Building deep customer knowledge is essential for your product managers to maximize the success of their products. The single most effective way to achieve this is by having your team talk to customers regularly. Here are five practical strategies for fostering effective customer interactions and growing customer knowledge within your team.
1. Make customer interactions a priority
To encourage your team to engage with customers, emphasize the importance of these interactions and prioritize them in your weekly meetings and rituals. Share learnings from customer calls and encourage discussions around them.
Set an open expectation within your team that each person should interact directly with a customer on an agreed frequency. If you’re looking to match best practices or are working at any smaller startup, once a week is where you should aim. Implement a mechanism that clearly surfaces whether people are meeting the bar, such as having everyone bring a quote or insight from a customer to your weekly team meeting.
Take the time to get your team up to speed on the many ways you can interact with a customer and the types of research methods. Have them consider the following:
- Both generative and evaluative research
- Both problem-focused and solution-focused research
- Both active and passive research
Regular customer interactions throughout the product development lifecycle help teams build empathy and understanding, which leads to better decision-making and product outcomes.
2. Connect with customer-facing teams
Collaborate with teams already talking to customers, such as sales, customer success, or support. Shadowing their interactions can provide valuable insights into customer needs and pain points.
Joining a call or meeting that’s already happening is a great time saver. Plus, it helps remove the pressure for those with less user research experience. And, there’s value to be found even without bringing any prepared questions or materials, and instead listening intently and asking clarifying or curiosity questions where it makes sense.
Generally, it’s a good idea to bring a question or two if the meeting host can set aside 5-10 minutes at the end of the meeting. Even something as simple as:
- “Is there anything you think the product team should know?”
- “If you could change or improve anything in the product, what would that be?”
- “How could we make the product even more useful for you?”
Have your team coordinate with customer-facing team members and debrief afterward to discuss insights, gather helpful context, and share any potential next steps.
Cross-functional collaboration is crucial for understanding the entire customer journey and ensuring a seamless experience.
3. Organize customer events and AMAs
Host events or Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions with power users or successful customers to facilitate open discussions and gather insights on their experiences with your product. This could be something more casual and ad-hoc, where you invite many customers, or something more formal, like a client advisory board, where the clients are carefully selected, and the engagement is typically over time.
This type of interaction is best for generating ideas and inspiring more in-depth research strategies to explore and validate your hunches and insights. You can also leverage these events to communicate and announce new features and upcoming roadmap items.
People’s questions about your product will be more insightful than you might think. In addition, engaging with customers in a more casual setting can lead to more candid feedback and insights that might not come up in formal interviews.
4. Set individual goals and align incentives
Establish specific goals for each team member regarding customer interactions, and align their incentives to encourage customer engagement. For example, a more junior team member is doing well if meeting the one-interaction-per-week goal.
In contrast, a more senior member should be encouraged/expected to incorporate more advanced forms of research with a more thorough research plan and discussion guide, such as a generative problem-research series or evaluative solution-focused interview series.
Make the time to work with each team member to set individual goals for customer interactions and discuss progress in regular one-on-one meetings. Encourage and coach them through trying new research methods to help build new skills.
When team members are incentivized to engage with customers, they’re more likely to prioritize customer conversations and gain valuable insights.
5. Provide the necessary resources and support
Make it easy for your team to find and connect with customers by providing the necessary resources, tools, and support.
Friction is a fast track to your team not talking to customers regularly. Provide processes and procedures that simplify the process and do what you can to avoid onerous top-down processes requiring lengthy review and approval processes. Chances are, whatever your company naturally wants to do is more than is necessary for the size and stage of the company. Try building the business case of the risk vs. reward, with the risk being what could go wrong if “due process” isn’t followed and the reward being the myriad benefits of a strong culture of customer interactions.
Once you have a streamlined process, ensure your team is well-equipped from a framework and expertise perspective. Coach them on best practices and have the more senior folks pair with or train, the more junior folks. Teaching is one of the best ways of cementing learning and best practices.
Help ease those with less user research experience into the process by pairing them with those with more experience and putting them in existing meetings (such as a customer success meeting) rather than one all of their own. Also, keep in mind that overall product experience doesn’t necessarily correlate with user research experience — many companies either neglect to do enough customer research or have a dedicated function that does all the research for the product manager (a bad practice in most cases but that’s a topic for another day — if your company does this, at the very least, start putting your product managers in the room!)
Create a centralized resource for customer contact information and set up scheduling tools to streamline the process of setting up customer interactions. Your company CRM is usually a great starting point paired with a tool such as Calendly.
Providing the right resources and support for your team will enable them to focus on what really matters – building relationships with customers and gaining valuable insights.