Why Customer Input Is Worth Your
Time (And Money)

By PEARLY YEE

Many product managers feel they’re not getting the time and resources they need to conduct their customer research.

They might be getting some good work done, but they never seem to cover as much ground as they would like. It feels like they’re trying to derive deep insights from a shallow data pool.

Whether I’m out consulting or just getting together with other product people, I’m often hearing a variation of the same question.

“How do we convince our company to have a greater investment in customer research?”

Like many questions in life, there’s not a simple five-word answer – but there are a number of things you can be doing as a product professional to make it easy to show your organisation why customer input is worth the time and money required.

Let me start with a little story…

Quantitative Data Is Only Half The Picture

In the earlier stages of my product management career, I was working on a redesign and re-platforming of an entire news website. It was a mammoth task, evaluating what would make the cut and form part of the re-design.

During this evaluation, I was presented with one section of the website that had clearly been unloved for some time. It housed a daily pdf upload of the ASX Share Tables.

“Ha!” I thought. “PDF! Outdated!”

The data available confirmed my suspicions. It received very little traffic and engagement was low. We decided that this page would be decommissioned and cease to exist once we switched to the redesign.

My approach was entirely data-driven (I thought). I looked at the numbers and I made a call. But, I did not anticipate the amount of feedback we would get in the early days of the new site’s launch about our customer’s missing share tables.

If I had bothered to find one of the customers, I may have found out that readers used that page differently from the rest of the website. They would download the PDF and circulate the document to their team, their department and their office. They loved that they had a simple way to share this piece of information with their teams.

I’d underestimated the value of that page. Using quantitative analysis only gave me half the picture.

User Research Can Be Hard To Justify

In the world of business and commerce, the higher up the chain you go, the more conversations are anchored in commerce. Numbers win.

We zoom out, we want to scale, and suddenly having the time and space to speak to customers dissipates. When budgets and time are key constraints, user research is one of the first areas that end up being compromised.

I’d argue that this is when companies should double-down on their customer insights, not cut back. We forget that business is all about how you change customer behaviour.

Building successful products requires a deep understanding of your customers & the behaviours you’re trying to change.

Whether it’s getting a customer to buy our products over competitors, buy more of our products, or refer our products to friends – we often don’t quite understand how we’ll be able to change that behaviour without first talking to, observing and listening to our actual customers.

As Marty Cagan puts it in Empowered: “Qualitative insights are often profound and can literally change the course of your company”.

So, what steps can you take to help your company value customer input?

Start Small

The reality is many of us won’t be starting in a green fields clean slate where we will be given the luxury of doing extensive customer research and problem statement validation before the pressures of delivery hit.

Most of us will have to manage both discovery and delivery at the same time. Book an hour in your calendar every week for at least one customer interview.

Teresa Torres’ book Continuous Discovery has some great practical tips on how to set these up so that you have a scalable, sustainable process.

You may not be able to make it happen every week, but this simple act will see insights start flowing through once you’re able to start documenting.

Use Real Customers To Illustrate Your Narrative

We humans crave connection and stories.

Thanks to tools like Dovetail that make capturing, tagging and sharing insights simple, it’s easier than ever to use video extracts, direct quotes and photos to humanise a narrative.

Even a simple photo or direct quote can make a big difference. Your stakeholders will remember these much more than a dense PowerPoint slide of graphs and numbers. This also ensures that you centre your narrative on the customer problem you’re looking to solve.

I recently helped initiate some user research to build evaluative insights from a series of experiments our organisation was running. As the quantitative data started to flow in – and product leaders started having questions about what we were seeing – being able to reference customer insights lent a lot of power to support our theories and help create new hypotheses.

Ask The Right Questions

Think carefully about the questions you ask and how they’re going to help you advance your product strategy.

Collaborate on this with your product team. This can help counter any bias that may start to slip into your questioning.

Engage with your stakeholders and start to document their questions and hypotheses. This will help you to determine which insights they will find the most value in sharing.

When it comes to customer insights, get specific. Avoid open-ended ‘how much would you value’ questions. When was the last time your subject performed a particular action? Can they step you through what they did?

The more context you have on your customers, the easier it will be to build an in-depth journey map that will help you understand how you can create the best experience for that journey.

Taking these steps to embed customer insights into your business can make the difference between well-funded customer research with quality insights and just skimming the surface.

About The Author

Pearly Yee

Senior Product Consultant - Brainmates

Pearly is a digital product leader with years of experience in agile-driven product development on multiple award-winning digital products. Passionate about building successful products that solve real problems for customers, Pearly’s curiosity combines with her strong emphasis on communication and building positive cultures to help people create better products.

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