Focussing on the voice of the customer | acidlabs
2205
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-2205,single-format-standard,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode_grid_1300,qode-theme-ver-10.1.1,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.0.1,vc_responsive
 

Focussing on the voice of the customer

Focussing on the voice of the customer

When we’re designing products, applications and services, we always bang on about how important it is to consider the customer, or user (I’m going to use those terms interchangeably in this post). But just how much do we really consider them? And how often do we compromise in favor of some product or business limitation?

While I realise (abundantly so) that we can probably never create the perfect product or service, I’d like to argue in this post that the primary consideration we need to focus on as user experience designers, service designers, marketers or whatever, is the voice and view of the customer.

I don’t think it happens nearly enough, nor well enough. And, truth be told, I’m as guilty as anyone of this.

Let me set the scene.

You’re designing, or redesigning your product or service or your web site or your bricks and mortar store (or doing it for a client). You’ve been given the imprimatur to “focus on the customer” and you start sketching out what you believe is the ideal experience.

You focus on flow. On creating delight in the user’s mind. On achieving the desired outcome with the least inconvenience, fastest path and fewest number of hurdles you can. You ensure any limitations of the business or technology or infrastructure are hidden with helpful smoke and mirrors so the customer gets the job done.

Then you present your design to the project team, or key stakeholders, or someone else with a vested interest and it all goes to crap. You hear things like:

  • the legacy systems don’t work that way
  • the price is wrong because you haven’t factored in the development costs or costs imposed by some other factor
  • the order of fields in the form is wrong because the way the code will be written is easier if it’s this other way
  • you haven’t considered factor X which is the primary business concern of a particular stakeholder business unit

And there are any number of others.

But where’s the voice of the customer in all of this?

Of course, in any project you need to balance the business requirements against what’s actually deliverable to the customer or user. But I’d argue that at no point in the project should business requirements outweigh or force a compromise in the experience you deliver to the customer.  You should never expose your problems, limitations or issues with the business to the user or customer. If you do, you’ve failed in delivering the best experience.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that those issues don’t exist and that you don’t consider them very carefully. But you don’t expose them to customers. You use whatever smoke and mirrors you can. You do clever things under the hood. Or you even change the business to remove the problem so it’s no longer a problem at all.

Here are a few real and virtual world examples I’ve come across lately to show what I’m talking about:

  • banks increasing interest rates outside or in excess of official increases because the GFC has made their part of the business (trading and moving money around) more expensive
  • justification for a higher-priced product than competitors because the R&D, innovation and rollout costs had to be offset somewhere
  • a request to change the order of fields of a web form because it would be a hassle to code and pass messages to legacy systems in the order that was best for customers
  • an inability to deliver a new web-based product to customer expectations because of an unwillingness in the business to adapt or change old practices

While these are all valid business concerns, and absolutely need to be addressed, they need to be addressed and resolved on the business side of a project. They are issues that should never be exposed to the customer. Not least because as customers, we just don’t care what your business issues are.

So, here’s a quick list of voice of the customer concerns you should ask yourself every time you encounter an objection to delivering to customer expectations:

  • am I exposing a business concern to the customer?
  • am I delivering the product, service, whatever at the best possible price that’s competitive with the alternatives?
  • am I making it as easy as possible for the customer?
  • if there’s a barrier or process I’m exposing, does passing it offer the customer a tangible benefit?

Your thoughts?

11 Comments
  • kathy sierra
    Posted at 15:16h, 14 January Reply

    Thanks so much for this post! I think you’ve described the problem perfectly, and I’ve been in the heart of these conflicts in jobs too many time to count. I especially like the perspective of not exposing business issues to customers.

    I do have one big comment, however: I don’t feel that all business issues exposed to customers are equal, and that I’d rather fight hard for the ones that matter, and figure out which ones can slide. And I’d base that decision on whether the issue interrupts a part of the UX where flow IS meant to happen.

    While I agree that a goal should be to remove ALL business issues from customer exposure, this is not realistic in some cases. Or, for existing products, you might have to prioritize the order in which these issues will be… unexposed. And for that, I think it’s crucial to have a mechanism for determining what’s most important.

    For example, I own a few products that I love so deeply for what they are and what they let me do, that even if the customer service is a HUGE pain in the ass — and for reasons I know are 100% company-centric — it’s not that big of a deal. And if they raised their prices to support their own stupidity, I’d STILL let that go. For many of these products, the relationship between my experience with the product (for the reason I own it) is largely decoupled from other aspects of my interaction with the company. That said, if the service was an integral part of how I experienced this product then it would jump up much higher.

    Another specific example from my own work: research strongly supports using annotations and labels *within* instructional graphics and code rather than as captions *below* them. When we proposed our Head First books to publishers, we insisted that the ability to annotate the graphics and code in this way was crucial for helping readers learn, but at first O’Reilly (and not only O’Reilly) said their publishing production system was not equipped to support that. In this case, the business issue (efficient pre-production) was exposed to the customer in the form of a less readable, less “brain-friendly” learning book.

    We said no, and finally we all agreed that my co-author and I would deliver the book as camera-ready — a HUGE uproar for their production systems, but the people making the decision (including Tim O’Reilly) were prepared to take the hit. It was a decision that kept a business issue–a quite substantial one–from being exposed to the reader. And from what I’ve heard, this happens over and over again with books — where what the author believes is crucial for the user/reader experience is not supported by the publishing systems. Process Efficiency 1, Author & Reader 0.

    For me, there were many other places I would have been willing to–and did–compromise, including other aspects that did impact the UX. But they were in peripheral parts of the experience, not the heart and soul of it.

    I guess I’m suggesting I’d use a hierarchy for the whole UX by ordering the issues not by how noticeable they are but by how likely they are to impact UX flow in the areas where it matters most… to the user.

    And of course for many products and services my approach would be useless because the coupling between all aspects of what the user experiences with the product/service/company are strong and tight.

    Again, thanks for this post.

    • Stephen Collins
      Posted at 16:10h, 14 January Reply

      Kathy, thanks for the comment. Kind of honored you dropped by – I really like your stuff.

      Of course, you’re right. You pick your battles and sometimes you are forced to expose certain things to customers/users/whomever because there’s a need or valid reason for doing it. Part of your research – both internal and with end users/customers/other stakeholders should be about the hierarchy of these things so that you can pick your battles and win the important ones.

  • Renai LeMay
    Posted at 15:41h, 14 January Reply

    Couldn’t agree more!

    So often I see companies that have forgotten that their primary motivation in any action should be making a better customer experience. Things are done for internal political motivations or because “so and so read it in business manual Y”.

    Listen to your customer, follow their every want and need (and don’t forget to follow Steve Jobs’ example and serve needs they don’t know themselves that they want, but you know you want in a product), and you will never go wrong.

    Even if your company starts to suffer problems for other reasons, your past loyalty towards your customers will bring them out in droves to support you.

    Just my 2c,

    Renai LeMay
    News Editor
    ZDNet.com.au

  • kathy sierra
    Posted at 17:03h, 14 January Reply

    Cheers, Stephen. Well, your post already kicked off some wonderful discussions in my part of the world. Yes we all ‘pick our battles’ for business/customer issues, but until reading this post, I’d never really thought about organizing the ways in which business issues impact the UX in a meaningful or measurable way.

  • Stephen Collins
    Posted at 17:19h, 14 January Reply

    Thanks again, Kathy. If I’ve prompted some thinking, I’ve done my job.

  • Patrick Kennedy
    Posted at 17:31h, 15 January Reply

    I like the bit where you say the balancing of business requirements and user needs shouldn’t lead to a compromised user experience. This points to a distinction that many people (especially in IT) don’t get: you should compromise on what problems you solve, not how well you solve them. This means delivering the best user experience possible, but perhaps not solving all the problems that exist.

  • Stephen Collins
    Posted at 21:35h, 15 January Reply

    Pat, absolutely. Nice to see that we’re of one mind here.

    Having been on the IT side as well as the UX side, I’m glad I’ve landed where I have. I believe that helping to deliver the experiences we both do is of critical value. The earlier we get in on the act, the more strategic we can be, and the more opportunity we have to influence more parts of the process.

    If in doing that, we make the user experience the best it can be, I think we’ve done our job well.

  • RalfLippold
    Posted at 19:20h, 24 January Reply

    …. listening to the customer's voice • it is pretty easy;-)

    Just doing it is the difficult part;-)

    http://theservicerevolution.blogspot.com has some living examples (evolved from a started student project with Team Academy, Finland)

  • Focusing on the voice of the customer « MARKETING WISE
    Posted at 21:44h, 07 February Reply

    […] Source: acidlabs […]

  • The next step | acidlabs
    Posted at 06:00h, 08 February Reply

    […] visiting!An emergent theme of my posts of late has been change. Whether that’s technology, user experience, reform of education, public sector and government, conferences or business (including my own), […]

  • Interesting elsewhere – 19 May 2010 | Public Strategist
    Posted at 17:47h, 19 May Reply

    […] Focussing on the voice of the customer | acidlabs Of course, in any project you need to balance the business requirements against what’s actually deliverable to the customer or user. But I’d argue that at no point in the project should business requirements outweigh or force a compromise in the experience you deliver to the customer.  You should never expose your problems, limitations or issues with the business to the user or customer. If you do, you’ve failed in delivering the best experience.Of course, this doesn’t mean that those issues don’t exist and that you don’t consider them very carefully. But you don’t expose them to customers. You use whatever smoke and mirrors you can. You do clever things under the hood. Or you even change the business to remove the problem so it’s no longer a problem at all. […]

Post A Comment