Living the customer

For almost as long as I’ve worked in product management, I’ve always appreciated getting a true feel for a user’s problem by living in their shoes.

One of my first PM jobs was at Reuters working on a system for doctor’s offices. I wanted to get a real feel of what a doctor and his/her staff go through on a daily basis and interviews & research weren’t cutting it. So, I took a week or so and went and sat in different doctors’ offices. I worked at the front desk alongside the staff and learned how utterly inefficient their day to day lives was. When you first visited, they had to call your insurance company to make sure your coverage was still valid, then if you got referred to a specialist, they had to call and wait on hold to get a verbal approval for the referral and find a doctor that was in your plan – and most doctors weren’t in more than a few plans. Then, after you left, they had to fill out tons of paperwork with each insurer offering a different form, different terms, different questions they needed answered. It was eye-opening to say the least and we ended up building an amazing solution that cut a lot of time out of these people’s days. The system was very well recieved.

Fast forward to today. At Yahoo! I have access to lots of survey research, customer feedback, blog posts, and focus groups. We also conduct “ethnographic research” where we visit people’s homes and follow them through their normal daily activities (some of which include the internet). And this research is truly fascinating. But it still isn’t enough.

So lately, I’ve been trying to get much closer to our customers. Actually, not closer, but I’ve been wanted to live in our customers shoes (like I did at Reuters).

Blogging here has been great for me to not only meet all of my blogging goals but it has also allowed me to get the true feel of what its like for a professional blogger to get started (too difficult still). It’s also got me to learn some of the intracacies of YPN. I’ve made $15.17 so far, and I’ve been literally incented along the way to pay close attention to ad relevance and give that feedback to the YPN team.

Lately, I’ve been spending time trying to get a site listed in search engines and ensure that its “search engine optimized”. I used to run the search team here, so you think I could do it in my sleep, but it is really frustrating to get your site found in Google, Yahoo and MSN. Tomorrow I’ll write about SEO and my thoughts there, but again, I have a HUGE appreciation for small business owners trying to do a good job and get found on search engines. I feel first-hand the exasperation of dealing with search engines and the temptation to spend huge $$ on SEOs who know how to game the system. All those years that I ran search, I never fully appreciated how those folks felt, now by going back to the fundamentals, and living the customer, I get it.

All of my training as a PM taught me not design products as if I am the customer. But no one ever taught me to actually try to become the customer. It’s an eye opening process and one that I think makes a better product and makes me a better product manager.

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