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How product managers can understand their customers better than anyone else
If you have listened to me before, there is a good chance you’ve heard me say we need to fall in love with the customer’s problem, not our solution. Getting enamored with our solution can distract us from the customer experience. Instead, the customer experience is a component of what creates value for customers. For example, have you ever been asked to enter your address more than once during an onboarding experience? What about at your doctor or dentist? For me, the answer is yes to all three. It’s those simple things that add friction to the customer experience and if we want to make products customers love, we need to improve the experience for customers.
To help us explore customer experience, joining us is Natashya Narkiewicz, currently VP of Product Management at Avetta and formerly senior director of product management for Newfold Digital, the company behind several popular webhosting brands, such as Bluehost, Network Solutions, HostGator, and Sitebuilder. She has held product roles for nearly 20 years and enjoys building products that have a clean customer experience. She is also a mentor in the business college at the University of North Florida, sharing her knowledge and experience each year with seniors as well as serving as a business mentor to female entrepreneurs in a 12-week program at the Jacksonville, Florida, Women’s Business Center.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[3:18] You made a move from being a senior product manager in the medical industry at a company creating surgical implants to being the senior director of product management for an IT services company specializing in web hosting. How did you make the move across industries?
I was in the medical device space making surgical implants using the body to heal the body. It was a really exciting space when I first joined, but then the FDA increased regulations, and I realized that was going to stifle my creativity and ability to contribute to innovation. I started looking to switch industries. Strategic planning and connections assisted me in switching industries. Who I knew got me the interview and what I knew got me the job.
The onus was on me to show product management is a transferable skill. It’s all about knowing who your end users are, what their goals and pain points are, and how you could effectively solve those pain points. Couple that with the business acumen of knowing sales, costs, and margins, and you can do product management in any industry. I knew I had to apply the framework I had used in understanding my previous users to users in this new industry. In my interview, I came up with lots of examples of how I could use that framework for scenarios that would apply to this company. Having a solid understanding of that framework landed the job.
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[8:21] Why is customer experience a key part of product management?
If you don’t know your customer, you’re just guessing. I’m a naturally curious person. As a product manager, you have to be naturally curious, constantly asking why? It’s your responsibility to know your customer better than anyone else does. Get in their shoes, sometimes quite literally.
The Jobs to be Done framework (listen to recent episode with Tony Ulwick) is a great way to think about your end users and what jobs they’re trying to get done. It helps you put yourself in their shoes. You need to know what is important to your users. Otherwise, you run the risk of building something that never gets used.
[11:48] How do you keep your customer’s problem at the forefront?
You need to humanize the customer. It’s easy to use the term “customer” in the abstract and lose sight of who your customer actually is. Often you may have different variances of your customer. It’s important to know who they are and humanize them. We develop personas with names and pictures so when we’re talking through solutions we can picture those people and ask how our solution applies to them and whether they care about the features we’re building.
[15:16] Can you take us through a project with the objective of improving the customer experience?
At Newfold Digital, we acquire a lot of companies that specialize in a product or service. Each of these companies comes with its own platform. We want to offer their services to our customer base. However, if our users have to move through different platforms, that’s a jarring experience. There are friction points, like if they have enter their address several times. We had the opportunity to unify all the platforms to provide a single customer experience and make the user feel as it were a single interface.
First, we needed to understand who the users of these platforms are. We used behavioral analytics tools embedded in the platforms to see what areas users are going to. We talked to customer support and sales teams. We talked to customers. We built a customer community to talk with and understand what they’re trying to do. We needed to discover their objectives and pain points.
After we understood a bit more about our users, we saw different groups of users on different platforms. We broke the pain points into three categories: internal problems like entering the address three times, external pain points where a competitor solves a job better than our platforms, and opportunities where the job the user wants done is not being solved by anyone. Understanding those pain points helped us build a list of things we want to solve for.
[24:23] What is the next step to start taking action on those opportunities?
It depends on whether you own the roadmap and can make decisions yourself or you’re part of a team where you have to do some selling. Either way, first prioritize your list. We had a list of things we could potentially do, but you never have enough resources, time, or people to do all of them. Even if you did, you couldn’t do all of them at the same time, so you have to prioritize which ones to work on first. There are a lot of prioritization frameworks, but it comes down to the highest impact and lowest risk.
Next, execute. Again, this depends on whether you own the team or have to do some selling.
[26:19] How did you sell your product plan to others in your organization?
It helps to tell a story. I told a story about a day in the life of a persona, Olivia, who used our product. I walked through how she would use our reimagined solution of a single platform. I created a PowerPoint with mockups and screenshots so people could visualize it. Most people have to see it to believe it.
You also need to provide data. This doesn’t have to be a time-consuming or expensive exercise. We knew we were making some risky assumptions—that changing the layout would decrease the time it would take a user to get to a tool, would increase the likelihood they could complete a step, and would increase the likelihood they would take a purchasing action. We knew we wouldn’t get buy-in unless we could get some proof we could actually improve those numbers.
We created two low-fidelity mockups—a prototype of our existing experience and a prototype of our reimagined experience. We came up with five different tasks a user would need to do in the platform. An external market testing site facilitated our tests. We tested with five people on each prototype and got results within 24 hours. We saw our reimagined solution showed improvement in time to get an action, time to complete an action, and likelihood of a purchasing action.
I wove those data into my story and showed we had validated a risky assumption. The story captured others’ attention and got traction.
I found an executive sponsor who championed the idea alongside me, and I went on a roadshow sharing the idea with anyone and everyone. Some of the best movements are grassroots. Go to your peers. Create a team of missionaries who are championing the idea to their parts of the organization. Couple that with an executive sponsor who is having the same conversations at a higher level, and you have a chance of giving your idea some legs.
It takes tenacity to sell your product. You know your customer better than anyone else, and eventually you start to feel the emotions of your customer and become as invested in meeting their goals as they are. That’s the passion that drives the tenacity to say, “We have got to get this done, and I don’t care how long it takes.”
Action Guide: Put the information Natashya shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Connect with Natashya on Linkedin
- Visit the Newfold Digital website
- Listen to episode 374 on storytelling
- Listen to special episode with Tony Ulwick on Jobs to be Done
“There are many wonderful things that will never be done if you do not do them.” – Charles D. Gill
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.