4 tips for customer-centric digital product development
Collecting customer feedback is an integral part of the product development process. Product teams shouldn't wait until right before launch to conduct user research, but rather, it should be a continuous, iterative process where you test at every stage of the product life cycle. And ideally, early and often. Not only does this enable you to gain a better understanding of your customers, which is imperative for developing a satisfying customer experience, but it helps your team to successfully navigate the landscape.
Whether you’re a researcher, designer, or product manager, as your digital product development team looks ahead to 2023, you’ll be navigating a competitive market and an uncertain economy. Keep these four takeaways in mind to continue creating valuable experiences and products for your customers.
But first, we need to ask what a product can be? While the definition of a product seems self-explanatory, we must explore what the word means to evolve as digital product development teams.
In the broadest sense, a product can be a service, a tangible feature, or an intangible element you create to serve the end user. It can be anything from a type of software to a vehicle. At its root, products aim to satisfy the needs and expectations of a customer. Product teams may face ambiguity in the early stages because they're uncertain about what to construct, which is where the use of a product roadmap comes along—as well as consistent and early testing.
Now that we’ve considered the possibilities of a product, here are four tips for product teams should remember as they embark on the development process.
1. Let your customers’ needs guide development
The product development process inevitably includes uncertainty—as well as opportunities. How can we decide what to make? When there are unclear priorities, navigate them by letting them create room for exploration and collect customer feedback. Those insights will help guide and tell a story of what you’ll make based on that list. Customers of UserTesting have managed this by placing a list of potential features or solutions in front of users and having them vote. This pinpoints not only what’s been voted on but the weight behind each vote, which can settle internal debates and validate how priorities should be ordered.
In its most optimistic sense, priorities are developed by teams with vast customer insight, and this insight contributes to what teams create. Additionally, consider priorities as commitments that will stick around for a while, sometimes even longer than roadmaps. And similar to how testing should be conducted, prioritize early and often.
2. Embrace ambiguity by gaining user feedback
To some degree, we’re all uncomfortable with a little ambiguity. You can, however, use ambiguity to your advantage to gain insight into your design process, if you reframe it in a positive light. You may recognize that although it isn't a fulfilling place to be in, it’s the point where you should ask users questions. Begin with a state of curiosity and ask yourself if customers would want this product before you decide if your idea is viable or feasible. The best way to surpass ambiguity and develop solutions is to place your customers’ needs at the forefront.
AJ Joplin, Senior Analyst at Forrester states in a 2022 roundtable, “We’ve all worked at places where someone has an idea, we go build that idea, we make concepts, and we only ask favorable questions about that concept from our users if we do. We ship it, and then disaster strikes, and we’re wondering why. Root cause: you did not create space for teams to diverge and converge, and collect data and talk about what it means.”
Janelle Estes, Chief Insights Officer at UserTesting, tells product teams to ask themselves, "Who is my customer, what problems do they need solving, how do I know if it’s the right problem to solve, and what are the potential ways we could solve this problem?"
3. Avoid the parity trap
Joplin recommends, "Stay out of the parity trap." Think of a parity trap as the business version of keeping up with the Joneses. Organizations feel they're lacking compared to their competitors, so they create products similar to those of their competitors.
And while a competitor may have released a new product or feature with fancy bells and whistles, you won’t know if customers actually wanted—or needed—those features if you didn’t ask them yourself.
UserTesting customers make a habit of benchmarking their experiences against their competitors on an ongoing basis. As a result, they’re seeing the bigger picture over time, rather than getting distracted by seemingly exciting features or enhancements that customers may not want or need.
Fortunately, connecting directly with your target audience—before you develop anything—takes the guesswork out of sizing up your competition. And remember, what works for your competitors, might not work for your unique audience. Competitive intelligence gives you insight on your competitors, but it’s crucial to also get feedback from your own audiences as well.
Combat the parity trap by thinking experientially. Identify any potential gaps your competitors aren't filling and leverage that emptiness to design something meaningful for your customers—and that isn’t being offered anywhere else.
4. Shorten product roadmaps and keep them simple
Many product teams have been known for creating a product roadmap that projects too far into the future or outpaces business priorities. Teams may be ambitious, and excited about their new product and how it'll impact the market and their users, causing them to create goals that may change overnight on their product roadmaps.
To prevent this from happening, consider a theme-based roadmap, which addresses product enhancements at a high level. The advantage is that this leaves room for changes and flexibility—while still following an overall vision and path.
Although you should remain ambitious and goal-oriented, shorter product roadmaps are more realistic for teams. Technology is moving rapidly, and customer needs and preferences can change in the blink of an eye. As a best practice, and to maintain customer-centricity, gather user feedback at each stage of the development process to ensure your roadmap is headed in the right direction. If you're too focused on the future impact and not enough on the short term, you may miss out on key findings that'll benefit your product.
To recap, collect user feedback early and often, evaluate competitors on an ongoing basis to avoid the parity trap, allow priorities to guide long-term development, and lean towards theme-based roadmaps. Armed with these reminders, you'll create an impactful product for your users that’ll leave them coming back for more.
Whether you’re a product leader at a digital native organization or going through a digital transformation, this guide will show you how digital product teams reduce risk, manage cost, and stay competitive by quickly innovating and iterating digital product development by utilizing human insight.