Every product and engineering organization has to have the customer at the heart of everything it does. Many, I believe, fail to fully meet this high bar. Here are some of the signs I look for that a team is acting in a customer-centric manner:
1. How close to the customer is each KPI?
How does your organization measure its success? Sure, speed of innovation matters. The reliability of the product matters. But why does your organization innovate? Why does it test its work? It does these things to attract and satisfy customers. This means it has to be paying close attention to metrics like Net Promoter Score and gross retention. These metrics should not only be tied to the objectives of the customer service organization, but rather every organization within the company including product and engineering.
2. What is the relationship like between our product folks and engineers?
Product and engineering should be acting as one tight unit so that customer needs are well-represented to engineers and roadblocks to and alternative options for meeting those needs are well-understood by product folks - as early as possible. I don’t care what the team structure looks like on paper. The true test of how fused product and engineering is lies in the level of collaboration and trust between the two disciplines.
3. Do we hire customer-centric engineers with high EQ?
Many organizations optimize for finding the best engineers. Sometimes this means finding versatile full-stack engineers. Other times it means finding engineers highly specialized in a specific programming language or database technology. Don’t get me wrong - it’s important to find high quality engineers. But in my experience, the engineers most likely to move the needle on KPIs that customers actually care about are the ones who have a high EQ and high level of empathy for customers. When you’re up against a deadline or dealing with an emergency, the motivation of someone solving a problem to make a customer happy vs. solving it for a personal dopamine hit will be clear as day. The former always comes through for you and learns what she needs to learn to better herself as both an engineer and team player in the process. The latter - a total crapshoot.
4. How are features conceived?
Experienced organizations fall in love with problems, not solutions. This is to say, when soliciting feedback from your customers, make sure the wishlists you get back is a list full of problems, not solutions. For example, your customers may allude to the fact that they want analytics out of your product. At this juncture, you can seek to understand why (this helps defines the problem) or seek to understand how you should do it (this is the solution). Always focus on why. The “why” gets you to a better understanding of your product’s true value and helps you identify the commonalities between your customers. Armed with this knowledge, you can create truly innovative and effective solutions for the widest band of your customers possible.
5. How is engineering work prioritized?
Your organization has limited resources. You have to pick and choose your battles. Is the work you ask your engineers to focus on prioritized based on the KPIs discussed earlier? This is key to ensuring you are prioritizing your customers’ voices when planning your roadmaps and iterations.
6. How do we talk about our competitors in relation to our organization?
Some organizations become myopic, believing they not only have the best products on the market, but also the best understanding of the customers who buy those products. Meanwhile, other organizations get in a rut and believe their competitors have their number. This unbridled optimism and pessimism is dangerous. It ignores the likely truth, which is that so long as an organization is sharing a market and has at least one or two competitors, there is likely insight to be gained by respecting those competitors and learning from them. The aspect to pay the most attention to is which customer personas choose which vendors for which reasons. By doing this, your organization arms itself with the knowledge it needs to double down on the personas it handles well, gain market share by better catering to others, or another strategic alternative that takes all of the relevant market factors in to account.
7. Do we care how our product is marketed, sold, implemented, and supported?
You should! Let’s say there is poor documentation or training around your product, leading to a lot of knowledge gaps in other departments. The product ends up getting sold to the wrong prospects, implemented incorrectly, and supported with workarounds. Not only is this a poor customer experience, but it also ends up affecting areas such as the product roadmap, the required maintenance of the product, and more. Every department’s organization should be working closely together to ensure a cohesive and excellent customer experience.
8. Do we have the analytics we need to make good decisions?
Although many customers will tell you about their problems, you need to know which customers to talk with in the first places. Once you do, it takes a lot of time to collect a meaningful sample size of those customers and synthesize all of the information. Worse still, some customers just won’t be great at differentiating needs from wants, remembering snags they hit weeks prior, etc. This is where having great data comes in to play. In advance, you should be thinking about which types of analytics would reveal red flags vs which would demonstrate success. Your product should have a mechanism to capture those analytics. Reporting on those analytics periodically will help you understand trends. But streaming and surfacing those analytics as they arise is important, too. This will help you to identify customers worth speaking with at the time they’re most likely to want to speak with you.
I hope these tips have helped highlight exactly how much discipline is required to be truly customer-centric. Where does your organization fall on the spectrum? What signals do you look for that didn’t make this list?