How product managers observe and listen to users to gain valuable insights.
How do you know what products you should build? What products will delight customers? The answer isn’t a mystery and has been expressed by numerous past guests. One that stands out is Ben Brenton, Chief Innovation Officer at Snap-on Tools, who shared that he takes their product teams to meet with customers four days a week. That is the recurring theme–time with customers to understand what will delight them. It is often expressed as voice of the customer, or VoC, research.
My guest has put VOC into practice with great results. She is the Senior Director of Product Management for TeamMate and an award-winning product manager. We discuss VoC tools and the specifics for how product managers can use them, including:
- Contextual interviews
- Budget-minded usability testing.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:30] What is your product and who is it for?
The product is called TeamMate. It’s a tool to help teams with transparency, consistency, and efficiency in their internal audit process. It’s used by large and small public and private organizations around the world. Internal audit is an independent and objective evaluation of the business organization.
[4:50] What tools do you use for Voice of the Customer research?
We get feedback from our professional services team when they are implementing the product to new clients, from the sales team when they are doing demos, and from trade shows. We also do surveys and usability testing and hold user conferences around the world. Our biggest conference draws 700-800 customers and includes a usability lab where customers can evaluate prototypes of things we’re thinking about doing. We also run focus groups and are able to get a lot of meaningful feedback in a short amount of time.
[7:38] How do you apply contextual inquiry to your work?
This is a tool we use when a concept can be open to multiple interpretations. At first, we’re trying to nail down a pain point and we’ll use surveys to do that. From those survey results, we’ll choose customers to go on site and visit. We always send two-person teams, one person who is an active interviewer and someone else who takes notes, pictures, and videos. We want the customer to walk us through the process or pain point, not just tell us. What we find is that what people tell you doesn’t always match with what they actually do.
[10:58] What do you do with all of the information you collect on those site visits?
Our teams write up their notes but keep the language that the clients used in the interview. We set up an affinity wall that informs the problems we’re trying to solve in the new release or feature. Sometimes those pain points are things that are never spoken aloud. One example of this was a client who had built a knowledge base that she was convinced would transform her team’s process. We got about halfway through and she forgot where she was in the process after she was interrupted by a coworker. We learned that it wasn’t easy to cancel the process and start over again and that led to adding contextual awareness to the next version of the knowledge base. It wasn’t a problem that was identified up front, but something we identified through the contextual inquiry process.
[16:11] Do you ever utilize phone calls or web meetings?
We do occasionally, but we’ve found that it’s invaluable to sit in front of someone and watch how they work. It’s difficult to replicate over a phone call or web meeting. You can’t really get a sense of someone’s environment and without that, you can’t create a solution that will work for them.
[19:03] Why is it important to retain the customer’s language?
Development teams are hearing information third hand by the time it gets to them. If it’s watered down, the urgency and emotion can get lost in organizational speak. It makes the project more real to the people who weren’t involved in the interview. Watching a video can have a similar effect. They can experience the same emotions as the client and it puts a face on the problem to make people feel invested in solving it.
[22:02] This information is organized on an affinity wall. What does that look like?
It’s a lot of post-it notes. We ask the people involved to highlight the key takeaways from the interviews and share them with people who weren’t involved. We then look for trends in the comments and things that overlap, which leads to designing solutions for those problems. Seeing a problem expressed by multiple customers helps separate one-offs from things that are more common issues. Using post-it notes allows us to move things around as needed in the process.
[24:15] How do you utilize usability testing?
I figured out that you can test an application in the same way that you test a website — start small and do something with what you learn. We loved our new platform and thought it was easy to navigate in it because we spend all of our time in it. We utilized our monthly TeamMate university to hold informal sessions with our power users who were visiting our headquarters. We gave them very high-level tasks to accomplish. Our development team was in the next room watching and listening as they worked through WebEx and a conference line. This was an approach we could replicate at our home office or on the road. If you can run the same scenario through 5 or 10 users, you learn a lot about how usable your system really is. In fact, we found most of the really big issues in the first 3 users. By the time we went to market, we were confident that the product was easy to navigate because we’d gone through this usability testing process.
“Innovation should demonstrate a relative advantage over other options, ideally including the technology currently used for the task. Better technologies will be adopted, plain and simple.” -Everett Rogers
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help a fellow product manager by sharing it on your favorite social media network.