I’ve written before about the importance in Agile software development of listening to the market to learn about painful and pervasive problems people will pay you to solve, and I’ve talked about ways that my team is engaging in more of these “voice of the customer” or “VOC” conversations both in person (where they work best) and over the phone (when that’s all we can arrange). We are using these discussions to deepen our connections with existing clients, to learn about new problems we might work on in the future, and to gauge the way the market is responding to the kinds of solutions we and our competitors currently offer. This is one of my favorite things to do in my work and always energizes me. In reflecting on one of those conversations that we had this week, I was reminded of several reasons why I like these discussions so much:
- Often these calls pull in people from an organization whom we might not ordinarily talk as much with in the product sales and system implementation phases of our customer engagement. It is great to go deeper with existing clients and hear about both ways they are currently using our offerings and places where we aren’t currently serving them but might in the future.
- I enjoy hearing about both the things our clients love about our product (it’s great to get affirmation that we are developing the right solutions that generate real value) and the ways we are falling short or missing the boat entirely (it’s nice to know our work isn’t done yet and that we still have more ways we can help). Either affirmation or criticism on these calls reflects a willingness to trust and communicate with us that shows these customers want us to be true partners and not just vendors.
- I love learning new things, and these discussions always provide that opportunity if I listen well. On the call this week our client mentioned a couple things in passing that are beginning to fit a pattern we have observed from other conversations; as we keep engaging our users and prospects we can build out a broader picture of a solution that will resonate across the market.
- We almost always have these VOC discussions with several members of our team so that we can be sure to capture all the meaningful data from different perspectives. This also means that debriefing a particular call (like the one we had this week) provides an opportunity for team building and development. As a leader I can ask people to think about what went well and what didn’t, what they can try differently next time, what we heard that confirms or debunks our earlier hypothesis about the problem, and what more we can do to keep learning; I can model a good way to facilitate these discussions and I can have my team help me get better at listening to customers.
The chance to meet with prospects and talk with clients is one of the most satisfying parts of my job as a product leader. It helps the team grow and enables us to build better and more useful solutions for the market we seek to serve. I have to balance facilitating these discussions with the many other aspects of my job of course because in truth it’s not that simple.