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  • Writer's pictureSwathi Young

5 steps to build products that customers crave, want and buy

42 – is not just the answer to the ultimate question of life, rather, it is the average number of people that a digital customer will tell about a good customer experience. Imagine the compound effect of this. Without spending any marketing budget, if 10 customers share the experience, it would translate to nearly 450 potential buyers of your product. Question is, how do we ensure a good customer experience? There is an art and science to creating products with good customer experience.

Let me walk you through a step-by-step process that is tried, tested and proven to help you learn the nuances of building a product that customers not just like but love!  

Step1: Know your customer Who they are, what they do, what drives them, what motivates them and what challenges they face.

Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg released Facebook to everyone in one shot; it would not have had the success it is today. Instead, he started it as a social platform for students at Harvard. Since it worked so well, he rolled it out to other Ivy League colleges and over the next couple of years released it to the rest of the world. Mark speaks about it in detail on the podcast Masters of Scale.

Starting with a specific set of customers and expanding them to a larger set would be your path to success.

For example, a startup wants to build a shopping cart app that buzzes when you buy anything over your budget.

The founder Annie initially said that the “customer could be anyone” but with the right questions, I was able to help her narrow it down to a customer persona.

It is important that you know the answer to this because this is the foundation on which your startup customer base is built.

Here is a look at Annie’s ideal customer – Jill.

“Jill is a 42 year old insurance agent, she has 3 kids and is always on a tight budget. Her husband is a car mechanic and their combined annual income is $76,000.She is often angry with herself for buying another shampoo or soap that she did not need, while grocery shopping. She wants to save enough to take the kids to Disneyland this fall. She always “coupon” shops.” ​ A detailed profile of Jill Note that the above description is very specific. You know her goals and ambitions. You are familiar with her challenges. If you don’t know who your customer is and their goals or challenges, start with an imaginary profile. Once you speak to a few, you can narrow down it down further. If Jill is indeed your customer, maybe she is willing to try your product for a few bucks. Let us pause and reflect on this. Your customer just went from “anyone” to a specific person who is ready to pay real money for your product. Step2: Address the problem you are solving But, Why would Jill pay you money for the budget saving grocery shopping cart app? For a couple of reasons: First, your app is going to address her goal of taking her kids to Disney. Obviously her kids mean the world to her and anything to make them happy makes her happy. Once you think in terms of a customer’s story it becomes less about the product features and more about why anyone would buy your product. Don’t get me wrong. I am not undermining the complexity of writing code. I understand the debate between native app versus hybrid app and java or python. But all that is secondary if your customer does not feel a need to use your product. The success of your product adoption is directly proportional to the pain of the customer problem you are trying to solve.

Step3: Under your customer journey Often I hear startup founders say, “I conducted a survey”. Or “I got feedback from my network”. “A lot of people find this idea interesting” The question is “Ask them to pay 10 dollars for the product and notice their reaction” Yes, talking to customers is nerve-racking. It means getting you out of your comfort zone. So is starting a startup.  I ask the startups I work with to ask for a discount at Starbucks. Not because you cannot afford the coffee but it will teach you to push yourself out of your comfort zone. (Sidenote: I usually ask for discounts at stores like Aldos and Nordstrom. The reaction is not what I expect.) Hence talking to customers is important. It helps you with the following: 1.Identify your correct target customer 2.Their stories paint a picture of the problem you are solving 3.Establish rapport between you and the early adopters 4.Find your first paid customer 5.Get feedback on your product mockups Are these reasons not incentive enough to make you want to talk to your customers? Step4: Convert stories to features You have just completed multiple customer interviews and listened to a lot of customer stories. The ones that deal with the problem you are solving will be the most relevant. How do you connect these stories to your product? There is a proven methodology to go about it. Going back to the example of shopping cart saving app, here is how the interview can be translated to a feature. Customer interviewed:  Jennifer, 39 yrs, mother of 2 kids (ages 6 and 9) Jennifer’s story:  Jennifer is frustrated that each trip to the grocery store costs her anywhere between 200-300$. She goes to the grocery once a week. Analyzing her expenditure using, Jennifer is amazed that most of that money is spent on products that she did not need – one more hair conditioner, face wash to be added to the 3 she already owned, slivered almonds that she meant to use for baking that she never got around to, 4 different vegetable oils and the list goes on. She is frustrated that she might never get to that dream house or take her kids to Disney.  Now let us break down Jennifer’s story.  Her long-term goal: To save money for down payment of her house Her immediate goal:  Take her kids to Disney World Her challenge: She needs to control her spending on unwanted items. The questions to ask:  How can your product help with her saving goal? How can the product provide a means to curb her spending habits? How can you help her fulfill her dreams for her children? Solution: Your product is going to help her get to her goal. She is asked about her grocery list. As she scans the products in the grocery store, the app buzzes if she picks something not in her list. She might have a flash of a house with a picket fence on her screen every time the buzzer goes off. At the end of this exercise we have translated her story to actual product features. Step5: Build a Minimal Core Product Most people call this the MVP (Minimal Viable Product). One of things that is often wrong with the MVP approach is building some features that you think are important and releasing it. This can be some of the technology components that are easy to build. It can also be what you call the beta launch and conjure a few features together. This defeats the purpose of seeing if customers are willing to use it and most importantly, are they willing to pay money for it? Turning this approach on it’s head might give you better results. Can you narrow down on the core customer problem you are solving? In the case of shopping cart saving app, would the user be able to upload her shopping list? Would she be able to scan the price/total items she bought? If you are an AirBnB, then this means connecting someone who wants a room with a property ready for renting. If you are a photo sharing app, ensuring that folks are able to upload photos and share. Whether they integrate with their Twitter, Instagram or Facebook is secondary. It can wait. If the core of the product is not used, then there is no point building the bells and whistles. Conclusion: The key to building products that customers want and buy over and over again is talking to potential customers.

Understanding their challenges, what drives them and what makes them happy is important to building something they will use.

What is stopping you from building an awesome product?

Is it time, money, effort or just don’t know who your ideal customer is?

Let me know in the comments.


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