Our previous article highlighted the benefits of shifting to a product-based approach in which solving customer needs is a prerequisite to success. By becoming customer experts, product teams are able to truly understand their needs and consistently deliver value to as many customers as possible.

This article contemplates ‘customer focus’, a central attribute of the product-based approach.

Customer focus permeates and informs all aspects and stages of product development. In other words, customer focus is not something that happens just for a while and is then put away. It’s also not effective when left until the very end.

Teams switching to product-mode may be looking for an appropriate time to begin adopting a customer focus. The great news is that opportunities to learn more about customers can happen at many different points, but let’s imagine that the product is at the start of its development journey. In this case, customer research is a good place to begin.

Research and observe

When a product is first being defined, it’s important that assumptions about customer needs are tested and replaced with validated knowledge. There are a number of research methods that can be applied to get to know customers and discover their pain points—where the greatest opportunities to solve problems and provide value are located. 

Interviews, focus groups, and surveys are a good way to get to know customers. By listening to customers describe their experiences, product teams can uncover their core motivations and then ask questions to clarify goals, contexts and frustrations. 

Landscape analysis is another research method. It looks at related products customers have been exposed to and gives insights into how customers tastes and expectations have been shaped. 

Consider and ideate 

Once the product team has gathered sufficient customer insights, they’re able to ideate solutions for the pain points that can provide the greatest impact.

It’s worth investing in large-scale printouts of personas, journeys maps and other tools developed during the research phase. Having them as a visible reference point is a good way to stay anchored to customer needs during conception and through to delivery.

Validate and confirm

Product teams then seek to get clear confirmation on which ideas turn the dial for customers. A key objective of customer validation should be to differentiate between what customers say they’ll do and what they’ll actually do.  

At the same time, ideas should also be evaluated for their potential to deliver on business objectives. This may mean some ideas that are highly ranked for customer impact are shelved because they don’t make sense from a business perspective. Ultimately, the product team must have confidence that an idea will provide positive results for both the customer and the business. 

As ideas evolve into concepts, the team will seek to understand the minimum viable product for offering compelling value to the majority of the customer segment. This forms the basis for a product roadmap, which outlines what additional features will be added and when based on customer needs. 

Define and articulate

As the value and purpose of the product become more apparent, the customer focus will be embedded and championed amongst the product team and the wider business. 

The product vision and product principles are developed to enable the product story to be told both internally and back to the customer. A clearly defined customer-centric vision supports team members when product decisions are being made by reducing ambiguity about the product direction.

Ultimately, every member of the team should be able to clearly articulate the customer need their product is solving.

Design and develop

Customer proxies, or customers themselves when possible, actively participate in ideation co-design sprints to ensure the customer voice is represented in the design process. 

Prototypes, as the output of the design process, are tested with customers to enable the gathering of user feedback as soon as possible in the product development process.

Launch and measure

Iteration based on customer inputs doesn’t end when the first version of the product is completed and launched. On the contrary, once the product becomes publicly available, the product team takes the opportunity to observe the behaviour and solicit feedback from real ‘paying’ customers. 

Insights gathered from users will initiate a fresh cycle of ideation, validation, design, and testing that will allow the product to develop and deliver increasing value to its customers.

In summary

Teams that work with a product-based approach know that having a strong customer focus is an important key to creating successful products.

To establish a customer focus, product teams look to understand their customers’ needs through research, validate ideas with customers during design and development cycles, and listen closely to customers throughout the product lifecycle. 

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