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A Beginner’s Guide to Customer Focus

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Customer Focus

In the tech world, we’ve figured out how to measure user behavior down to a granular level via web analytics. From gauging interest through time spent on a page, to prioritizing information based on heat mapping, many companies are determining user preferences without directly interacting with individuals. But, relying on analytics alone without constant user involvement robs us of the main driver of success in product development: customer focus.

Customer focus is a tactic that dissects the analytics behind customer behavior. This involves considering their perspectives, understanding their needs and wants, and getting to the root cause of the issue that’s the focus of your product development efforts.

In many cases, the cause of an underperforming product or service isn’t obvious. A product manager or user experience (UX) researcher who works closely with their internal user experience team has the best chance of uncovering it. Along with product managers, UX designers ensure customer focus is maintained throughout the product development process, leveraging techniques like stakeholder interviews, customer journey mapping, and usability testing. (Learn more about these and other key strategies for gaining customer insights in our free white paper, Human-Focused Design.)

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

What Are Stakeholder Interviews?

Interviewing both internal and external stakeholders is an integral part of product development. It allows you to hear your customers’ understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve — in their own words. It also provides you with an opportunity to ask for additional information on insights that may have been gathered with analytical tools.

As a product manager or UX designer, it’s crucial to understand your customers’ actual current behavior, not just what they say they will do. For instance, if you are developing an app to help people get to the gym more frequently and consistently, asking a customer, “How often do you plan to go to the gym this year?” isn’t as beneficial as asking, “How often did you attend the gym last year?” Customers cannot tell you what they will do with much sense of accuracy. They can only recall what they have done. Using past experiences to focus the product on future customer behavior is key.

When interviewing stakeholders, it’s important to ask open-ended questions (i.e., questions that won’t result in a simple “yes” or “no” answer). This will not only assist in identifying the root cause of the problem you’re addressing but will also keep the customer talking. For example, if you’re looking to determine the value of cardio classes and asked, “Would you say cardio classes are better workouts than weight lifting?” you may get a dead-end, one-word answer. When a customer just says “Yes,” what have you learned?

How do you get them to elaborate on the why in their response? It’s the why that separates a customer-focused product from one that’s solely data-driven. In this example, you could instead ask something like, “How do you feel about the cardio classes you participated in throughout 2017?”

How Customer Journey Mapping Works

Journey mapping — i.e., the strategic process of capturing and communicating complex customer interactions — provides you, the product manager, with a step-by-step visual representation of your customers’ current behavior surrounding the problem your product is trying to solve. When you’re able to walk through a process with a customer, you realize just how much is overlooked with conversation alone. Journey mapping can be done via sticky notes or by physically following customers through their daily activities. Both methods are effective in their own ways and commonly used in professional environments.

Journey mapping also helps connect a customer’s interview answers with their actual routines to provide deeper insights into their behaviors, wants, and needs. Oftentimes, people don’t realize how much they do until you ask them to walk you through their processes. With journey mapping, product managers and UX designers can also ask follow-up questions to support a stakeholder interview as necessary.

The Basics of Usability Testing

Conducted by both UX and product teams, usability testing observes customers’ interactions as they attempt to complete different tasks or transactions with a product and validates that product against a need, an idea, and an assumed solution. In other words, it allows them to confirm that the product effectively addresses a user problem they’ve aimed to solve. Through usability testing, users are able to navigate through a proposed solution and provide feedback on what they do and don’t like. Ideally, it should be conducted throughout the design process as the product evolves to meet customer needs. A customer may need to hold on to your product for a period of time in order for you to decide if it solves their problem effectively.

Customer-focused product development requires you to truly immerse yourself in the life of the customer. It pulls you out of what you think you know and places you in a position to learn. As you dig deeper into your customers’ behaviors, wants, and needs, you’ll strengthen the overall quality of your product.

Customer Focus at General Assembly

At General Assembly, product management and UX design students learn to hone customer-focused perspectives through hands-on practice. In our part-time Product Management course, you’ll bring a product idea to life via stakeholder interviewing, journey mappingusability testing, and more. Apply these techniques to optimize user-friendly products and services in our part-time User Experience Design courses, on campus or online. Or, take the first step toward a new career in our full-time User Experience Design Immersive.

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Meet Our Expert

Sherika Wynter is a jack of all trades. She works as senior product manager at USAC and has a background in mechanical engineering and industrial design. Prior to her current role, Sherika spent eight years as a project manager, working with clients including Pew Charitable Trusts, Tishman Speyer, and PBS. She holds certifications in both PMP and scrum master. Sherika currently teaches Product Management and project management workshops at General Assembly in Washington, D.C.

Sherika Wynter

“Product managers are integral to any product team. Product management is where design, development, and business intersect and, in this age of innovation, it’s skills are key to developing a successful product.”

Sherika Wynter, Product Management instructor, GA Washington, D.C.

5 Ways to Inspire Your Design Teams

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2018 99u Conference General Assembly

Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead for General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course, leads a session at the 2018 99u Conference. Photos by Craig Samoviski.

As design educators, we at General Assembly prepare students for their careers — but how can we ensure designers continue to grow their skills beyond the classroom? Industry-leading work emerges from teams that persistently enrich themselves by fostering new skill sets and perspectives. But between deadlines, client fire drills, and day-to-day trivialities, a focus on growth can often be put on the back burner. In the long-term, this can result in uninspired designers who don’t grow to their full potential, and teams that opt for the easy way out instead of taking on risks, challenges, and explorations that drive innovation.

When Adobe approached General Assembly about leading a session at the 99u Conference — an annual gathering for creative professionals to share ideas and get inspired to help shape the future of the industry — we knew it would be a great opportunity to guide leaders in creating natural spaces for learning within their teams and workflows.

In our sold-out session “Onboard, Engage, Energize: Tactics for Inspiring a Crack Design Team,” Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead of GA’s full-time User Experience Design Immersive course, and Adi Hanash, GA’s former head of Advanced Skills Academies, shared insights on how directors and managers can structure spaces for learning within their teams, and encourage new approaches to problem-solving. The presentation was developed in collaboration with Senior Instructional Designer Eric Newman and me, GA’s director of product design.

At the event, we outlined the following five ways leaders can encourage their teams (and themselves) to keep learning and improving throughout their careers, including an exercise to spur creativity, reflection, and action. Read on to learn more, and find out how you can perform the exercise with your own team.

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The Best Prototyping Tools for UX Designers in 2018

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Best Prototyping Tools 2018After synthesizing user research and thoroughly uncovering problems to solve, user experience (UX) designers begin their design by ideating on a number of solutions. This is where the creative magic happens! Designers sketch to explore many workable solutions to user problems, then narrow them down to the strongest concept. Using that concept, the next step is creating a workable prototype that can be tested for viability against the user’s goals and business needs.

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Don’t Frustrate Users With Gaps in Your Product Experience

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There are countless steps where the product experience can break down.

There are countless steps where the product experience can break down.

There are countless steps where the product experience can break down. Have you ever been waiting at the corner for a ride-sharing pickup, and while the app swears the driver is right there, there is no car in sight? Or how about seamlessly ordering groceries in an app, then waiting well past the delivery window with no sign of your avocados? Ever called customer service by phone to learn they have no record of the two detailed chats you had with online agents about your issue? We’ve all been there.

As consumers who increasingly rely on technology to help us wrangle a vast range of goods and services, we’ve all experienced pain points when really good software doesn’t equate a really good experience. All too often, there’s a breakdown that occurs outside product screens, when a product or process hits the reality of the human experience or a user fails.

Take a peek at the diagram above, which charts the various user touch points that can occur with your brand in a product experience loop. Users interact with a product through many different channels and modes of communication, and bridging the gaps between them is essential to your product’s success. If you present users with a custom call to action in a social media ad, your customer service teams must be ready to respond. If you build an offer email that is redeemable at a brick-and-mortar retail location, the cashier will need tools to redeem it.

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How Blending Lean, Agile, and Design Thinking Will Transform Your Team

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Lean vs Agile vs Design Thinking Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf’s new book, Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking

The following is an adapted excerpt from Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking by designer, team leader, and business coach Jeff Gothelf.

In 2016, I was preparing with clients for an upcoming training workshop focused on coaching a cross-functional team of designers, software engineers, product managers, and business stakeholders on integrating product discovery practices into their delivery cadences. During our conversation, my client said to me, “Our tech teams are learning Agile. Our product teams are learning Lean, and our design teams are learning Design Thinking. Which one is right?”

The client found the different disciplines at odds because these seemingly complementary practices forced each discipline into different cadences, with different practices and vocabularies targeting different measures of success.

The engineering teams, using Agile, were focused on shipping bug-free code in regular release cycles (many teams call these “sprints”). Their ultimate goal was an increased velocity — the quantity of code they could ship in each sprint. Product managers, using Lean, were most interested in driving efficiency, quality, and reduction of waste through tactical backlog prioritization and grooming techniques.

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Making It in UX: New User Experience Designers Share Lessons From the Field

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UX Design Denver Jobs General Assembly Students

Every industry — from tech, to finance, to retail — needs user experience (UX) designers. These master problem-solvers work to create on- and offline experiences that put users’ wants and needs first.

Harnessing skills like user research, wireframes, and prototyping, UX designers have a unique perspective when it comes to understanding the interactions between users, business goals, and visual and technology elements. For companies, their work fosters brand loyalty and repeat business. For consumers, it means frustration-free online experiences, intuitive mobile apps, efficient store layouts, and more.

When you have the perspective of a UX designer, “you start to see design gone wrong everywhere,” says Beth Koloski, who teaches the full-time User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI) course at General Assembly’s Denver campus. “You stop blaming yourself for not understanding badly designed software.” She says she admires when someone gets design right because she knows “how incredibly hard it is to make something easy and seamless and actually get it out into the real world.”

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John Rossman on How the Internet of Things Transforms Businesses

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Amazon Way on IoT John Rossman Interview

Author and tech-industry veteran John Rossman, whose new book takes a deep dive into the Internet of Things.

When it comes to enhancing customer experiences and improving business operations, the future lies in the Internet of Things (IoT).

IoT is the ability to take an analog or physical capability and create a digital version of that experience. For example, the Nest thermostat helps lower energy costs by using sensors and your phone’s location to adjust the temperature when you leave the house. Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator allows you to order groceries from FreshDirect right from its door.

From a business standpoint, IoT technology allows for smarter, data-driven models that enable higher efficiency and better outcomes. From a consumer standpoint, it can transform the way we think about some of our most routine daily actions. IoT technology requires elements of data science and analytics, product management, and user experience — and because of this, it’s a cross-functional industry with tons of opportunity for growth.

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InVision on Creating GA’s User Experience Design Course

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UX Design Invision General Assembly IBM

A user experience design student at General Assembly student works on a user flow.

There have never been more opportunities for user experience designers: In 2015, U.S. companies posted nearly 30,000 openings for user experience roles — up 15% from 2011 — at an average salary of $99,177.

The market demands top-quality talent, and training toward industry needs has never been more vital. At General Assembly, we accomplish this by partnering with industry powerhouses like IBM Design and prototyping platform InVision to build curriculums that directly serve the needs of companies while empowering individuals with relevant skills. Our full-time User Experience Design Immersive leverages our partners’ expertise across market and content to ensure the most effective learning experience available in the field.

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User Experience Design Impacts Everyone — But What Is It?

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What is user experience design General Assembly

People often associate the term “user experience design” with visual design or the design of a digital interface, like a website or mobile app. But the truth is, user experience (UX) design is bigger than that, and it’s used across every industry, from software, to business, to schools, and beyond.

Successful UX design is why shopping on Amazon is addictive, ride-sharing apps like Uber are thriving, and binge watching TV shows from any number of services has become the best way to spend a weekend indoors — skillful UX design has made it insanely easy to do. Even physical spaces are impacted by UX design: Think strategic layouts of department stores with enticing buys at every turn or the always-moving checkout lines at Trader Joe’s.

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Founding a Company Entirely on UX Design: How GA Grads Started Jewelry Company Vrai & Oro

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General Assembly grads Vrai and Oro

For years, Chelsea Nicholson and Vanessa Stofenmacher felt that the fine jewelry on the market just wasn’t for them. They wanted to make a statement with pieces that were classic yet attainable, and had an inkling other women felt the same. After graduating from General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive program in Los Angeles, they decided to do something about it.

The pair, who were friends before they were classmates, teamed up to launch Vrai and Oro — a Warby Parker-style fine jewelry startup that embodies UX principles its core. Vrai and Oro means truth (in French) and gold (in Spanish), and the name is reflected in the company’s values: quality, simplicity, and transparency. Chelsea and Vanessa produce their jewelry with ethically sourced materials in downtown Los Angeles — without designer markups. And, true to their UX-driven brand, their website and eCommerce platform is minimalistic and image-driven for easy use.

We caught up with Chelsea to learn more about Vrai & Oro, the site’s user experience, and how GA helped the co-founders achieve their goals.

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