Customer Tours and Product Management
A few weeks ago I had the good fortune on going on my first customer tour in quite a while. I’ve done a lot of these over the years, but it is a refreshing eye-opener to meet customers for the first time in a new role. While phone calls and email discussions are valuable, there’s no substitute for learning about how customers are interacting with your product. I want to touch on a few key areas that live visits have helped me with, namely context, feedback, and insights.
A useful component of an in-person visit is an understanding of context. For example, during the recent trip I was able to visit major corporations along with small and medium-sized businesses. The needs between organizations of these sizes can vary greatly, and on-site visits can help understand how barriers to success can differ between organizations of varying size. For example, a large enterprise deployment may require a comprehensive plan for user adoption, initial training, and continuing refreshing (e.g. new features or workshops to get new employees up to speed quickly). There may also be several groups within an organization that have different needs, and may need to use the system in different ways. This can differ from a smaller organizations, where the number of use cases may not be as broad and the business needs for the software can be fulfilled by small number of power users.
Feedback and insights are also valuable reasons for customer visits. Here are a few considerations:
- How are customers using the software (actually watch)? There’s no replacement for seeing how people interact with software first-hand, as it may not be in ways you would expect.
- Points of pain: are there any “but if it only did this….” moments?
- Learn about the role your software plays at a customer site: how does it add value to their business? What problems does it solve for them? What are the usage patterns (e.g. casual usage, project based, constant part of a key workflow, etc).
- Ideas generation: great ideas can come from listening and brainstorming with customers.
- Communications: how is the relationship between the customer and your organization. Are they getting the level of service they desire? Are they getting timely updates about new features? Visits are an opportunity to learn how customers want to interact with your organization.
While events such as trade shows, workshops, and seminars are also great places to interact with customers, going on-site and understanding the full experience through a customer’s eyes can provide a great deal of value. There’s also another great reason for customer tours: relationships. Much like we (product management) appreciate feedback, customers tend to appreciate all the software tips, ideas, and insights into the software that you can provide them. And when you’re not there to sell anything to them, the trust factor can be high.