The Importance of Bringing Customers in Early and Often
April 26, 2023

The Importance of Bringing Customers in Early and Often

Why bringing users in at the end inevitably leads to a laundry list of recommendations in the final stages of development.

The Importance of Bringing Customers in Early and Often

Twenty years ago, I was responsible for managing a series of focus groups to evaluate a driver assessment tool with its intended audience: senior drivers. Before taking it to market, we needed to confirm it was enjoyable, understandable and valuable. Fortunately, after hosting several groups across the U.S. and Canada, we had the best-case finding: no major changes were needed to finalize the product.

Over the course of my career overseeing -- or facilitating -- focus groups and user interviews, it was the only time that was the finding. Typically, the final product doesn’t evaluate so well. For example, I led another set of focus groups to evaluate a brochure aimed at educating parents. But in that case, the brochure didn’t contain the right information. It wasn’t convincing enough to create the desired behavior change. Or as was the case with customer interviews asking about a proposed website, there was too much information. Customers said they were there to buy. They didn’t want to weed through pages convincing them to purchase – they were already convinced. They just wanted to do it, easily.

Early = Success

What made that first project successful so many years ago? They brought their customers in early and often throughout the development. They held focus groups to evaluate the value of such a product before developing it and to evaluate ideas of what the product would look like. They asked users which direction to go at each juncture instead of projecting their own beliefs on the matter.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. To save cost or time, companies often leave audience testing to the very end, assuming they know what the audience needs. The parental brochure was created based on what the company thought parents needed to know, even though few of the subject matter experts in the workgroup were parents. In the website example, the same happened: they felt the customer needed to hear the product’s value proposition. They didn’t.

“We hear you”

With this insight, we redesigned an existing Teams site to make it more user-friendly and easier to connect with coworkers. We also developed a complementary strategy to generate greater site use by rewarding those who engage colleagues through Teams. Instead of reaching out by email, this channel enables employees to easily find and share news, files and information, or ask questions and solicit advice. It also serves as a place for recognition and other “water cooler” conversations. Our rollout and communication plan for this accessible and uncomplicated Teams site is grounded in “we hear you” messaging that reflects and reinforces how the organization is addressing and acting upon employee feedback.

Test Early and Often

If you are creating a new program or product, engage your audience early and often. It is the most efficient path to success. Bringing users in at the end – and only at the end -- inevitably leads to a laundry list of recommendations in the final stages of development. Sometimes, changes that can’t even be addressed because the timeline is then too short.

I’m happy to say that our most recent client is following this advice and asking us to collect customer feedback before there is a product. They seek to understand if there is a need, and if they’d be a trusted resource for it. I suspect they will keep the audience involved throughout its development, as well, and experience that best-case feedback on their last touchpoint with users: thank you, it’s a good product; I like it.

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