How to Foster Shared Understanding of Customer Needs
Customers are all that really matter. You can build the slickest products in the world and offer seemingly amazing services, but if people aren’t buying and using them, it’s all for naught.
Internal stakeholders talk about customers all the time, but rarely beyond the anecdotal or hypothetical context. “I heard” or “I think” customers want something is about as deep as most folks go. But, to provide a solution that is valued, loved and appreciated, companies need a far deeper understanding of what customers really desire and care about. This insight can’t be stored in isolated pockets of the company, nor can organizations rely on a single “customer expert.”
Customer-centric organizations promote customer empathy across the entire business, educating every employee on what’s driving customer behavior and reminding them that customers are all that counts.
Why organizations must have a shared understanding of customer needs
Every employee has someone different in mind when they think about the theoretical “customer.” It might be based on a persona, or a real interaction they’ve had with a particular user.
But we know that customers are actually a diverse batch of individuals and organizations. Each with their own backstories, motivations, and needs. The only way to make sure staff are keeping this cornucopia of varied customers top of mind is to build a collective sense of empathy for them.
Customer-centric organizations strive to ensure customers are always front-and-center when any decision is made, but that’s often easier said than done. To keep customers ever-present, companies need to build a culture where they’re always the focus.
The customer as an abstract being isn’t the same as the nitty-gritty realism of true stories, opinions, and experiences. That’s why it’s vital for that culture to include the frequent open exchange of customer feedback.
Not only should employees be used to hearing these tales, they should also be comfortable sharing them. As stakeholders and customer-facing personnel interact with users, they should be freely distributing these nuggets of wisdom with the rest of the company so everyone is aware of both the joys and frustrations their solutions bring.
This shared understanding not only will help build alignment around what’s important, but it will also improve employee engagement and satisfaction up to 20%.
According to McKinsey, “As customer experience improves, employee satisfaction tends to increase as well, because a more direct connection with customers adds meaning to employees’ work and helps them witness customer satisfaction.”
And empathetic companies tend to be more financially successful as well. Why it shouldn’t be any surprise that giving customers what they want would lead to improved performance, the most empathetic companies far outperform their less customer-centric rivals.
Customers aren’t machines. Logic and reason are only part of the puzzle. To fully meet their needs, organizations must view them as the complex and contradictory human beings they really are.
How to promote shared understanding of customer needs
A strong desire for a customer-centric culture doesn’t mean it will magically just happen. Organizations have to set up mechanisms and employ best practices to create a frequent flow of feedback to build awareness.
Here are a few ways you can build ambient awareness of customer needs across your organization and help internal stakeholders better understand and empathize with users.
Requirements aren’t enough
Most product development organizations hand engineers and designers a stack of product requirements and tell them to get to work. While this might result in a functional product, it doesn’t empower those implementation teams to truly understand the customer experience and how the product or feature they’re working on fits into the big picture.
Product managers must give their colleagues a chance to actually empathize with customers by humanizing them. When those folks feel more connected to customers and grasp the details of their experiences and needs, they can look beyond the text of the requirements and comprehend the purpose and intent behind them.
To give these teams more exposure to customer sentiments, try some of these out:
- Invite them to listen in on customer calls or share the transcripts
- Share customer quotes and use real-world examples in specific feature requirements to paint a fuller picture
- Empower implementation team members to reach out directly to customers if they’re looking for context or clarification
Provide a real-time customer feedback feed
Customer feedback flows into the organization through many channels. But far too often it never goes beyond the person who heard it directly and the customer support or product management teams.
Instead of letting that feedback fester in silos or sit idle until it’s periodically packaged up for public consumption, let it disseminate across the company as soon as it’s received.
One way to keep the influx of feedback on everyone’s radar is streaming it straight into a dedicated Slack channel. (Which, if you’re a UserVoice customer, is now easier than ever with our new Slack integration). No matter how that feedback is received, the entire staff gets to keep tabs on what’s funneling in in real time.
You can also maintain a steady flow of other sentiment bellwethers, such as Net Promoter Score, online reviews, and social media mentions. All these inputs help take the pulse of users and customers and feed everyone a steady diet of feedback.
Share recorded customer calls
There’s nothing that builds customer empathy like the unvarnished thoughts, complaints, and frustrations of real, live users. Since some parts of the organization are rarely privy to these sessions, providing a broader platform for them is a great way to bring to the voice of the customer to life.
Creating a repository of calls allows every employee to listen in and better understand real-world user experiences. Not everyone will have the time or patience to actually listen to all of them, so you can also share summaries and select quotes from these interactions on a regular basis.
Even a taste of what real customers are saying can be an eye-opening experience. Unfiltered customer feedback dispels preconceptions and shines a spotlight on shortcomings and opportunities for improvement.
Bring the customer to them
While sales people are always out in the real world and product managers are constantly pushed to “get out of the office,” that’s not a realistic goal for other employees. That’s why bringing customers in for an in-person Q&A session can do wonders for bridging the gap between staff and users.
Hearing directly from customers and having the opportunity to ask them questions can be very enlightening and transform the abstract idea of “customers” into real people with real problems they’re trying to solve. If you’ve got a distributed team or multiple locations, holding customer Q&A web chats or conference calls can also do the trick, but nothing beats looking them in the eye.
Share customer success stories
A lot of customer feedback socialization tactics focus on the negatives. That’s great for waking up employees who may not realize their product isn’t quite as awesome as they thought it was, but it’s not exactly inspiring either.
Balance out their feedback diet with a healthy helping of success stories. Hearing how the product is actually helping people live better lives, work more efficiently, or save money can add a little extra motivational boost. And, learning the gory details of exactly how things are working in a particular case gets people out of thinking in terms of generalities and ideal personas, shifting the conversation to real narratives and specifics.
Everyone—particularly customer-facing teams—should be encouraged to document and share these success stories when they hear them. Some might even turn into great case studies or marketing fodder.
The pros and cons of continuous feedback flows
Companies will undoubtedly benefit from seeing and hearing what customers are experiencing and care about more frequently. It’s a continual reminder of their primary constituents and the mission to deliver great solutions to them.
Teams will build a common vision of what makes their products great and what could use some improvement. This will make prioritization easier and fuel enthusiasm for projects that enhance the customer experience.
Increased contact with customers (and customer feedback) will also reduce the amount of questioning product teams face when requesting certain features and functionality. When the whole organization has a better sense of what customers want and need, the rationale for such requests becomes obvious.
However, since not all feedback will be positive, there are some potential repercussions to consider. If you have a reactionary management team, they may start diverting from agreed-upon plans to start “putting out fires” and addressing issues raised by customers.
While there may be times when this is warranted, if it goes unchecked the product strategy might end up abandoned as the crisis-of-the-day distracts everyone from bigger picture objectives. Setting up a working group to triage feedback can help mitigate the urge to fix everything immediately and derail strategic initiatives.
Likewise, not everyone may handle the criticisms and complaints that come in through these channels, fostering a negative outlook among some folks in the organization. If it seems like the feedback is overwhelmingly negative, it might make sense to throttle it back a bit and settle for periodic summaries versus constant reminders that a feature is broken.
Ready to infuse your organization with a steady stream of customer feedback? Check out our new Slack integration.