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The Art of Asking Why: Narrowing the Gap Between Customers and Users

Customers
Innovation / Experiment
Product
Personal Growth
Leadership
Stakeholders
Users

24 May, 2022

Jord Sips
Jord Sips

Senior Product Manager at Mews

Jord Sips, Senior Product Manager at Mews, shares his expertise on a common challenge for product managers – finding root causes and solutions.

The Split Between Users and Customers

My product management experience started eight years ago when I joined a government-facing software company as an intern. While working in the government sector, the split between users and customers was apparent. The people making decisions on whether to purchase products or not weren’t just company executives but entire committees following government standards.

I faced a similar experience in my next role when I was building a recruitment product. The actual users were the recruiting agents, although the people making the decisions were in leadership.

Balancing Users and Customers:

In both roles, it was difficult to create an impact for both entities. The users were constantly asking for feature requests or specific bug fixes, which would impact the customer experience indirectly. On the other end of things, the customer was looking for governance tools to observe their employees and the overall bigger picture.

In my experience, there was no simple way to balance these parts. Rather I had to find the overlap between the two to create the largest impact – looking under the surface level to find the root problems.

The Common Theme of B2B and B2C

Dig Deeper:

In both B2B and B2C companies, it’s essential to dive deeper into root problems and solutions. The mentality of a product manager can be related to a young child that keeps asking “why.” As long as there is still a “why” that needs to be answered, you have yet to find the root problem.

Think about it like this: if you owned a store where a customer came in to buy a drill, the lazy product manager would sell them the tool. The strong product manager would ask the customer why they’re buying a drill: maybe they’re hanging a picture or a bookshelf. Do they own a lot of books? What if they wanted to purchase their books digitally? By asking these questions, you can learn a lot about your users, and what they truly need to solve their problems.

In the end, customers don’t come to product managers with problems; they come with their own solutions. However, as a product manager, you’re the expert on solutions – most users are relatively narrow-minded towards their own specific cases. If you keep building the solutions they suggest, instead of fixing their problems, you’ll end up with a Frankenstein-product without any coherence.

On the other end, we have the challenge of falling in love with our own solutions too quickly. This is another risk of making your product Frankenstein-like, as you’ll keep adding things that no one is using. This all goes back to truly finding the root cause of the user's problems.

Tips on Digging Deeper

  • Many product managers let customers come to them with solutions. In my experience, this method doesn’t build the best products. Rather, diving deep into the problem is what allows product managers to build successful products.
  • As a product manager, it is essential to learn to say no. To make time for the best solutions, individuals will have to reject good ideas – often from their customers, and focus most of their time on great ideas.
  • Involve your team, especially the product trio (yourself + tech lead + designer), early in the discovery process. Having your team deeply understand the problem is key to finding the best solutions.
  • If possible, try to shadow users in their own environment. There’s only so much you can get out of interviews.

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