March and April are among the busiest months at Disney World. Millions of visitors will flock to Orlando during the spring school vacation season — all wearing colorful electronic MagicBands (or using the newer MagicMobile app version) to enter the park, unlock resort hotel rooms and pay for purchases.
When Disney introduced the MagicBand in 2013, it wasn’t because someone in the company had had an epiphany and declared, “You know what would make guests’ experience even better? High-tech wristbands!” Rather, it was to solve a vexing problem: the long lines that had been plaguing all the Disney parks, especially Disney World, for years.
Seeking to provide guests a more frictionless experience, Disney spent $1 billion developing the wristband, which contains a radio chip that transmits 40 feet in every direction and communicates with systems throughout the park as wearers move about. After the devices were deployed, the number of first-time visitors who said they planned to return jumped to 70% from 50% six years earlier. And without the lines that used to clog pedestrian walkways, 5,000 more people could visit every day.
The MagicBand offers a powerful lesson for product development teams in any organization: how understanding everything from the customer’s point of view — what makes their experience better and minimizes what they find frustrating or challenging — is the key to solving problems in new, groundbreaking ways.
Product development is fun, fast-paced work, but it sure isn’t easy. Product people must balance business priorities, customer needs, competitive pressures and technical challenges, all in the face of tight deadlines. The job can be as thrilling but also as nerve-wracking as Space Mountain.
But if they try to get the job done by relying too heavily on their own ideas, assumptions, and experiences, product teams can’t deliver exceptional experiences. They will struggle to identify the right problem to address and how to best do so.
Instead, product developers must look outside themselves and be deeply and constantly attuned to customer pain points, frustrations and preferences. The customer perspective must be product teams’ guiding light — their proverbial North Star — to ensure that all the work, time and other resources put into creating newer and better experiences line up with what customers truly want. Losing this connection runs the risk of doing some very expensive navel-gazing.
So, how should product teams put this philosophy into practice? Jen Cardello, an industry expert who is VP of User Experience Research and Insights at Fidelity Investments, has created a model that’s simple, elegant and effective in pushing product developers to incorporate the customer perspective throughout. I love this model, because it urges teams to consider the question of “rightness” at every turn, including:
• Solving the right problem: When understanding the entirety of the problem space, which specific problem offers the best opportunity?
• Building the right solution: When sorting through possible solutions, which one is the most elegant and effective (as opposed to easiest, cheapest or quickest to leverage given existing company systems and resources)?
• Building the solution right: When refining the chosen solution, is it fine-tuned to suit customer preferences instead of pushed through to meet arbitrary deadlines?
To drill down a bit deeper into each:
Solving the Right Problem
Understanding people’s thoughts, perceptions and feelings can help teams identify gaps in an experience and identify a compelling and valuable problem to solve. This can be done in two key ways: by interviewing and talking to customers and by observing them as they interact with the world around them, including existing products or other contextual information.
Recommended tactics: Talk to the people for whom the products are being built so you can understand the problem space and how they cope with or solve it today. Observe customers as they use existing solutions to better understand the current offering, what works and what doesn’t, and where there is opportunity to innovate or differentiate. By gauging reactions to the problem statements, teams should be able to truly understand the problem before moving into product development.
Building the Right Solution
Most product development teams are keenly aware that most new products fail — around 80% of offerings that hit the market tank quickly. Perhaps the new product couldn’t oust a longtime customer favorite. Maybe it was aesthetically wonderful but was too hard to use. Or maybe, despite being a superior product, the marketing and go-to-market efforts failed to compel target customers to buy.
Although there’s no way to create a fail-proof offering, gathering customer perspective improves chances for success by forcing teams to thoroughly explore multiple solutions before settling on the single, best one.
A recommended approach: Put two or more concepts or ideas in front of potential customers and ask them to react to and evaluate them. Observe them as they examine the options and listen as they narrate their observations. What facial expressions or body language do they offer as they look at your concepts or ideas? Which one do they gravitate toward initially? If they choose a winner, is it a clear choice? Or do they hesitate? Or do they want to combine a couple concepts together instead?
Collecting these kinds of human insights can spell the difference between a successful product and an expensive flop.
Building the Solution Right
We often have assumptions about how customers use something. We may even have data that supports what they’re doing. But without observing them as they navigate an experience, we don’t really know how it’s working, if it’s meeting their expectations and needs, and what we can improve or optimize. That’s why asking people to use an early design or prototype and then observing them as they do it is crucial.
Suggested steps: Ask a user to complete an activity that is central to the new product and narrate their thoughts aloud. Observe them as they walk through the process and listen as they narrate their observations and interactions. Ask them about the experience. Identify issues to address.
Every organization wants to create, design and refine delightful experiences that build customer loyalty. As these points show, that Magic Kingdom is reachable if companies are willing to take the time and effort to understand the people they’re trying to sell to.
Janelle Estes is Chief Insights Office at UserTesting, a human insights platform, and the co-author with CEO Andy MacMillan of User Tested: How the World’s Top Companies Use Human Insight to Create Great Experiences.