Author: Jason Cole, Senior Technology Executive
If large enterprise customers are elephants, then direct consumers are mice. You hear them skittering around the edges of your product, nibbling here and there but scattering the moment you try to talk to them. Occasionally a large group of them will band together and make their presence felt, but generally not in the way that you’d like (when was the last time you saw a Twitter uprising from consumers saying how much they loved a product?). How do you build something that you know will delight this amorphous mob?
I’ve seen two successful approaches to building for consumers:
1. Cultivate a strong customer voice.
2. Build a product you love.
Either approach will help solve this conundrum, but they work best when used together.
Cultivating a Strong Customer Voice
Most product companies designate someone to be “the voice of the customer,” but in most cases, the more appropriate title would be “Customer Ventriloquist,” as these people think about what they would probably do in the customer’s place and then write that down as a set of requirements. Talking to real customers takes work and can lead to uncomfortable moments when they tell you what they really think about your product. It’s also the only way to give customers a genuine voice.
Finding users who are willing to talk to you can be like coaxing the mice out of the baseboards, so you must offer some bait, a reward that motivates them to spend some of their valuable time helping you make the product better. Here are three kinds of users and some ways you can draw them out.
Building a Product You Love
All the user interviews in the world are no substitute for firsthand experience. Before you can ask anyone to tell you what it’s like to use your product, you must use it yourself outside of the safe confines of a QA environment. You need to feel the pain of its bugs and the joy of solving a problem or completing a task with the software you’ve built. Your experience of your product must move from intellectual to visceral.
The best products have always been built by people who personally experienced the problem their product solved and then built a product they loved to use themselves. While the phrase “eating your own dog food” has been around for years, I’ve found that this mentality leads to companies who feel as excited about using the beta versions of their products as they would be about having Alpo for dinner. Instead, try “loving your product first” and then let your customers in on the fun.
Together, these two approaches lead to products that customers love and that companies love to make. With that combination, you can revolutionize an industry.