How product managers can promote human-centered design
I wonder if you can relate to this frustration—the pressure to get products and product updates released quickly sometimes means making compromises on design quality. It’s an organizational issue—moving quickly to beat competitors and keep up with changing customer preferences. Speed is more important than quality.
Our guest, Debbie Levitt, renowned CX designer and author, recommends a different approach. When companies take the time to design products that match what the customer needs, profits soar, customer satisfaction (and retention) soars, and employee satisfaction gets a nice uptick too. Her book, Customers Know You Suck, address how to better understand, attract, and retain customers.
We’ll discuss some practices that will help you be more successful with the products you work on.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:56] What is your perspective as a customer experience (CX) designer?
My experience is in strategy, customer experience, and user experience. I’m focused on strategy and tactics that affect every touchpoint with customers. Sometimes when people hear design, they think making things pretty or deciding what color the button is, but I don’t have an artistic background. My background is about human behavior, psychology, and ethics. Customer experience design is human-centered design (HCD). Some people don’t know HCD has ISO standards. It is formalized and real.
Human-centered design doesn’t really start with design. It starts with evidence, knowledge, and data. What do we know about people, systems, and contexts? If we don’t really understand our customers and the tasks they’re trying to accomplish, we’re unlikely to understand their problems and unlikely to solve their problems. HCD is making sure we’re customer-centric.
[6:49] How is poor CX costly to an organization?
There are always ways to be cheaper or faster, and we can pursue those if they match our company values, but there are many opportunities to have quality over speed. I know that scares people. It takes time and money, but the companies we admire most put in that time and money and we love them for it.
[9:30] Where should we start with CX?
Some companies already have UX researches who specialize in qualitative research. The try to get the best evidence, knowledge, and data to drive strategies, priorities, decisions, and products using qualitative data.
The problem is we can run a survey that asks, “Are you sometimes thirsty and wish you could drink out of a cup?” And so many people say yes. Then we can all sit around a meeting table and say, “I think people need this cup idea that we have.” And then we release this giant one-liter cup the size of your head, and it’s not selling. We say, “We gave them the cup. What happened here?” That means we didn’t do the right research. We didn’t have our qualified specialists plan, execute, analyze, synthesize, and come up with actionable data to understand our users’ needs. It all comes down to tasks. Understand customers, what they do now, and ways they try to make it easier for themselves through workarounds and band-aids.
Everything we notice in an observational study is an opportunity for our company to either adjust something small or to be disruptors and innovators. I’m not going to say you must be innovative and disruptive, but I will say you must be great. That’s what customers want from us more than anything. More than speed, they want the quality.
[12:10] What other sources of data do you use?
We use surveys, focus groups, NPS, customer support tickets, angry tweets, etc. Often these give us a clue of what could be going wrong, but we know customers are not great at understanding their own problems. These data sources are smoke that tell us there’s fire. Then we need research.
I see too many teams and organizations say, “It would be great for our KPIs if customers clicked this button more.” They do a brainstorming workshop to figure out how to make customers click the button more. But they don’t know why they aren’t clicking the button, so they guess. I call this a guessing sandwich. We’re guessing why something is happening, what’s going to make it different or better, what the problem is, and what possible solutions might be best. Then we vote among ourselves on what solutions we like without going through a good human-centered design process to find the right one. Beware of guessing sandwiches.
[16:17] Take us through how to talk to customers and do observational studies.
You don’t have to know the right questions to ask because the right thing to do is to bring in a qualified professional. Another mistake I see people making is not doing research rigorously. We care about research rigor. You need to plan the study and figure out whom you’re going to talk to. Write scripts to use as a guide and ask spontaneous follow-up questions. Many people do not have a good interviewing style. They ask leading questions or the wrong questions. Then you need to do analysis and synthesis. We want to end up with actionable stuff, including problem statements, pain points, and needs. We want to fully understand the user and document that.
We sometimes forget as product managers we don’t have to play every role. If you don’t know how to write Python to do a good data query, you’ve got data and analytics experts to rely on. Lean on a great CX researcher who knows the right questions to ask.
We start with a collaborative kickoff process using a discovery phase knowledge quadrant. We all get together and talk about what we know and what information is missing. That way we don’t move forward on a project when we’re missing key information.
[20:35] What are some practical problems product managers can run into when trying to work with CX?
Often CX resources are small and less available, and product managers have to get special approval to talk to the CX team. The core of this is that the company didn’t hire enough of the right people. If there aren’t enough engineers for an important project, a company will get the budget to hire more engineers. But if there aren’t enough qualitative researchers, somebody will say, “This can’t be too hard. It’s just talking to people, right? I’ll go do it.” And now you have a problem.
Solving this problem means hiring the right teams. It’s important to get budget for customer research. We know research is important and we’re already relying on it. Imagine if we did research more formally with people who were really amazing at it. When I worked in companies, I was assigned to three projects and spread very thing. Everybody on every team immediately hated me because I wasn’t fully available to them and they were waiting for me. If I were 100% allocated to one project, the team would be smiling.
I recommend having one UX designer who is fully allocated to a project. Then get one full-time specialized researcher for the product team. That way you have someone working on design and someone working on evidence. One process for this is TriTrack Agile, which is three parallel streams of work: researchers, product managers who are research-informed, and the team bringing the product to delivery. I believe the best way to staff CX and UX teams is to have three full-time, fully allocated researchers plus two full-time, fully allocated designers. This provides redundancy and a full team working on UX, which makes us much faster.
[25:56] What kind of projects need CX design?
If you care about the customer experience, you need CX design. Often companies come up with reasons they don’t care, and I would still want to challenge that. Would it match our company values to not care about it? Does that fit with honesty, integrity, transparency, and empathy? It’s hard to inspire empathy in people. It’s become a buzzword, but people do care about the real experience someone is having, and that’s just sympathy. You can be genuinely sorry that a customer is having a bad experience with your system and want them to have a better one. That’s when we should be bringing in specialists who concentrate on CX.
Even if you can get one dedicated researcher, that’s a great start. If you have a researcher who’s shared across teams, that’s also a start. Start anywhere because when researchers start to produce good stuff for one of the teams, the other teams will try to get more researchers. You can hire a senior leader researcher and a couple of junior researchers fairly inexpensively.
Action Guide: Put the information Debbie shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Check out Customers Know You Suck
- Visit CustomerCentricity.com
- Check out the Customer Experience YouTube Channel
- Connect with Debbie on LinkedIn
Debbie was my first guest to refuse to share an innovation quote. Listen to the interview to find out why.
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.