Three Tips To Help Engineers Be More Customer-Centric

by Dane Lyons
Republished from Forbes, May 21, 2018

Modern companies often strive to be more customer-centric. The more aware you are of customer needs and the more empathy you have toward their motivations, the easier it is to build a great product.

In the past, members of the product department would do the work of understanding customers. They’d write specs and hand them off to the engineering department for implementation. Department boundaries are starting to break down. Small product teams are being assembled and responsible for the end-to-end delivery of a feature or app.

It is now necessary for everyone on the team to understand customers. Here are a few ideas to help your engineers become more customer-centric:

1. Create A Customer Insights Stream

Teams should be encouraged to share the wealth. Insights discovered by one member are critical mental building blocks for the rest of the team.

Unfortunately, insights are usually scattered. They might live in an email, the dark recesses of a CRM, or the mind of your lead designer. This doesn’t work well. You really should figure out a way to get your collective intelligence organized.

If you’re a Slack team, you could create a #insights channel with a few simple rules:

Whenever anyone discovers an interesting tidbit about a customer, they take a minute to add it to #insights.

Each insight should be distilled down to one to two sentences max.

Context will often be necessary. Don’t copy and paste an email into the stream. The noise makes the stream hard to scan. Instead, just link to the source.

If you see an insight that you agree with, add an emoji to show support.

2. Establish A Customer Advisory Board

Traditional advisory boards are great for networking, fundraising and calibrating the strategic compass. Once a course has been set, you’ve got to rely on your team and customers to figure things out. Starting a CAB is a great way to invite your most valued customers to be active collaborators.

Your product teams, including engineers, should be adequately represented at the customer advisory board. It’s a great way to get everyone in a room together. Eventually, things will progress and you’ll likely want more customer face time. Try inviting CAB members to take a more active role in your product teams. Even if it’s only an hour of their time per week. They’ll get more value from your product, and your team will have a real-life persona for which to build.

3. Cultivate Better Analytics

KPIs are often used to distill the success or failure of your product down to a single number reported monthly. The result is a number that is easy to measure but hard to understand.

Your team deserves the backstory. Get creative and try graphing your KPI with overlaying relevant events. You should be able to point to a product launch two months ago and show your team the impact. The richer the story, the greater the boost in understanding and empathy.

If possible, try opening up your data internally to encourage your team to discover and share their own stories. This might require filtering or anonymizing sensitive data. Work with your data protection officer to ensure General Data Protection Regulation compliance.

Being customer-centric doesn’t mean that customers are always right. Sometimes they don’t know what they want. Other times, they’ll ask for things that don’t fit into the product. That’s all part of the fun. Give engineers a seat at the table next to the planners, builders and supporters. Then work together to figure things out.

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