February 03, 2020 | Scott Yelton

How Product Development is Evolving to Meet Customer Needs

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Scott Yelton, Senior Director of Product Management

Scott Yelton

Scott is responsible for management of growth and lifecycle for our leading UCaaS solution. He has over 21 years of experience in the telco industry. Prior to Windstream, Scott was the Director of Product Development and Strategy for both EarthLink and Deltacom

The era of customer focus has arrived and is transforming the methods and speed of delivery for new products and services for B2C and B2B businesses alike. As a consumer, if your patience is thin, and your expectations are high, then you’re in luck. For those of us in product development, the process is evolving to offer more customization at faster speeds than ever before. Many organizations, like Windstream Enterprise, are adopting three major trends in product development: customer feedback technology, minimum viable product releases and continuous release cycles.

How Product Development is Evolving

 

Customer feedback technology

Gone are the days when you need to email support or wait for your account rep to return your call to provide feedback on products and services. Technology today enables instant feedback on future releases. Advances include the ability to provide “in app” feedback to rate the performance, usability and functionality of most web-based and mobile applications. A good example of this is Net Promoter Score (NPS). Most companies only get NPS by having customers complete a survey online or via phone. This takes consumers extra time and yields limited results.

Windstream Enterprise is currently deploying NPS scoring right in our applications so clients can tell us what they think about our product or even the specific feature they are using at that moment with little effort. These kinds of tools help companies make data-driven changes to their apps and gain a better understanding of how product changes impact customer satisfaction. Some tools also enable A/B testing capabilities to uncover how changes to features impact success metrics such as purchase rates, trial requests, onboarding and survey results.

Voice of the customer is king in all of these applications, with the goal of providing near real-time feedback directly to the developers and product teams. Other applications provide product teams with the ability to follow the customer journey throughout their product to determine where customers get stuck or frustrated with a page, feature or action, even recording the number of clicks. We frequently look at a funnel report that shows how much time a customer spent in each step of the product journey to help determine where they are getting stuck to help identify design flaws or the need to publish guides and walk throughs. Some of these tools border on Orwellian oversight but ultimately benefit customers. 

Minimum viable product

Minimum viable product (MVP) is a term used loosely by many product development groups and is often misunderstood by others. Tesla founder, Elon Musk and Spotify CEO, Dan Ek are both entrepreneurs who have done exceptionally well with the MVP process. It can best be described in four actions.

1. Think it. Create a vision in mind for your final outcome, building in flexibility on how you will reach the outcome and communicate it to your customers, developers and the outside world to drive incremental results. Elon Musk’s ultimate vision is a planet powered by the sun and eventually inhabitation of other planets. Dan Ek started with the concept of building a music streaming service to create a service that was better than the free apps that pirated the music industry and, at the same time, compensates the music industry.

2. Build it. Start with a simple product that moves you toward that goal. Musk started with an electric car which grew to be the world’s best-selling vehicle in under three years. Ek started with a simple peer-to-peer streaming service that was easy to use and quickly outpaced competitors like uTorrent.

3. Launch it. As you build new iterations, get them out there in the market quickly and constantly measure which characteristics of your services are solving customer problems. Gather feedback, do surveys, interview and listen to your customer support and repair issues. All of these inputs will guide you as you work on the next component, one MVP at a time.

4. Adapt it. Continue to build and evolve the product in service to the grand vision you established at the beginning. For Spotify, it was moving to a cloud-based subscription model which made it easy to access more music from anywhere, enabling custom playlists and off-line listening. For Tesla, the batteries keep getting better, accelerating performance and introducing self-driving technology via machine learning. For Windstream Enterprise, it’s continuing to evolve our unified communications and networking services to allow online management of a large distributed company and enable users to communicate seamlessly across any device.

Source: Spotify Engineering Culture

Continuous release cycles

Wikipedia defines continuous delivery as a software engineering approach in which teams produce software in short cycles, ensuring the software can be reliably released at any time. If we rewind 20 years, it took Microsoft two years to build Windows XP and it was shipped as a CD. Translate that to a modern product development process with a strong DevOps focus, and the outcome is monthly, daily or sometimes multiple daily releases of a product iteration. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google are releasing software updates thousands of times a day. There are still some more tangible products, like a good bourbon or a new home that purposefully take a longer time to produce, but when it comes to software and services for business and consumers, it’s all about speed to market and continuous improvements. Buckle up, it’s only going to get faster.


Senior Director of Product Management

Scott Yelton

Scott is responsible for management of growth and lifecycle for our leading UCaaS solution. He has over 21 years of experience in the telco industry. Prior to Windstream, Scott was the Director of Product Development and Strategy for both EarthLink and Deltacom