How to Build a Customer Focused Product Development Team

A company’s success depends on how well the product “knows” its customer.

Zight | February 26, 2018 | 4 min read time

Article Last Updated: July 09, 2023

How to Build a Customer Focused Product Development Team

Product development teams have a reputation for being somewhat removed.

They hit goals, build products, improve versions, and race each other to hit productivity goals.

After all, as long as they’re doing the work and building out cutting-edge products, does it really matter how removed from the customer they are? How often do engineers actually speak with customers? Not often, right?

And that might be exactly the problem.

A company’s success is dependent on how well the product “knows” its customer.

And how well a product knows it’s customer is dependent on engineers remembering who it is they build for. While most teams are still product focused, the ones who build with their customer at the forefront of their mind, will be the ones who always stay one leg ahead of their competitors.

Here are four of our favorite ways to build a product development team that puts customer focus first.

Plan Opportunities for Customer and Engineer Interaction

One of the best ways for engineers to build products for the customer, and not just hit arbitrary goals is for them to stay in regular contact with your customer base.

Especially at the beginning of each new build or version, having an outlet for engineers to speak directly with customers helps them connect with the “face” of the product. This lets them get to know the actual users, and address any lingering issues that need to be improved in the next version.

These interactions can be planned with premium customers via phone, video chat or your company can host a “users only” webinar where customers can ask questions and give feedback to engineers.

Rotate with Customer Success team

They have a saying in the service industry: Everyone should have to be server for at least a year. The idea is once you’ve waited tables, you have a better perspective on how hard it is, and it helps build people skills.

Consider once a week swapping out of customer success agent, for an engineer.

This isn’t a waste of the engineer’s time, or pay, because instead of guessing where the customer struggles – they’ll get to hear from the horse’s mouth exactly what the customer needs.

This helps engineers keep the customer in the forefront of their minds week after week, and remind them that they’re building for somebody, not just building. This will inspire more user-friendly features, swift fixes, and products people will actually want to use.

Re-Consider Remote/Agile

Currently, most product development teams are agile. And David Cancel, CEO at Drift says they are “outdated for the modern product development team.”

Agile product development teams are too far removed from the customer and the customer’s goal. Their work becomes a “point-driven” game that centers around success and productivity – which results in complex features instead of simple solutions.

Cancel suggests re-structuring your teams to focus on building an environment that puts employee and customer happiness first. This means having your project manager put customer relationships as a priority, over mere processes. Cancel provides a great flow-chart to show the ideal management flow for both customer and engineer happiness.

Let Engineers Befriend Angry Customers

Again, it’s all about being connected to who it is we actually build products for. As Hubspot points out, angry customers are a product development team’s best friend. When a customer is angry, consider having your success team send the loudest, and angriest customer straight to an engineer.

By doing this, the customer benefits by speaking directly to an engineer who can help them directly, and the engineer benefits by listening first hand to how certain bugs, fixes or features are affecting the customer.

When working with angry customers, instruct your product development team to work backwards and forwards to solve their problem and create a feature they need if you don’t currently provide it. The squeakiest wheel is the squeakiest whether angry or thrilled, so they’ll shout your praises even louder when your team fixes their issue!

Does your product development team currently interact with your customers? If so, share your ideas in the comments. If not, what is one way you can start building your own customer-focused product development team?

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