Do you really understand what your customers need from your product?

In my last post, I addressed how customer needs are always changing and how certain design methods and tests can be used to validate whether you’re effectively meeting those changing needs. However, before you can begin validating whether something hits the mark, you need to do the research to find out where the target even is. In other words, do you really understand what your customers want and need from your product?

Nearly all product organizations do a good job at capturing quantitative data, like what features are being used most often, daily active users, where customers are dropping off, etc. While this is all valuable information and gives product leaders a better picture of what customers are doing, it fails to show the “why”. To create an exceptional product and customer experience, you need to understand the motivations and needs that are driving these actions, and that requires more than dropping in a tracking code snippet. It means getting to know customers on a deeper level.

This is where qualitative data comes in. Direct conversations with customers about their backgrounds, experiences, motivations, and frustrations (not just with your product but in their journey around and adjacent to your product) will provide a holistic understanding of their mindset. Knowing what they want and their expectations throughout their journey with you will give you a much clearer perspective on how your product can exceed those expectations at every step, ultimately yielding better business results than just quantitative data on its own.

Unfortunately, this qualitative research is often lacking or entirely missing in organizations, due in large part to the misconception that it’s inefficient and/or expensive. Investing in this research is in fact more efficient because you will have insight into your customer needs and thus a target to aim for, making sure you actually connect with customers and not waste your time (or money) in the long run. And there are lean ways to do this kind of research, as insights can be found with far fewer participants than quantitative methods.

In our work with Angi, we used this kind of deep customer research to build an expansive foundation of understanding around their customer journey. They already had a busy development team with an ambitious product roadmap, but recognized they needed a better understanding of their target customer. Through one-on-one interviews, workshops, and co-creation exercises with customers and target customers, we created a set of customer journey maps to document what customers are doing, thinking, and feeling at each step of their journey. At each step, we also identified opportunities for Angie’s List to better meet customer needs. This included areas outside of the journey like payment and project management, where they hadn’t served customers before, but were part of their customer’s home project journey.

The result was a handful of prioritized new experiences that were prototyped and iterated over the course of the next several months. Some were more future-facing to set the vision, and some were more tactical and ready for immediate inclusion in the product roadmap.

The customer journey maps not only gave us and the client a grasp of the problem so that we could formulate effective solutions, but they also served as a way to bolster the broader company’s understanding of their customer’s needs and pain points. These more clearly defined customer needs—as well as the additional opportunities identified—ultimately served to keep the product roadmap aligned with the company’s overall vision for how they serve their customer.

Because customers’ needs and experiences are always shifting and evolving, it’s imperative to implement this customer research into your processes on a systemic level. That can look like anything from meeting with one new customer every day or dedicating research initiatives with a new group of customers each quarter. Whatever it is, make sure that this research is perpetual and that time is set aside in your design and development processes for customer validation at multiple stages. After a while, with these processes in place, creating solutions based on customer insight will feel instinctual. Best of all, they’ll be backed up by tangible, documented customer research, which, as an added bonus, will provide persuasive arguments with higher-ups when you’re trying to push projects through.

At the end of the day, we seek to understand customers so that we can better serve them by providing them with something they need. We do this by designing with people. They know what will work best for them; not us. Companies who simply employ quantitative methods to interpret behavior and operate with the mindset that they know what’s best for customers, without actually speaking with them, walk a dangerous line. By connecting with customers on a deeper qualitative level, you’re more likely to stay aligned and ahead with their changing needs.

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