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Why it's absolutely bad business to forget about your customer

When you forget about your customer it leads to poor decision making. 

It’s easy to forget that your customers need to be at the center of your thinking. This isn’t a small business problem - it’s a business problem. Famous examples of forgetting to think about your customers can be found with Google, Microsoft, and Apple. 

While these large companies have achieved unprecedented success they’ve also made their share of mistakes (read: lost a lot of money). Since they’re publicly traded companies, their mistakes are larger scale, and well documented. We can learn from them. Learn more from smaller business failures

Google and the glasses nobody wanted.

Google is known for releasing innovative and incredibly successful products: search engine, android, youtube, chrome browser, maps, etc. Their company’s “Things we know to be true” list puts “focusing on the user and all else will follow” as #1.

Even Google, its resources, and thoughtful principles, can still lose focus on their customer and have a product failure like Google Glass. 

Google Glass was hyped as the piece of wearable tech that was going to change the way we see the world. Internally at Google, the team focused on technology (“how to build glasses?”), while key product strategy questions remained. As the product was released to the public it was clear that there wasn’t a compelling reason to use the glasses, and the incremental value created didn’t remotely come close to the list price of $1,500. For the sake of brevity, we’re ignoring the fact that they looked ridiculous and opened up a host of privacy concerns. Ultimately, Google canceled the project and lost an estimated $400m. 

Microsoft and their confusing mp3 player. 

Going up against the iPod in 2006 was a tall order. With Microsoft prioritizing getting a product to market, they didn’t make time to talk to their customers. When Zune hit the shelves its bulky look, clunky interface, and software bugs didn’t do it any favors. Not only did Microsoft miss on their first iteration of the product in 2006, they struggled to gather and implement suggestions from customers during the product’s lifespan. By 2010 75% of the mp3 market was iPod, Zune had an estimated 1%. By the time Zune was discontinued by Microsoft in 2012, they wrote down a loss of $289m.  

Apple’s stressful incoming call screen.

While Apple is traditionally used as an example of good design, Apple isn’t perfect. Considering your customer should be an exercise at the feature level as well as the product level. 

In user experience circles, one of the most notorious screens from Apple is their incoming call screen. Which presents 5 options for you while you’re already talking with someone else. 

Which option do you choose? Does the big red button in the middle hang up your current call (traditionally how that button is used)? The cognitive load presented to the user is overwhelming, ultimately interrupting the current conversation. 

Apple has historically been offered a pass when it comes to user experience stress such as this. But too many of these interactions in your product and you quickly find that people don’t like it and won’t use your product. 

3 helpful concepts to consider

There’s a couple of concepts these teams could have included in their thinking to help derisk their projects: 

Design thinking 

At its core, design thinking is driven by a deep understanding of users and their needs. It encourages practitioners to step into the shoes of the people they are designing for, gaining insights into their behaviors, desires, and pain points. This empathetic perspective forms the foundation for problem identification and solution generation.

The design thinking process typically consists of five stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Each stage is focused on providing value for whoever the customer is. 

Here are 3 places where the percent invisible team continues to learn about design thinking:

  1. Interaction Design Foundation (IDF)
  2. Stanford University's d.school Virtual Crash Course
  3. IDEO U

“Jobs to be done”

Building empathy with customers will include trying to figure out what they want done. The Jobs to be Done (JTBD) theory is a user experience framework that focuses on understanding the underlying motivations and goals of users when they "hire" a product or service to get a job done. Rather than solely relying on demographics or traditional market segmentation, JTBD theory emphasizes the progress that users seek to make in their lives.

To uncover the jobs to be done, researchers and designers use techniques like interviews, observations, and qualitative research methods to gather insights directly from users. They aim to understand the progress users are trying to achieve, the struggles they face, and the criteria they use to evaluate solutions.

Cognitive load

Cognitive load refers to the amount of working memory resources used. The bigger the “load” the more likely an experience is confusing. The concept has roots from psychology, which focuses on the limitations of human information processing capabilities. Since our cognitive systems have limited capacity, when the demands of a task exceed that capacity, it can lead to cognitive overload and hinder performance, satisfaction, and completion rate.

The book, “Don’t make me think,” by Steve Krug discusses this concept in more depth. 

Don’t forget your customers

When it comes to your own projects, don’t forget your customers. Talk to them. Figure out what they actually want done and keep things simple. In critical moments, it’s easy to forget about your customer. But! If you keep these case studies in mind, and the concepts of design thinking, jobs to be done, and cognitive load, you’ll be on the right track.


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