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How to move from product first to customer first

Published: Jun 01, 2017
Author: Maria Fernandez-Riddick

Your customers are savvier and expect more from you than ever before. They want seamless, personalized and instant experiences. That’s having an impact on the kinds of products and services you need to deliver. And that means product managers are having to realign their objectives. The remit of the role is changing. It’s no longer just about fulfilling the four Ps of marketing: product, placement, price and promotion. Today, product managers need to think customer first.

Understand the whole customer journey

When I started out as a product manager, like most of my peers, I followed the four Ps religiously —  and, at the time, that worked. But things have changed. Standing out from the crowd means providing a great customer experience. Product managers need to put a much greater focus on understanding their customers. They should be creating personas that describe customers’ needs, motivations, demographics, and more. And they need to be thinking beyond the product itself — and about the end-to-end customer journey.

That journey starts way before a sale is made and it doesn’t end at the transaction. In my early career, product managers didn’t dream of involving customers in testing prototypes. Today, many companies are doing just that — it helps inform design and builds interest early. Similarly, product managers didn’t get too involved with what happened after a product had gone to market. They seldom considered working with process owners in ordering, billing and care — but now that’s essential to delivering the best possible customer experience of your product and organization.

Success in product management is no longer just being measured on the basis of sales, revenue and profit. It also needs to take into account customer engagement. That’s when you’ll start to achieve customer loyalty. And it’s why, at Verizon, we’re instilling in our product managers the need to set customer-centric metrics for every stage of the customer journey. We’re working with them to collect customer data at every touchpoint, to map the whole journey and create customer personas.

Agile, customer-centric design

With this information in hand, we can establish the user stories that inform our product developments and service enhancements. It’s key to an approach that takes in design thinking and agile to create solutions that meet customer needs and get them to market faster.

With traditional approaches to product development, you may well have gone to market with exactly the product you envisaged. But it could take a long time — too long for today’s consumers, who want everything now. And often the product wasn’t solving a customer need.

We have the customer journey in mind from the outset. We seat customers at the table during the development process. We work on the basis of minimally viable products and deliver in sprints, so we can get versions out faster, test them, get customer feedback and make quick improvements they want. And we build cross-functional teams, so that the full life-story of a product is taken into account.

Small changes, big impact

We’re now witnessing some of the success of our customer journey mapping projects. We’re seeing it in faster innovation and lower development costs. And it’s allowing us to forecast with greater accuracy.

This isn’t all about developing the next big thing. Perhaps the biggest benefits come in being able to identify the small changes you can make that will have a big impact. Let’s end with this from one of our product managers:

 “Customer Journey mapping helped us to laser focus on some key fixes, recognizing we can’t fix everything but that you can still make material improvements.”

Maria Fernandez-Riddick is a Customer Experience Transformation Evangelist at Verizon Enterprise Solutions. She is one of the creators of the Enterprise Customer Experience team and has been instrumental in the creation and adoption of CX Disciplines. She holds an MBA, a Master Certificate in Project Management and is a Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.