Methodically Ignoring Your Customers, Again?

Customers are like teeth. Ignore them and they’ll go away!

– Jerry Flanagan

 

Ignored Customer

 

You read that right! Many medium/large sized companies in Corporate America have processes that methodically (but unintentionally) ignore the customer – especially in the software technology space. Here is what I mean…

Consider a medium/large sized company Acme Corporation that is in the technology business (my domain). When the product teams (comprised of Product Managers, Eng, QA, UX, Marketing, etc.) plan the next big version of the product, they seek input from key stakeholders. Sales teams provide feedback on new features/functionality that lets them close more deals. Customer Support provides input to improve product quality & reduce support contact thereby bringing cost savings. Marketing provides competitive information and other inputs to better position the product against competition. Different stakeholders provide inputs that impact their groups. So what’s missing?

What about your existing loyal customers who religiously use your product/service’s existing functionality? These loyal customers are your bread and butter. Chances are, they are being methodically ignored during every product cycle – here’s how:

When existing customers or prospects request new features that are deemed “major”, such requests are usually acted upon. If customers complain about egregious problems, they get fixed. What about problems that are “minor” inefficiencies, irritations or improvements? Often customers don’t proactively complain about what they see as “little issues”. Even if they complain, often that feedback gets lost in the process because those issues are prioritized as “minor” and get ignored. Over a period of quarters and years, these “minor” product issues accumulate and the end result is a product that’s heading towards mediocrity.

Why does this happen?

Engineers want to work on cool new stuff. Product teams are pressured into working on items that affect the sales top line or cost savings bottom line. Items that make the teams look good in QBRs (quarterly business reviews) get a higher priority. Egregious problems do get fixed, while the “minor” issues/irritations/improvements often get ignored. As a result, without the product teams realizing, the product gradually creeps towards mediocrity.

Don’t believe what I am saying? Take a look at your company’s HR, Procurement, Contract, Inventory, Quoting, Payroll, Legal or such similar software. Barring an exception or two, chances as, these products have mediocre user experiences (clunky, un-intuitive, hard to use, missing functionality, etc.).

How to avoid this march to mediocrity?

There’s at least 3 ways to monitor & address this.

  1. Measure Customer Satisfaction: Senior Management needs to actively drive the exercise of bi-annual (or annual) customer satisfaction measurement. NPS (Net Promoter Score) is an industry standard methodology of measuring how likely your customers are to refer your product/service to others. NPS is a direct reflection of customer satisfaction. Management needs to measure NPS (or an equivalent metric) on an ongoing basis and make this score a part of the KPI (key performance indicator). This gives an incentive to product teams to pro-actively address the minor issues.
  2. User Research: Most companies under invest in user research – read more on this here. When user research investments & activities are increased, product/service niggles are uncovered that can be then proactively addressed by the product teams.
  3. Dedicate Bandwidth: Product teams should dedicate a non-trivial percentage of engineering bandwidth (e.g. 10% – 20%) and use this bandwidth to exclusively focus on improving existing product functionality (not new functionality). This forces product teams to proactively address  “minor” issues & details that often get swept under the rug. Click here to read more on the topic of little details.

 

None of this is rocket science. It’s a matter of Management and Product Teams deliberately setting priorities and allocating investments & resources to make sure that customers and products experiences are not getting ignored!

 

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