. Acknowledge the fact that their idea might become part of a future enhancement.
++If the customer misunderstands the proper application and use of the product, then polite education might be necessary. Through constructive communication, make sure to demonstrate to the customer how they can more effectively use the product. Through this education, it will be easier to accept their feedback as valid and addressing their concern in a way that resolves the situation.
++If the feedback is valid, but requires changes that are not feasible, then acknowledge that the request would add value, but will require a trade-off in another area. Explain how the architecture would need to be changed to make the request a reality. If possible, learn if the customer is willing to accept this trade-off, as it might provide more insight into what they really value in terms of system performance.
If the development team starts to treat customer feedback as a tool for refinement that adds greater value for the customer, it will move from tolerant users of the product to passionate advocates that deliver marketing results that money cannot buy. This type of shift in organizational mindset to focus on the customer is not easy, but it can dramatically increase the success rate of every product that is delivered.
Kevin Dunne is the director of product strategy at QASymphony, supporting the direction of their exploratory testing tool, qTest eXplorer. Previous to joining QASymphony, Kevin was a tester with Deloitte Consulting.
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