A Beginner’s Guide to Customer Focus

Customer Focus

By Sherika Wynter

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 mapping, usability 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.

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.