Product features are irrelevant: only Customer Experience counts!

Customer experience ring

This blog has been written for us by Jeroen Visser – someone we’ve known for some time.

He has just launched a new business focusing on embedding the design of great Customer Experience into the development process.

You can think of Customer Experience as all the interactions a customer has when using a product’s features. Or, like Jeroen, you can take a wider perspective and think of Customer Experience as all the touchpoints a customer has with an organisation – from how you use the product to how you pay for it.

We think he makes some good points…

In the digital world, any successful product feature will be copied swiftly by competitors. The only way to maintain a competitive advantage is through the customer experience you provide.

While this statement is deliberately provocative, assume for a moment that it is an absolute truth. As a product manager, what would you do next if you cannot compete on product features?

• Compete on Price? This is only sustainable if you have a lower cost base than your competitors.

• Compete on Promotion and Advertising? The danger is it becomes hype and you end up promoting a soap bubble. It works for a while but then it ends in a big costly splash.

• Compete on Place (how the product is distributed/accessed)? Yes, this is going in the right direction but needs to be complemented with other elements of the customer experience.

We believe that to remain competitive in the digital world a product manager needs to consider the complete Customer Experience of the proposition. The “What” of the traditional product features need to be augmented with the “How” of good Customer Experience design. Besides considering what the product features are, the product manager needs to evaluate:

• How will your customers find your product?
• How will your customers get your product?
• How will your customers set up your product?
• How will your customers use your product?
• How will your customers pay for your product?
• How will your customers get help using your product?
• How will your customers stop using your product?

Only when you deliver a great experience across ALL these touch points will you be able to gain or maintain a competitive advantage.

Product managers have a strong affinity with the latest features of a technology. They often see Customer Experience (CX) as a separate activity from New Product Development. It is either added as an afterthought, considered to be in the domain of Customer Care or reduced to User Interface (UI) developments.

But Customer Experience is much wider than Customer Care or UI. Customer Experience is the customer’s perception of their interaction with a company and its product over the duration of their relationship. It is the cumulative effect of the individual’s experience during all points of contact, set against the context of their expectations. Therefore, you can’t just bolt-on a great experience; it must be embedded deep in your product development process and run as a mantra throughout your organisation.

So what does this mean for product managers?

Let’s address the Who, What and How for this question. Who should drive Customer Experience? At C-level it is becoming accepted that Customer Experience (CX) will be the major new battle ground for an organisation. What is less clear is who needs to drive this.

It is generally understood that the CEO has the ultimate responsibility for delivering good CX. However, he/she is unlikely to have enough time to devote to this topic. Therefore, the Customer Experience experts are discussing the role of a Chief Customer Officer (CCO). Many good blogs are written about this, for example see www.customerbliss.com.

It would be fair to say that there is currently a Customer Experience vacuum at the C-level and it will be interesting to see the developments in this space. Because of this CX vacuum at C-level, there is a corresponding vacuum in the rest of the organisation. Some organisations do have Customer Experience teams and this is a giant leap in the right direction, if these teams have a wider remit than Customer Care and User Interface developments. However, for these teams to become truly effective they need a fully cross-functional mandate and a seat at the top table.

So where does that leave embedding a great customer experience in your product development process? Well if you believe in the notion that a product manager is the CEO of his/her product, then it is a small step to see that the product manager has the opportunity to step up to this challenge.

The product manager role is by definition cross functional and can therefore shape the product experience. It is a natural extension for the product manager to start shaping the complete Customer Experience by working across the company silos.

What does a product manager need to do to shape the Customer Experience?

A product manager needs to develop a strong belief in and support for CX. He/she needs to fully buy-in to the idea that the competitive battle ground is shifting and that great customer experience is essential. There will always be a need for technical product managers who know the ins and outs of every product feature. However, these types of product managers may not have the skills, experience or desire to grow into a CX driven product management role.

Next the product manager needs to understand some specific CX methods and gain CX skills. The PM has to add the following skills to his/her portfolio:

1. Manage and or interpret a ‘Voice of the Customer’ research program
2. Create a concept canvas covering Segmentation, Problem definition, Solution definition, Problem/solution fit check and all the key building blocks of a proposition
3. Create personas
4. Discover and develop customer journeys
5. Define customer touch points
6. Prioritise customer touch points
7. Manage customer experience design / service design
8. Understand UX/UI design principles
9. Use quantitative research to explore and validate ideas

These are just 9 CX areas in which it’s vital to become proficient. Good product managers might already cover some of these skills. These CX skills come on top of excellent product management skills and good product development skills.

How do product managers gain Customer Experience skills?

For the required fundamental PM skills get a basic product management training. It is quite shocking that only 55% of product managers have actually received product management training. It goes without saying that the Product Focus course is an excellent place to start.

For the different Customer Experience skills, reading books and blogs is probably your best chance to get a basic understanding. On LinkedIn there are many good CX related interest groups. The largest, CEM, has over 70,000 members and has a very lively discussion board. Linking from these discussions you will discover the blogs that might appeal to you most.

For embedding CX in New Product Development I will shamelessly recommend following our company page on LinkedIn. www.linkedin.com/company/cx-npd. We share the best CX NPD related articles. We focus on sharing articles with very pragmatic advice to increase the CX NPD skill set.

Wrapping up – Product features are irrelevant: only Customer Experience counts!

In this blog we challenged you to imagine what it would be like if you could no longer compete on product features. This is not as far-fetched as you may think! Think of any successful digital service or product…were they the first to the market? Do they compete on product features?

We see in the market that the battleground is shifting from product features towards delivering a great Customer Experience at all touch points with the company.

While this shift will have a major impact on the role of the product manager, we believe that this also opens great opportunities for proactive product managers to own the broader Customer Experience. Since product managers are the CEO’s of their product, they are a natural fit to drive delivery of great Customer Experience.

Thanks to the digital world we live in, there is a wealth of information available for the proactive product manager to capitalise on this opportunity.

Jeroen Visser, March 2016

Jeroen Visser is founding director of CX NPD. For more information and many free resources please visit www.cxnpd.com

Tags: , , , ,