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February 1, 2021

The 3 Golden Rules of Building Customer-Centric Product Experiences

Customer Experience

At the end of the day, the job of a product manager is rather simple: Create product experiences your customers love.

Of course, a lot goes into that. On any given day, you might meet with engineers to review a demo, build out a product roadmap, study product analytics, and tackle the thousands (millions?) of other tasks that typically fall in a PM’s lap.

But no matter how busy, the best PMs can always spot the forest through the trees. They can tie everything on their to-do list back to the ultimate concern—the customer.

That’s the key to building customer-centric product experiences: understanding your customer and aligning every product decision with their best interests.

Use these three golden rules to help keep yourself accountable to your customers and build products they’re likely to value and love.

1. Build benefits and solutions, not just features

Before you get into the nitty-gritty details, you must ensure that your customer’s needs are the foundation of your development process.

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “People buy solutions, not products.” It’s not a saying for nothing: According to a survey by Demand Gen Report, a whopping 97% of B2B buyers say feeling like their needs are understood is an important factor when making buying decisions.

So, we can surmise that buyers (particularly B2B ones) don’t necessarily purchase and stay with the flashiest product or the longest list of features. Buyers choose products that help them solve their problems quickly, easily, and thoroughly.

What does that mean for product teams? According to Harvard Business Review, it means our role is “identifying jobs that are poorly performed in customers’ lives and then designing products, experiences, and processes around those jobs.”

In other words, we design benefits and solutions, not just features. Try describing your product’s core offerings in terms of its benefits the end-user rather than its features. It’s good practice to help you (re)focus on customer needs and solutions.

Here’s what the exercise might look like if you made water bottles, for example:

  • Feature: Our water bottle is twice as big as most water bottles. → Benefit: You won’t have to get up to refill your water as often.
  • Feature: Our water bottle is vacuum-insulated. → Benefit: You won’t have to deal with warm water anymore.
  • Feature: Our water bottle is tough and long-lasting. → Benefit: You won’t have to buy a new water bottle as often.

Now, it’s not enough to solve any problem with your product. You must focus on solving your target users’ problems. Spinning a feature to sound like a solution isn’t hard; the real challenge is to ensure the solutions you build answer actual problems in the market.

That’s why user research is such a valuable asset to product people. Customer interviews, product analytics, in-product surveys, talking to sales and customer service teams—all of these user research methods help you understand your customers and identify the problems that keep them up at night.

Only then are you poised to shift into problem-solving mode and develop useful, valuable products.

Example: Google Glass failed until it built for its end-user

When product teams build features that don’t answer a market need, they’re on a slippery slope toward building a product that—no matter how cool and cutting-edge—doesn’t give their customers a reason to buy.

That’s what happened with Google Glass. When Google released its smart eyewear in 2014, they banked on name recognition and hype to sell it. The product offered some unique and interesting features: You could take handsfree photos and read from the internet on the lens of your glasses. But it ultimately flopped because it didn’t provide any clear value to a specified end-user.

Buyers choose products that help them solve their problems quickly, easily, and thoroughly.

Years later, Google released the Glass Enterprise Edition. This time, they built and marketed the product as a solution for manufacturing, logistics, and field services. An employee on the factory floor, for example, can wear the glasses to see diagrams, instructions, and other useful information while their hands are occupied.

The Google Glass website claims this helps hands-on employees “do their jobs faster, smarter, and safer.” They even built this new model to be more durable than the original and more lightweight than competitor wearables. Once they defined their end-user and built to provide value, Glass Enterprise became a smashing success. It’s used by companies like DHL, Samsung, and Volkswagen and received major upgrades in 2019.

2. Customer value drives product prioritization

If you’re like most PMs, you aren’t short on ideas to improve your product. The challenge isn’t dreaming up ideas to make your product better—it’s picking which idea to spend time on first.

A 2020 ProductPlan survey of over 2,500 PMs reports the ability to prioritize objectives as the second most important skill in product management. PMs must be able to take into account business goals, conflicting customer input, pressure from higher-ups, their team’s limited bandwidth, and their own customer knowledge in order to determine the best use of time and resources.

For customer-centric product managers, that means measuring everything in your development queue against customer needs. What product features would help your users solve a new problem? What tweaks, enhancements, and fixes will make your product experience faster and easier to use?

There are several ways to approach prioritization, some more prescriptive than others. Three models stand out as highly customer-centric approaches:

  • The value vs. effort model maps every proposed development project onto a matrix to give you a visual cost/benefit analysis. It helps you see which projects will add the most value to your product with the lowest amount of effort.
  • The Kano model is a more complex alternative to the value vs. effort model. It separates potential projects into one of five categories (Basic, Performance, Delighter, Reversal, and Indifferent features) to help you understand how to maximize customer satisfaction at the lowest cost possible.
  • The buy-a-feature framework involves playing a game to help you understand which features your users consider most valuable. To play, price every proposed product update based on the amount of time and effort it would take to build. Then, give your users a limited sum of money and ask them to spend it on the features they’d most like to see. Where they choose to spend their dollars can tell you a lot about what they value in your product.

Prioritization is a make-or-break responsibility. It’s your biggest opportunity to (re)direct your team’s design and engineering efforts into projects that will give value to your customers. In other words, it’s when a customer-centric strategy starts to materialize as a customer-centric product experience.

3. A seamless user experience will keep customers coming back

According to Forrester, every dollar you invest in user experience (UX) sees 100 dollars in return; it’s one of the best ways a product team can attract, convert, and retain customers.

UX design goes beyond prettying up your product. For B2B in particular, great UX is all about helping customers complete objectives faster and more smoothly. It removes barriers between your users and the essential solution(s) your product promises to provide. Try these three strategies to get a feel for your product’s UX:

Create a user experience map to nail down the user journey. User experience maps layout the path a user is meant to take to achieve a goal within the app. Creating one can help you build a product experience with a seamless beginning, middle, and end—not just a collection of disconnected features.

Conduct user testing to watch how people use your product. A user experience map can show you how users are supposed to move through your product. But there’s only one way to see what users actually do with the product: by watching them try. With user testing, you can get valuable insight into where your users get confused and frustrated within your product.

Launch contextual in-product surveys to get contextual insight straight from your customers. In-product surveys allow you to catch users while they’re immersed in the product experience. Because they have an up-close and real-time perspective on your UX, they can share precise feedback, describe specific pain points, and give you insight into their needs and behavior.

Imagine your product is a highway that takes your users from problem to solution. In that case, refining your UX is like fixing potholes and installing traffic signs—anything to make the drive as effortless as possible.

Building customer-centric product experiences is a journey, not a destination

Customer-centricity isn’t a one-time fling, it’s a long-term commitment. With that in mind, don’t think of these three rules as items to check off a to-do list. Think of them as customer-centric mantras; reminders to always keep the customer in mind as you build and rebuild.

These days, product management hinges on iteration. Once you’ve shipped a product, most of your job is to listen, empathize, and take incremental steps to add user value bit by bit. Just like a relationship, it’s the little things that count.

Does your product team talk about being customer-centric? Want to make sure it’s not just big talk? Check out “Is Your Product Team Really Customer-Centric?” to see how you measure up.

About the author

Ryan Glasgow

Product guy. Early team member at Weebly (acquired by Square) & Vurb (acquired by Snapchat); UCSD alum. I founded Sprig to help others build the best products possible.

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